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The Family Room, Volume Six: It's All About Those Labels
By Danielle Norman

If I were to ask you to describe yourself in two words, how would you respond? I am sure some of you were thinking.'Only two words I need at least 20 to describe how wonderful I am'. However, there are others of us who may still be thinking of the first word. In essence the way you describe yourself is the way you see yourself and assume the world sees you in return.  


Self Esteem, self-worth and self-concept are the combination of thoughts, feelings and facts about our -selves.These concepts are combined to create the image of ourselves that we ultimately present to the world.   However, negative or positive it may be, the image has been developing in our minds since we could first form thoughts.  


All of the triumphs and failures of our lives have continuously been filed into our self image. Each person, experience, memory, relationship, conversation, etc. will add to or subtract from the overall image we see.   There are even cases in which the image of our selves can be dependant upon certain situations or people.   For instance, around family and friends the image may be one way and co-workers or classmates it is the complete opposite.  


When someone presents with a negative self-image it can have overarching negative effects on every aspect of ones life (e.g. school, work, relationships, etc).   Although the manifestation might be different in each person, lowered or damaged self-images eventually begin to act as cancers. These "cancerous" or negative images spread unhealthy and negative thoughts into the parts of our lives that were once healthy and well-functioning. Often, like cancers the effects are mysterious and sudden. People will wonder how this once happy person became burdened with this lowered self image.The way children play, talk and interact with others will begin to change. Often in adults or teenagers the way in which they present themselves to the world will change: their attitude, dress, appearance.In some cases the source of why the self-image is low is unknown.In helping someone gain a positive self-image the focus is allowing them to see a more accurate portrait of themselves.This portrait will consist of the abilities and traits that make them unique special and loved.


One way in which we can effect self-esteem and self-worth are through labels. Labels are the titles we give to a person based on their behaviors or characteristics. Labels can be positive or negative, but most often, will have devastating effects either way.    Each of us has probably been labeled before, whether it was in the home or by peers.   Some of us were maybe 'the smart one', 'the fat one', 'stupid', 'slow', 'bean pole', 'fatty', the list goes on and on.   No matter how long ago it may have been, each of us can still remember the hurt that was associated with these titles.   The hard thing about labels is that you automatically are placed in a box.   You become this title.   No matter if you a dance competition you'll still be known as 'the clumsy one'.that won the dance competition.  


As parents and caregivers it is our jobs to instill a sense of self worth in our children from the beginning that no matter whom you are you are special and loved. Labels take away the ability to be a whole person and limit ones capabilities.  One way of avoiding labels to by being intentional about the words and phrases we use with our children (and our selves). Instead of the phrase "you are ___" "I am so ___" we can describe the situation we see (using factual information). Example: "I am disappointed that I missed the bus because I woke up late this morning" NOT "I'm so stupid!" This technique is a way to separate who we are from what we do. We all make mistakes, yet these mistakes do not make us horrible people.   Who we are is a combination of so many things and our self-image should reflect all of them. It is possible to say I am not excellent in solving math problems but I still think I am intelligent.    An accurate self-image is one based on factual information, free of labels and mirrored by a surrounding environment that is nurturing and affirming.

Danielle Norman received a master's degree in psychological services from the University of Pennsylvania and is currently a social worker and parent educator.

Danielle Norman can be reached for comments, questions or concerns at



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More of The Family Room

- The Family Room, Volume One

- The Family Room, Volume Two

- The Family Room, Volume Three

- The Family Room, Volume Four

- The Family Room, Volume Five


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