What labels do you connect with?

Child? Adult? Parent? Friend?

Worker? Student? Graduate? Volunteer?

Tall? Curvy? Slim? Ripped?

Or maybe you label yourself in ways that say more about your personality?

Extrovert? Quiet? Party Animal?

Intuitive? Emotional? Team Player?

Generous? Creative? Self-Reliant?

Perhaps you are labeled by the work you do?

Cleaner? Surgeon?

Manager? CEO?

Employee? Entrepreneur?

Has your label been given to you?




The labels we are associated with can change, and sometimes multiply.  When a ‘law student’ becomes a ‘graduate’ they might also be known as a ‘solicitor’ or ‘employee’.  Someone could be a ‘parent’, ‘child’ and ‘grandparent’ all at the same time!  And depending on who is giving their opinion, you can be described as either ‘awkward’ or ‘introverted’.  Labels can be a tricky business, so why do we adopt and dole them out so freely?  How do they serve us?

What do labels connect you to?

connection | kəˈnɛkʃn | noun

a relationship in which a person or thing is linked or associated with something else

We have seen how we may link ourselves with certain labels or the link is made for us by someone else.  But how does this help us function on a daily basis?  ‘Doctor’ could help us find a treatment when we are sick.  ‘Coeliac’ informs the chef of our dietary requirements.  ‘Gamer’ lets like-minded people know our interests and helps us connect with a community.  ‘Architect’ can communicate our skill set to potential customers.  ‘Mother’ can inform others where our priorities lie.

Labels can therefore be a useful tool to organise and categorise information about each of us.  They can also help us navigate the world around us, and connect us with a person in a certain profession, or just with ‘our kind of people’.  They can help us find who we are looking for in this societal maze, and through them there is the possibility to connect to community and a sense of belonging.

Is there a sense of comfort in that?  There could be.  We may feel we know our parameters; we have a mental map where we can size up people or situations quickly.  It could bring a sense of order and predictability, control and security.

However, let's now look at the potentially limiting and damaging nature of labels both within ourselves and the world around us.

How do you connect with your labels?

A positive-sounding label is a good thing, right?  Everyone would love to be called ‘genius’, ‘good-looking’ or ‘talented’, don't you think?

Let's explore the hidden dark side of positive labels with the following scenario.

Tom, Dolores and Mary are adult siblings.  Tom was lucky with physical genes, he’s known as the ‘beautiful one’.  Dolores has ‘brains to burn’, she is called the ‘smart’ one.  And Mary is very creative; she is often known as the ‘artistic one’.  They feel their roles are assigned by the labels that are used for them.

Yes, Tom is flattered by his label but as he grows older his self-care routine becomes increasingly demanding in an effort to counteract the effects of ageing.  The thought of one day not being the ‘beautiful one’ hangs heavy as each year passes.  Dolores has a high-paying tech job; she proudly graduated in her field with distinction.  But as the industry evolves and her specific skill set is being slowly phased out, is she no longer the ‘smart one’?  Mary's songwriting career is pocketed with moments of artistic block.  In these creative dry spells she feels completely disconnected with herself and asks, ‘who am I if I can't create?’.

Who is Tom without his good looks?  When AI takes Dolores' position, where is her worth?  And if Mary quits art, what is her identity then?

As this story illustrates, our labels can perhaps feel like an unachievable goal, or even a mental prison.  We may feel obliged to live up to our labels and yet feel they no longer serve us.

The connected chains of labelling

As mentioned earlier, labels can serve as a navigator towards community, connecting ourselves with like-minded people.  But there can be a really dark side to labels - in their association with prejudice.

Prejudice is an unfair or unreasonable negative opinion or feeling about a person or group of people, based on something like race or religion.

Labels can often be a way of enforcing prejudice, by defining someone based on a single attribute or characteristic, rather than seeing them as a complex and multifaceted individual.  They can be used to divide and exclude people, by emphasising differences and creating ‘us versus them’ mentalities.

I'm not going to list them off, but take some time to think about common words that are used to define someone based on one aspect of their whole being.  Maybe you have been the victim of this kind of prejudice.  Does it feel fair that you were reduced to a single description?  Did you feel separate and inferior with this label?

Are we more than our labels?

Say you want to watch a film tonight.  You're feeling a little ‘meh’ so you decide a comedy would lighten your mood.  Is that the end of your searching?  Will any comedy do?

Maybe not!  The label ‘comedy’ gives you a broad idea and narrows the search down a little but it says nothing about the subject, the quality of the writing, the vision of the director, the actors and their unique performances and most importantly, how much you will laugh.

Are we not the same?  ‘Teacher’ gives a small insight into who we are but it says little of our story, our experiences outside of our job.  It doesn't speak completely to our strength and how we overcame difficult times.  It doesn't describe our creative expression or how we like to live and it doesn't describe what it is like to have us as a friend.

Sometimes useful; sometimes harmful - a label cannot define you completely.  You are shaped by so many things: your experiences, your relationships, your environment, your biology, and so much more.

So what do you think?  What labels are you carrying?  Are they serving you?

Maybe you are curious about who you are beyond your labels, or maybe you want to shake some off altogether.

Group work offers a safe, supportive space to explore things like these.  Please have a look at the list of courses and their anticipated outcomes to see if there is something that speaks to you.


image by niklas hamann

Reaching out for help when we feel our most vulnerable is one of the hardest things we may ever need to do.  This search may be for our own personal struggles or to find help for someone we love.  When you need help, where do you look to find it?  What do you typically do?

Search Google?

Search YouTube?

Many of us do start by turning to Google or YouTube as this is convenient, accessible and anonymous.   Maybe this is you right now, alone and vulnerable and searching for help.  I can see the attraction of online psychology quizzes that will perhaps help us to find a diagnosis or label that fits for us or our loved one.  There can be a comfort for some in the knowledge that their symptoms 'fit’ with a known 'disorder’.  Having found a fitting label or relatable topic, our next step may be to search for relevant articles.

How to live with a narcissistic mother?

How to live with PTSD?

How to live with someone who is depressed?

How to deal with a bully?

How to save my marriage?

How to improve my self-worth?

How to parent my teenager?

How to cope with my dysfunctional parents?

We read the articles and books and we watch the YouTube videos and we listen to the podcasts and we sign up to a free online personal development course and watch and read some more.  All of this can be done in the safety and comfort of our own home and we hope that we will learn some information that will somehow transform our lives.

I am not here to knock any of those resources and of course there will no doubt be some interesting information and ideas to be learnt.  However, the effect of what we read or watch may have minimal impact.  There are differing statistics regarding this, however all research agrees that we retain little of what we read or hear compared to what we retain if we actually experience something.  

I sometimes illustrate this with reading a book all about coral reefs or watching a documentary all about coral reefs - I wonder how much we would absorb and I certainly wonder how much we would remember in a week or two.  Compare that with a holiday in which you actually visit coral reefs.  It would take planning and sacrifice, you might need to travel by means of transport that you don’t like.  You might have a fear of flying or a fear of water.  You might not be a strong swimmer.  You challenge yourself to move way out of your comfort zone, you put on the necessary swim-gear, you gently move into the water and at some point, you take a deep dive and snorkel in and around the reefs and fish.  Wow!  What a treasure trove of learning and experience.  How long would your memories of the whole experience be with you?  Years?  Decades?  Probably your entire lifetime.

The idea of finding our 'label' and finding an article that will solve our challenges is seductive.  It would be wonderful if our struggles could be solved this way.  However, despite the almost 6 billion pages on the internet related to mental health, mental health concerns are endemic.  Clearly, learning information is not enough to make the difference that is needed in our lives.  Why not?  Because sitting alone reading material or watching videos is ultimately still alone.  In this isolated context, we are still only in our mind, in our thoughts.   We need more.  We need the experience of the deep dive.

One powerful way to take the learning and make it experiential, is to learn and share in a safe group of like-minded individuals.  If that sounds terrifying to you right now, please be curious about that feeling.  Why is it terrifying?  Because you know, that it would be so much more challenging and real.  You know that you would be stretched outside of your comfort zone.  And isn’t that in itself so interesting - you are experiencing something already!  

One of my favourite expressions is that 'all growth takes place outside of the comfort zone'.  Terrifying as a group experience may sound, in a safe and nurturing group experience something magical happens.  Our learning becomes experiential, alive and dynamic.  This kind of learning has a durability because it is a whole-body experience.  Rather than theoretically learning about  something, we get to experience something.  It’s the difference between reading a book about how to swim versus actually getting in the water with lots of safety gear and an experienced coach.  The learning is real and embodied.  

Some beautiful aspects of group work are listed below.  These experiences are all possible when a group has been carefully formed, safely held and well-facilitated.  As you read this list, I hope you can begin to imagine how group work might support you.  

1:  Realising that others have similar fears, struggles, worries and feelings and that we are therefore, not crazy, weird or worthless.  We are human, experiencing the richness of the human condition.

2:  Learning from others, not only about their struggles, but witnessing how they think and feel and manage their situation with real-life examples.

3:  Feeling deep and meaningful connections with others in the group.  Discussing topics that are not superficial and being honest with each other develops a connectedness that may be rare in our life.  A sense of belonging begins to grow.

4:  Gradually feeling safe enough to be more and more real.  Tentatively sharing the pieces that may feel embarrassing or even shameful and then realising that no-one has run away.  Beginning to experience the unconditional acceptance of the group.

These are just some of the fabulous advantages of an experiential personal development group.  Nothing is pre-recorded.  Nothing is experienced alone.  There is dialogue and interchange.  It is inspiring and engaging throughout.  Please glance at the following examples and imagine the powerful value of being in a group in the light of the beautiful aspects above.

Social anxiety:  If we are struggling (as so many are) with social anxiety, we have an opportunity to explore actually being with our anxiety in a real, yet safe environment.  We find ourselves moving through our social anxiety.

Assertiveness:  Rather than theoretically learning about assertiveness, in a group we have opportunities to formulate and express our thoughts out loud and can feel what it is like to hear our own voice expressing sometimes difficult things to others.  We realise that we are asserting ourselves.

Loneliness:  If we are feeling isolated, lonely and disconnected from others, rather than read about how to build connections, we can actually feel our connectedness to the group.  We are no longer alone.

Communication:  If we struggle to communicate effectively with others - we have an opportunity to practice our skills with a variety of personalities and also to discover more about how we are perceived and understood by others.  We find ourselves communicating effectively.

Validation:  If we are seeking some external validation and acceptance and are not receiving this from our parents, families or work-mates, we begin to feel the nourishment of validation within the group.  We experience it - we feel it.

Boundaries:  If we want to develop and hold firm boundaries in our life, but don’t know how to start, we can practice building boundaries in the group and we can feel the beauty of it.  It doesn’t have to feel like a battle but a peaceful, point of contact.

These are just a sample of ideas but I hope they illustrate the point.  Group work is transformational!  I have been facilitating personal development groups for fourteen years and am constantly impressed by the level of learning and growth that happens in group work.  I love to see participants support each other and often forming friendships that extend beyond the duration of the group.  If you are looking for real growth, I invite you to get in touch and chat about how a group could benefit you.

FAQ:  How can I be sure that the group will be a safe place?

I meet with all interested people beforehand for a brief one-to-one conversation to check their readiness for this kind of work and to ensure that participants are able to support others without judgement.

On the first session with all groups, we spend time discussing and formulating a group contract which includes confidentiality, respect and other elements.  This creates firm boundaries to protect the safe space.

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