Shed the Labels, Find the Freedom

7 minute read


One day I’m the poster girl for maternal figures nationwide, channeling my inner Tami Taylor all “clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose”, hip swings and all. Not even twenty-four hours later I’m giving Rhea Perlman a run for her Emmy as Carla Tortelli takes over my system with feisty mega eye rolls and nobody stands a chance. Not even you, squirrel.

In the past, I would ruminate over this flip of moods and blame Aunt Flo or my kids or my husband or a creative block or any outside possibility to take responsibility for this drastic shift. Then on cue, these judgments would ricochet with harsh aggression straight back to me with self-blame and shame ready to beat me down. I would jump right into “Kristy, you’re so __________.” I’d like to say that I filled that blank in with “together” or “capable” or “strong” but instead it was every adjective that made me cringe instead of crave. I’m “moody” and “sensitive” and “judgmental” and “selfish.” When I think about how this went on for years, I’m surprised I wasn’t hospitalized for mental exhaustion.

It takes a lot of energy to camp out in your head for so long. But we do it. We think a thought for long enough that we begin to believe it as true. Sometimes the labels are celebrated, “caring”, “generous”, “responsible”, “outgoing”, “independent”. More often than not, our minds fly quicker to self-label as “moody”, “neurotic”, “sloppy”, “uptight”, “irresponsible”, “needy”, “stupid” and the list goes on and on.

With all of this labeling, we leave no room to even entertain the possibility that we may be both. But since we don’t like being wrong and are terrified of change, we are bound to fight for our limitations instead of open our minds to this option. Really it’s true but for the sake of our egos, we’ll stick with the term “option.” Whatever helps you sleep at night. Afterall, it is our choice to become whole. The ball is well in our court to see that for every descriptor we use for ourselves,  its twin resides somewhere deep inside us.

“Wholeness is not achieved by cutting off a portion of one’s being, but by integration of the contraries.”

– Carl Jung

Sure, I can be neurotic, but I can also be balanced. Of course, I can be reactive, but I can also be level-headed. Do I have a tendency to lean more one way over the other? Absolutely. What’s helped? That small little two-letter word: be. This one mini powerhouse of a verb alleviates the set in stone label that we so often put on ourselves and others. It frees us to be more adaptable and comfortable without feeling confined by words. Which at the end of the day, is what they are. Mere words. But words matter. Words turn into thoughts, which, again, turn into beliefs. There’s a big difference between “I am reactive” and “I can be reactive.” There’s way less wiggle room when you say “I am uptight,” instead of “I can be uptight.” The latter is lighter leaving space for growth and change. The former, well, you’re pretty much set to be reactive for the rest of your days. Good luck.

When we put the time into doing the work and understand ourselves better, we realize that for many years (even decades) we’ve been sailing through life with ideas of who we are. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all degrading, cheap shots to our egos. Many of us know our strengths and feel confident about them. The problem comes when we become so comfortable with our strengths or our weaknesses that we leave no room for its opposite to enter our life. We have told ourselves that we are __________ and not ___________ for so long that we begin to believe it. Combine that with external opinions from the peanut gallery that is our loved ones, and we begin to fall into what we think is our personality instead of choosing to create who we want to be.

Author, Shakti Gawain, and many others in the field of personal development and psychology delve into what is known as our primary and shadow selves.  When we become so attached to our primary selves, we disown its “twin” or our shadow selves and become lopsided. We fall into the labeled boxes and have no idea how to get out of them. How do we know what our shadow selves are? Think of a person who drives you straight up bonkers. Like if they got hit by a bus, okay, a soft tap, and not hurt, just enough to scare them a little bit and wake them up, you’d be okay with it. Then list at least three characteristics about this person that you can’t stand. These, my friend, are your shadow selves.

What if for a week, as an experiment, we chose to pay attention to where and how we label ourselves and who we allow to negatively or positively reinforce these labels. Who triggers us? Why?

Could it be that when you label yourself as independent and strong your shadow self is needy and weak. Or marking yourself as humble and giving your shadow self is proud and greedy. Is there a middle way?  Can we balance ourselves out? The goal isn’t for a drastic transformation – which, by the way, if that does happen, wow. Okay. All for it and keep rocking on with your bad self – but rather for you to see where you can help equalize or at least tip your inner self in a more balanced direction. How can you look at your twin characteristic as a positive? The tougher it is, the more likely you’ll benefit from this exercise.

“You might not want “irresponsible” on your tombstone, but perhaps you don’t always have to be the most responsible person in the room, in a relationship, or in your department. Neediness might disturb you because it makes you feel weak or childlike, but aren’t there times when you do need to lean on the strength of others or to experience sympathy and comforting?”

– Shakti Gawain, The Relationship Book: A Path to Consciousness, Healing, and Growth

Take the time to see where you can aim for wholeness. Shelf “good” or “bad” for a week, a day, an hour. Have fun with it. Look at it as a compliment when people who know you give you the raised brow and chin flick of “What’s up?”. Build your resiliency to being uncomfortable with change. Afterall, you have nothing to lose except the opportunity to find your whole self. Eh, kind of worth it. Take the plunge and see what comes to the surface.

Twins (1988, Director: Ivan Reitman) A physically perfect but innocent man goes in search of his long-lost twin brother, who is short, a womanizer, and small-time crook. 


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