The Flip Side of Labeling

By Anthony Gold

I hated labels. Abhorred them.

It likely started growing up as the only Jewish family in an intolerant neighborhood.

We don’t like your kind. You don’t belong. Get out of here Jewboy.

And those comments were from some of the more “friendly” folks.

Being shorter than many of my classmates didn’t help either. Nor having a strong affinity for academics.

Label. Label. Label.

In most cases, labeling is a form a judgment. It’s a way we can create a clear distinction between us (the good ones) and them (clearly not like us).

But there is a form of labeling that can actually be quite helpful and empowering.

And that’s when we label our negative emotions.

Fear, stress, guilt, anxiety, depression are weighty – often debilitating – emotions. A part of our brain latches onto them, preserving them tightly and perpetuating their impact.

Have you ever tried to “let go of” such a negative emotion? Easy to say, very hard to do. In fact, the more we try to suppress or repress these feelings, the more aroused the limbic part of our brain becomes.

However, there’s a very simple way to dramatically reduce the impact.

By labeling what we’re feeling – in just a word or two – we can substantially diminish the negative emotion.

How could that possibly work?

The key is that labeling an emotion requires us to step out of the experiencing self and become the observing self.

And the observing self takes us out of the ego, away from our judgmental nature, and into a state of peaceful awareness.

It’s like when we are watching a movie. We often become so engrossed in the movie that our sense of “I” becomes enmeshed with the characters and the drama on the screen. Even though all we’re seeing is light projected onto a screen, we’ve made the dancing photons our reality. If the light fluctuates in a certain way, we become cheerful – and when the light inevitably radiates in another mode, we become sad.

It isn’t until we step out of the drama and realize “it’s just a movie” that our true sense of self returns. We become the observer instead of the experiencer.

And when it comes to our negative emotions, we can quickly transform them simply by recognizing the feeling and labeling how it’s affecting us. On a sadness scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is not too bad and 10 is awful, I’m a 7 based on the way she’s treating me.

By labeling the feeling (e.g. sadness) and its impact (e.g. using a metric like a 1-to-10 scale), we are no longer the experiencer. We’ve stepped out of that self-selected, ego-based role and instead become the much more peaceful observer.

The more we practice choosing the observer role – instead of the victim personification – the happier we become. And labeling our negative emotions is a fast path toward making such an incredibly liberating shift.

Join me in Monday’s class where we’ll explore the nature of labeling and how we can use this understanding to achieve much greater peace in our lives. I look forward to seeing you then.

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