Personal Development

How Labeling Others Distorts Your Thinking and Fuels Your Anger

Labeling Distorts Your Thinking

“Labels are for filing. Labels are for clothing. Labels are not for people.”Martina Navratilova

Have you ever found yourself getting angrier and more frustrated with someone the more you think about them?

Do you sometimes label people as “stupid,” “arrogant,” or “selfish,” and find it hard to see any good in them?

If so, you’re not alone.

Many of us fall into the trap of labeling others, which can distort our thinking and fuel our anger.

In this article, we’ll explore how labeling works, why it’s so damaging, and what you can do to break free from this destructive pattern.

By learning to recognize and challenge your labels, you can improve your relationships, reduce your stress, and find greater peace of mind. So let’s dive in and discover how to free yourself from the prison of negative labeling.

Anger Can Be Created by Subtle Cognitive Distortions

You can create your own anger through subtle cognitive distortions.

Labeling others is one of the most common ways to distort your thoughts.

Dr. Burns writes:

“In many cases, your anger is created by subtle cognitive distortions. As with depression, many of your perceptions are twisted, one-sided, or just plain wrong.

As you learn to replace these distorted thoughts with others that are more realistic and functional, you will feel less irritable and gain greater self-control.

What kinds of distortions occur most often when you are angry?

One of the greatest offenders is labeling.”

Labeling Others is an Extreme Form of Overgeneralization

Labeling others is often a distorted thinking pattern in the form of an extreme overgeneralization.

For example, the act of labeling someone as a negative person or using derogatory terms such as ‘a jerk’ creates a negative and extreme perception of the person.

This form of overgeneralization is called globalizing or monsterizing.

Some manipulators use labeling as a form of “character assassination” or as a way to dehumanize someone.

It’s this overgeneralizing that distorts your thinking and moves you further from a healthy place to operate from.

While it is natural to feel resentment towards someone who has betrayed your trust, labeling someone creates an impression that the person has a bad essence, directing anger towards who that person is rather than what they did.

Dr. Burns writes:

“When you describe the person you’re mad at as ‘a jerk’ or ‘a bum’ or ‘a piece of s**t’, you see him in a totally negative way.

You could call this extreme form of overgeneralization ‘globalizing’ or ‘monsterizing’.

Someone may in fact have betrayed your trust and it is absolutely right to resent what the person did.

In contrast, when you label someone, you create the impression he or she has a bad essence. You are directing your anger toward what that person ‘is.’”

Labeling Others Creates a False Target for Your Anger

Labeling creates a cognitive bias.  When you dismiss people in this way, you focus on things you dislike about them, while disregarding or downplaying their good qualities (disqualifying the positive).

As a result, you create an inaccurate target for your anger.

So, again, you are distorting your own thinking.

Dr. Burns writes:

“When you write people off this way, you catalog in your mind’s eye every single thing about them you don’t like (the mental filter) and ignore or discount their good points (disqualifying the positive).

This is how you set up a false target for your anger.”

Labeling Creates a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

It’s important to recognize that every human being has a mix of positive, negative, and neutral qualities.

However, when we label others, we engage in a distorted thinking process that can lead to feelings of inappropriate anger and moral superiority.

Labeling can be harmful to our own self-image, as it often leads to blame and retaliation, which can further escalate conflicts.

In essence, labeling can become a self-fulfilling prophecy that reinforces negative attitudes and feelings toward others.

Dr. Burns writes:

“In reality, every human being is a complex mix of positive, negative, and neutral attributes.

Labeling is a distorted thinking process that causes you to feel inappropriately indignant and morally superior. It’s destructive to build your self-image this way:

Your labeling with inevitably give way to your need to blame the other person. Your thirst for retaliation intensifies the conflict and brings out similar attitudes and feelings in the person you’re mad at.

Labeling inevitably functions as a self-fulfilling prophecy.

You polarize the other person and bring about a state of interpersonal warfare.”

Labeling Others is a Defense of Your Self Esteem

Often, conflicts are rooted in a defense of one’s self-esteem. This occurs when the other party insults or criticizes you, fails to express affection or appreciation, or disagrees with your ideas.

As a result, you may perceive the situation as a duel to the death, where your honor is at stake.

Dr. Burns writes:

“What’s the battle really all about? Often, you’re involved in a defense of your self-esteem.

The other person may have threatened you by insulting or criticizing you, or by not loving or liking you, or by not agreeing with your ideas.

Consequently, you may perceive yourself in a duel of honor to the death.”

Labeling Others Takes Away Your Self-Respect

The root of the conflict is often the protection of your self-worth. You might feel attacked if the other person criticizes, insults, disagrees, or fails to express affection towards you.

This can create a sense of being in a battle for your self-respect, with each of you defending your own honor until the end.

The solution is to avoid labeling and focus on the actual issue, what the person did, their behavior, that bothered you.

Dr. Burns writes:

“The problem with this is that the other person is not a totally worthless s**t, no matter how much you insist!

And, furthermore, you cannot enhance your own esteem by denigrating someone else even if it does feel good temporarily.

Ultimately on your own negative, distorted thoughts can take away your self-respect.

There is one and only one person in this world who has the power to threaten your self-esteem–and that is you. Your sense of worth can go down only if you put yourself down.

The real solution is to put an end to your absurd inner harangue.”

Breaking Free from the Cycle: Overcoming Labeling to Reduce Anger and Improve Thinking

labeling others is a harmful thinking process that distorts our perception and fuels our anger.

It leads us to see others through a narrow lens, ignoring their positive qualities and focusing solely on their negative aspects.

By recognizing the harmful effects of labeling, we can work towards breaking free from this mindset and building healthier relationships.

Instead of labeling, we can strive to understand, empathize, and communicate effectively with others, fostering mutual respect and kindness.

Ultimately, by letting go of the need to judge and label others, we can experience greater peace and happiness in our own lives.

Get the Book

Feeling Good Book
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Feeling Good is a self-help book by Dr. David Burns that provides practical tools and techniques for people who want to overcome depression and anxiety.   It’s based on cognitive behavioral therapy and teaches readers how to identify negative thinking patterns, challenge and change them, and develop a more positive outlook on life.

It emphasizes the role of self-talk and how it can shape our emotions and behaviors, and offers step-by-step guidance for readers to use cognitive restructuring to improve their mental health.  The book has been praised for its clear and accessible language and for providing a useful resource for people struggling with mental health issues.

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