July 6, 2011

How To Smash Other’s Perceptions Of You To Smithereens. ~ Zali Nash

Photo: Eljay

You’re a good egg, right?

So am I. I am confident in who I am and have put roots deep down into my authentic self so that I can stay here. But sometimes someone plasters a sticky note to my forehead with a big fat label on it that pokes me in the guts and plays into my deepest fears; fears I have spent considerable time addressing.

Others’ labels of you can be so damn powerful if you allow them to be. This label was originally something minor. But then I put it in my mind’s record player and allowed it to play over and over again, and as with all mantras, if you hear it often enough, you start to believe it. That is, until I realised what I was doing. It got me pondering.

Think about all those despots and tyrannical leaders that can convince millions of people that another group of people with different coloured skin are in some way inferior. Moreover, that because they are “inferior,” they should be imprisoned, or made slaves of, or hey, why not just kill them all? On a less dramatic level, the same can occur if someone stamps you as lazy, fat or worthless. If you hear it and are treated accordingly often enough, you believe it. A seed is planted in you and it takes root like a weed, feasting on your insecurities. That is the almighty power of others’ perception on us if we allow it to be so.

Photo: Follow These Instructions

But what about the placards we hang around others’ necks, particularly those we are close to? For example, say you have a child. Perhaps you think that the child is a little rambunctious or mischievous, so you smack a label on that child. As the child is running around doing its thing, that label becomes a truth to you and a truth to that child. It’s like putting a sticky note on that child’s forehead. You seek out proof that that the scrawl on the note is correct, so now you see everything that the child does through the sunglasses of mischief. If the child reaches for a binky, it’s because the child is being a troublemaker, not because the child is hungry.

Perhaps you decide that five-year-old Bruce is jealous of his sister. So now everything that Bruce does is seen through the green goggles of jealousy to prove to you and Bruce that he is indeed envious of his sister. Poor Bruce’s relationship with his sister is dreadful for years because everyone believes Bruce is jealous and treats him, his sister and their relationship unfairly for decades. Whatever labels you get stamped with and pay attention to can become a truth for you if you choose.

How do you bend the bars of labels and others’ perceptions so you can hang out and just be? The biggest thing is to become aware of how people describe you and interact with you, and in turn, how you interact back. If you are a people pleaser, most likely you are giving them feedback through your body language and verbal communication that they are correct. This is because you want them to like you.

Secondly, start to notice others’ effect on you. Sometimes you aren’t even aware that others think of you in a particular way, but you always feel a little “stupid” or “lazy” or “controlling” after you have spoken with them. This will give you a clue as to how you are being affected by people’s perceptions and assumptions. Thirdly — and this one may be the easiest — you may have to start with the negative comments you make about yourself. Then try and trace back if you were nattering to anyone beforehand or where that negative comment came from.

Photo: AJU Photography

But the best thing you can do is become aware. Become aware of who you are and anchor yourself with that. Stay true to that. If someone makes a statement about you that you feel is incorrect, have the courage to say so. Then let it go. Some people have real difficulty dealing with change, so when their labels rebel and you claim your own truth, it can be very disorientating for them. They may get angry or resentful. This is not your problem. I know of a yoga student and friend of mine who only saw me as a yoga teacher and had real difficulty seeing me in my role as mum, writer and everyday woman with common relationships issues.

You also have a responsibility to ensure that you try not to negatively label anyone, particularly your kids. Most kids don’t have the power yet to be able to know who they are and to stand true to that. They are defining themselves and their place in the family and world. They most commonly do that via the feedback they get from those in their family and school. So, ensure you reinforce the positive traits you see in them. No one label or quality defines anyone. Each time you slap a negative label on someone, you miss out on seeing how tops they can be, and that they can change from moment to moment, just like you.


Zali Nash is an Aussie writer and yoga teacher hibernating in Moscow for a few years. You can get your fangs into more of Zali’s articles here.

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