This article is part of a series on types of negative thinking and their impact on self-esteem and relationships. The types of negative thinking are at the core of Cognitive/Behavioral Psychotherapy, and presented in “The Feeling Good Handbook” by Dr. David Burns.
How do you react when you hear someone call another person a negative name? Does it bother you if a parent calls a child “stupid?” Would you cringe if you heard someone say that a person at a restaurant was “fat” or “ugly?” What if the person overheard the comment?
Most often, negative names are used behind the other person’s back. The words aren’t meant to wound, but rather a way of “building myself up by putting that person down.” It feels innocent and harmless. At best, it’s a sad way of building up one’s ego. At worst, particularly if overheard, it creates a significant self-esteem wound for the criticized person.
Negative names, like idiot, fat, failure, ugly, loser or stupid, create a significant self-esteem wound because they are all encompassing. Such names are labels. They inaccurately define the person.
For example, I might say that I’m sitting in a chair. I use the word “chair” to label the object. In this case, the label is correct. The object is a chair in every way. The label is entirely accurate. No problem.
But, what if I call you a failure? In that instant, I have used the label to define you. That label suggests that you are, in every way, a failure. It says that you fail in everything you do. It hurts.
Most of us would never think of calling another person such negative names. You wouldn’t even consider calling anyone an idiot or a loser. You wouldn’t ever tell someone that they were fat or ugly. Yet, you may do it every day.
What do you call yourself? In your mind, do you ever call yourself negative names? Do you ever use the label fat, ugly, stupid or failure to define yourself? Do you do it without thinking about the impact?
In cognitive therapy, calling yourself names in your mind is called “labeling.” It wounds the self-esteem and can worsen depression and anxiety. It hurts.
You may intellectually realize that the label isn’t always true (No one is a failure at everything.), but your self-esteem hears it as if it is true. The name creates an overall impression. The damage is done.
Monitor your thinking for name calling, or labeling. Try to replace the damaging name with a more moderate statement. For example, rather than calling yourself a failure, acknowledge that you failed at the one task. Don’t say anything to yourself that you would not say to a friend or loved one.