How do you see yourself? We all have this idea of who we are – what our strengths are and the things that define us. And then there’s what other people think of us – how they see us. Often these are based on the plethora of labels available for defining things – a way to characterize all the things in this world. Yet, do these things end up encompassing who we are – who any one is?
It is easy to look at things with the idea that it’s an either-or option – especially when we look at others. This person is depressed or they’re not. This person is a hoarder or they’re not. This person is an introvert whereas that person is an extravert. This person has ADHD or they don’t. This person is punctual and that person is always late.
All this is not to say that we don’t or can’t fall into these characteristics in one direction, rather that it’s a limited way to view people. I was sharing with a client that there are things I hoard – where I struggle to let go of certain things. Her reply was that couldn’t be true, I was a professional organizer after all. Yet, even as a professional organizer, my home has plenty of unnecessary things – I can be organized as well as cluttered. People are rarely (if ever) so easily captured with labels – our personality and character are more complex than can be described simply.
While on the other hand, these labels can also help us. When someone shares that they’re depressed, ADHD, introverted, or whatever, it gives other people some idea about them. They’ll likely be more understanding when behaviors come up – ah, that apathy/distraction/withdrawal/etc. could be from that.
I’ve had a number of client that have described themselves as hoarders, or been told by others that they are hoarders. None of the people I’ve worked with would truly qualify for the diagnostic criteria of hoarding, though they might struggle with parts within the hoarding definition. And I talk to them about it – they are identifying with a label that doesn’t truly apply to them. One of them shared that it helped her to use the term; she felt that it finally offered a frame of reference for her challenges – a starting point to understanding what they are struggling with.
Most of the “hoarders” I work with recognized that using that label limited them – the negativity confining and draining them. This is where the application of these defining terms can be damaging and hurtful and can apply to any description. The way we use the labels, whether self-applied or given from others, – and what they mean to us personally – can have a significant impact on how we approach things.
Do the labels help you – give you a frame of reference for understanding, find it empowering to find a way through, or permission to set better boundaries and get more realistic? Or do they end up hurting you – confining you by their definition, discouraging you – taking away hope, or do you seize the idea and limit yourself – “since I’m “x”, I can’t…”
Even our more defining characteristics shift and change – vary in the short term. People who tend to be adamantly punctual will run late and vice versa. In working with people about their stuff – some of them tend toward ruthlessly purging stuff and just want to get all of it out and then we’ll run into times where making a decision has become excruciating. Then in the opposite – people who struggle to make decisions will have times when it’s easy. And this isn’t necessarily a random day – rather a series of them or “regularly” at some other (often unknown) interval. Just another reason it’s hard to capture a person with labels.
People are complex – aren’t you more complex than can be captured with descriptive words? We’re made up of many experiences and characteristics and really we tend to defy being categorized. There are so many factors that influence us – from those life experiences to the degree of recent self-care (ever notice the impact the amount of sleep can have on your behavior?). Consider the labels – each one independently of the others – that you apply to yourself – do they support or limit you? How can you challenge them – are they truly accurate or accurate at certain times? Reducing and eliminating the labels that confine you can open up a world of possibilities – we all need hope to move forward with our goals and dreams.