Imagine what it would feel like to never fit in. For many of us, this isn’t a stretch but a reality. However, when we finally find some kind of identification in a mental health diagnosis we can be met with well-intentioned, albeit ignorant, resistance. I’m talking about a common occurrence in new age circles, label shaming.
What is a label?
A label is an effective tool for reducing lots of individual characteristics into one umbrella term. While this can limit many personal nuances leading to blanket generalizations oftentimes labels do more good than harm. If someone asked me what I do for work, I could say I’m a writer. Without the label of a writer, I would have to say I use written language to convey information to other people. Now imagine how bulky a conversation would become if we never used ANY labels.
Selective use of labels
Most individuals support labels that promote their experience. Many of those who participate in label shaming proudly wear the badges of being spiritual, a yogi, a witch or an empath. Yet they feel it is their sworn duty to save the “low vibed” or “the sleeping masses” from their helpful labels. The inherent irony here is that many who participate in label shaming, are labeling the words others use for identification as bad.
My experience with label shaming
When I began my healing journey I was admittedly against labels. I found it destructive to put my entire personality in a box as I am much more than a mental health diagnosis. I’ve even previously gone as far as participating in what I see as a problem today. Thankfully, I’m able to grow beyond previous misconceptions. Mistakes can lead us to a deeper awareness of reality.
What is label shaming?
Label shaming, in my opinion, is the act of dismissing someone’s mental health diagnosis or developmental issue as a label and implying that labels are bad. Ironically I’ve exclusively experienced this dismissive approach to labels in the spiritual community. Despite being well-intentioned, it’s undeniably damaging, here’s why:
- Asserts your beliefs over another’s experience.
- Often people participating in label shaming are neurotypical and don’t understand the benefit of these labels
- It stems from an illogical attitude that ignoring the problem will make it go away.
- Adds shame and stigma to an already shamed and stigmatized community.
- Strips individuals of the benefits they acquire through having those labels.
My shift to accepting labels
What shifted my experience with labels was the identification inherently connected to them. I was one of those people who often felt different, misunderstood and like I didn’t belong. As I began to move forward on my healing journey I uncovered various labels that contained symptoms that addressed what I’ve struggled with my entire life. Now instead of just being a misfit, I have a label that helps me find connection, compassion and, understanding. Labels can help with:
- Identifying unknown symptoms
- Finding coping mechanisms specific for your condition
- Understanding your limits
- Making lifestyle changes to support healing
- Finding a community who understands struggles
- Making sense of previous hardships
- Facilitating self-healing and forgiveness
Everything is on a spectrum
Now before we close it’s important to address one of the arguments people in the label shaming community tends to raise, “All things are on a spectrum.” This endearing yet delusional belief is incredibly dismissive to the unique challenges neurodivergent individuals face. Many things are on spectrums but there tends to be a certain threshold where noticeable differences occur.
I’m going to use a dimmer switch to illustrate my point on spectrums. When using a dimmer switch there is off, on and everything in between. While they are all on a spectrum there are obvious differences that would and could impact one’s ability to function the same. For example, try writing a paper in the room with the lights off or try getting a restful night’s sleep with the lights on. Hopefully, this helps further illuminate the point.
Stop label shaming
Labels can be destructive or they can be liberating depending on our perspective. However, we must let others define their experience and focus on defining our own. In other words, our well-intentioned attempts to liberate others from their labels are disrespectful and harmful to an already marginalized community. Imagine a world where rather than attempting to convert others to our selective labeling standards we allowed them to define their realities.
What helpful labels do you use?
Tell me in the comments below!