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Intro: “He’s all about the sex.” “He’s all about the money.” “She’s a witch.” “She is so selfish.” These are common complaints that we hear in our marriage counseling practice.
What do these statements accomplish? They arouse anger. Comments such as these usually inspire defensiveness from the offended spouse and a heated exchange escalates.
Labeling Definition: In counseling, we call this global labeling. These are harsh judgments that are extreme and create anger without regard to anything good.
Examples of Labeling: Labeling can take different forms. The most obvious would be name calling. Calling someone a jerk, stupid, or a witch would be examples.
Labels can be a little more subtle, as well. Telling someone that they are “all about sex” or “all about money” are examples.
Regardless of whether the labeling spouse uses name calling or examples such as these, it shows that they perceive things in extremes. And that is what global labeling is all about. It is “black or white thinking.”
What Causes Someone to Label?
Depression is a great liar. It is riddled with “unhelpful thinking habits.” Global labeling is a common hallmark of depression.
Many times global labeling is more subtle and self-inflicted when depression is involved. Usually depression involves an inner dialogue of untruths a person believes about themselves and the world around them. An example would be, “I’m never good enough,” or “everyone hates me.”
If you’re in a relationship with a depressed person, you may find it difficult to communicate with them. Depression often turns an individual inward and it can come across as self-focused, leaving the significant other feeling ignored.
Depression colors a person’s outlook. Because of this, someone married to a depressed person may feel that it is a struggle to enjoy life together and to have positive conversations.
Low Self-Worth (Self-Esteem)
Low self-esteem and insecurity go hand in hand. A person may have quite the bravado, but it is a mask for a sense of low self-worth. This person may use labelling abusively to keep a spouse “in their place.”
This would be the person that calls a spouse “stupid” or any number of belittling insults. A person with low-self esteem is not always the timid wallflower. Ironically, people with low self-esteem can be aggressive.
A person with low self-worth is often too focused on themselves. They don’t take the time to find out or care why a person is behaving a certain way or another. It is easier for them to use this “black and white thinking” when the truth is that the other person is much more complicated.
It is difficult for them to look outside of themselves and see how that person may be hurting or is just using their behaviors as negative coping mechanisms.
Ways to Overcome Labeling:
If you find yourself insulting your spouse by name calling, or if you make extreme judgments about that person openly or even subtly, the only way you’re going to overcome it is with a repentant heart.
It’s recognizing that you’ve sinned against that person and that you need to change your behavior. An apology is not enough. A true apology is changed behavior lived out.
Colossians 3:7-8 says, “You used to do these things when your life was still part of this world. But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language.”
Ephesians [4:29]-31 says, “Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them. And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior.”
Vincent’s homework: Vincent explains homework that he gives many of his couples and families that he counsels. For every 1 put-down, give 3 compliments. The person who was given the put-down is the judge of whether the statement, gesture, tone, or phrase was a put-down to them.
This simple rule or homework can really help couples and families to slow down with their name-calling and poor speech to one another.
We want God-honoring marriages. James, the brother of Jesus, says in James 1:20: “The anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” Anger used inappropriately can be very damaging in relationships. It can cause separation and isolation.
Let’s build up our spouses using the principles behind Colossians 4:6: “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”
Practice speaking your gratitude. Let your spouse know the things about them that you appreciate. Encourage them. You will go much farther with these precious marriage skills than cutting someone down to put them in their place, because aren’t we all lowly and in need of a Savior?