I have been slowly reading Strange Gods: Unmasking the Idols in Everyday Life by Elizabeth Scalia. I have only read a couple of chapters so far, but it's already really making my guilt bone hurt! The chapter I'm currently reading is about the idol of the idea. Like we get certain ideas about ourselves, identify too much with a particular group or idea, and lose our connection to God when he calls us in a different direction. At least I think that's what the chapter will be about. I've just read about three paragraphs so far, but it got me thinking about the damage that can occur when we let other people apply labels to us and we are forced to identify with certain ideas about ourselves that way.
Here are some labels that people have applied to me throughout my life, good or bad: shy, quiet, smart, creative, artistic, funny, good baker, seafood hater. I have found in my own life that labels applied by other people actually held as much or more sway than the ideas I had about myself.
My whole life I have been labeled, "shy". This word is never meant in any way other than derogatory. I have had this word applied to me so often that perhaps it fused into my very soul and influenced my development. I have to wonder whether the label kept me from reaching out to others through the years, kept me in a little box neatly labeled "shy" in which I was previously categorized. I always thought I was just defective that way, but I just wonder whether it was that perception of myself, imposed by someone outside myself, that kept me practicing shy behavior always.
I personally have such people-pleasing tendencies that I always try to live up to whatever people expect of me. Wouldn't want to disappoint them, and if someone says I'm defective I must be defective.
For a people-pleaser it can be dangerous to identify too closely with "good" labels as well. For me such identification influences me to take fewer risks and keep myself inside my own little bubble.
I have always been interested in baking, and am known for making really good desserts. Sometimes I'm afraid of ruining this reputation by trying new recipes/techniques. What if it comes out bad? Will I no longer be Rachel, "good baker"?
If I am "creative" and my creation turns out ugly, will people think I'm still "creative"?
If I'm "smart" and become a Christian, which I always thought was the epitome of stupidity, will people still think I'm "smart"?
Growing up I always thought that my parents' love was contingent upon achievement. I don't remember being praised very often except for when I brought home good grades and report cards. I tried playing sports to win the approval of my dad, even though I didn't really like sports. I know they didn't intentionally train me to think that way, and that it really isn't true. But my perception of myself being an "achiever" kept me chained to this never ending cycle of trying to win love by doing instead of being.
Self-identifying with these labels tends to keep me from living life unencumbered.
I hope that as I raise Baby Lilly I will be careful about applying labels to her which I don't want to her to claim and self-identify with, especially derogatory labels.
I hope I can be careful about labeling the behavior and not the person.
This goes beyond myself and my relationship with my daughter. Applied to other people, I think it can help foster true charity because people are more than their behaviors and circumstances. Anyone is capable of change if you only show them patience, and beyond that, we all deserve to be loved because of our inherent dignity as human beings created in the image and likeness of God. Not for being useful or fulfilling certain roles for other people.
One of my highest goals is to live with integrity. Let go of imposed or self-imposed labels and become the woman that God designed me to be.