In my coaching work, I frequently encounter coachees who have convincing labels for themselves. For example, they tell me, “I’m an introvert; I’m depressed; I’m not good at _____.”

My response, if appropriate, will borrow a couple of questions from Byron Katie’s work:

  1. Is it true?
  2. How can you absolutely know it’s true?

The reason I try to crack this open is that there can be significant danger in labels, whether inflicted by us or absorbed by us from others. Psychology describes this as labelling theory. For the purpose of this post, we will only consider self-created labels.

According to labelling theory, one of the primary impacts of labelling ourselves is the creation of a self-fulfilling prophecy. A self-fulfilling prophecy is a prediction that causes itself to become true.

If you label yourself an introvert, how might this manifest in your actual behaviours? Will you avoid potentially valuable and fun invitations because you’ve decided you’re an introvert? Will this gradually become a trend, resulting in more social isolation? In other words, will your conscious or subconscious mind reinforce the label you have assigned yourself in a way that may go too far, and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, which in turn becomes self-sabotaging?

Labels are also concerning because they can also become crutches. Suppose I’m convinced that I’m an introvert. In that case, I have a guilt-free excuse to avoid the effort to attend interesting social situations that might actually have real and tangible personal benefits.

The black-and-white nature of labels can also be a cause for concern. There’s often little nuance or room for gray areas with labels. If I label myself as stressed (an emotional label), am I concerned about an upcoming event (temporary stress) or am I constantly jittery, not sleeping, and not myself (chronic stress)? Am I nervous about my son’s upcoming championship game (excitement) or concerned about being laid off from work (dread)? Labelling ourselves “I’m stressed” may not be accurate or helpful to us and potentially lead us to inappropriate responses and solutions.

A great approach when it comes to emotional labels like “I’m stressed” is to increase our emotional vocabulary. Instead of saying, “I’m stressed,” we might pause to dig a little deeper and discover it is other feelings like disappointment, worry, anger, disillusionment, etc. I urge you to get more granular with your feelings by expanding your emotional vocabulary. Great lists of emotional states are easily found online; these are easy to consult for greater clarity and to realize the benefits of this deeper self-awareness.

As humans, we are constantly growing, developing, and changing. We can have labels for ourselves that may be a relic of the past and potentially hold us back from greater possibilities. If I tell myself, “I’m not athletic,” perhaps I can question this belief, and if I have the desire, I can take some lessons and learn to enjoy a new and wonderfully beneficial activity.

We can all agree that labels that put limits on ourselves are not particularly positive. Personally, I love being with other people, and I can draw energy from that. I also love my alone time. I’m not an extrovert or an introvert. I like to think of myself as both – an ambivert. I love this label because it doesn’t put limitations on me.


What labels have you internalized that are relics of the past and you may wish to rethink?

How might you deepen your emotional vocabulary and benefit from greater self-awareness?

How might you put Byron Katie’s questions to use for your benefit?

With loving kindness,

Coach Billy