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“Stop labeling people” is a common reaction to articles about relationships on social media—but why is that?
It seems as if there is a new word for almost every dynamic in relationships these days. Some folks enjoy reading and understanding the underlying causes of breakups, dramas, and suffering—others are just annoyed by the avalanche of new vocabulary.
I am wondering why some people feel the impulse to say something along the lines of, “This always existed. Why do we have to make up these labels?”
There is a voice in my head somehow agreeing with the notion that we shouldn’t overcomplicate our relationships by picking apart every little detail of human behavior, but there is another part of me welcoming this trend.
When I studied social sciences in university, one of the first things I learned was that we don’t have much to prove our findings besides words. Scientists working in fields like biology, physics, or chemistry do not have that problem because they can measure things and back up their theories with numbers—sociologists “only” have words to work with.
Of course, social sciences also include case studies and numbers, but most of the research revolves around language. This concept sometimes leads to criticism that disqualifies Sociology as a discipline overrun by folks who do “nothing but talking and arguing.”
Most of us are aware of how powerful language can be. We know that words can hurt just as much as physical abuse, and many of us experienced that in past (or current) relationships. But language can also be a source of connection—especially when we write a relatable story.
As authors, we can connect with our readers by specifically describing something we observed in our life. We all go through different experiences in life, but encounter similar situationships, which partly explains the invention of new words and labels.
Gaslighting, ghosting, and simmering always existed as a behavior, but our grandparents probably had no idea how to describe these dynamics. We all have that friend who tends to get upset about their partner but only describes his or her frustration by saying something like, “I don’t know, all of a sudden it was weird. I had to end this relationship.”
There might be the danger of overthinking our relationships, but I don’t see the danger of being too specific. These words that we use to describe problematic behaviors are helping us to understand what is actually happening in our lives—and even more important, they are valuable tools to share our experience with others who might struggle with similar problems.
But, of course, that doesn’t mean we are always right when we use these words. Not every accusation of gaslighting is accurate, but it gives the accused offender the chance to understand how they hurt their partner or friend. Not every person labeled as a narcissist is a narcissist, but they might have traits that could be described as narcissistic behavior.
Using specific words to describe our reality only helps others to understand what we are trying to share with them—it is not a tool designed to harm others.
If someone labels our behavior as ghosting, it gives us a clue how the other person is feeling about us, but it doesn’t necessarily label us as a person. One person can do something stupid, but it doesn’t automatically make them a stupid person for a lifetime—the same goes for potential gaslighters, ghosters, and simmerers.
I remember how upset I was when someone accused me of ghosting them, but once my emotions calmed down, I realized that this person was trying to describe how they felt with the goal of solving the conflict.
It takes courage to tell someone how we feel about them, especially when we disagree, but the more words we have in our toolbox to express our ideas, the easier it will be for others to understand them.
The next time we get upset about the usage of a word describing relationship patterns, why not ask ourselves if the actual problem is the existence of the behavior and not the vocabulary itself?
Identifying a problem is the first step toward solving it–and language is the most powerful tool we have to do exactly that.