You Are Not What They Say You Are

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 When poet Robert Burns said, “Oh, would some Power the giftie give us/ To see ourselves as others see us,” he did not factor in the way people distort who we really are.

Are there some people who have an opinion about you that is dead wrong?

And how does that make you feel?

Look at some typical labels others use about you and your reflexive responses. Your

o Ex spouse says that you are….: You say: “Ouch!”

o Family defines you as the “black sheep” You say: “I am my own person and did not conform to your expectations.”

o Boss says you are not a team player. You say: “How come my team values my collaboration skills?”

o Teacher says you are careless and don’t attend to detail. You say: Does he appreciate the fact that I have ADD?

Now there may be an element of truth in each of these assessments. We all subscribe to the fact that accurate feedback is an essential part of our personal and professional growth. But when the label applied by others is highly inaccurate or limits us we reflexively cry out “Wait a minute. There is more to me than that.”

So why do people do this to us? There are several reasons.

1. Simplistic Thinking. Often others do not take the time to really know us and in so doing reduce us to a common denominator like, “He’s introverted and shy”; “She is an obsessive compulsive personality type”; “He is still competing with his father”. Each of these labels may be partly accurate but they are just a description of a fraction of what is actually going on in our lives.

2. Judgmental Responses. The phrase “judge not or you will be judged” captures what is going on here. You know the saying “It’s more about them than about me.” Often their judgement of us arises out of their own unresolved conflicts.  They then try to drag us into the morass of their personal issues.

3. Simplifying the World. With the information explosion in a complex world we have a natural tendency to try and simplify our lives with “bite size” statements. It is our way of keeping the brain from overload and feeling some sense of control in a chaotic world. But it is a mistake to give a few simplistic explanations for us as complex beings. That produces more confusion than clarification.

What is the best response to being pigeonholed?

1. Recognize The Limitations of Opinion. Everyone wants to be an expert. Lots of people want to be advice givers but don’t have the credentials. It took me several years of training and experience to begin to diagnose and treat psychological problems with some degree of competence. And that does not involve putting a quick label on someone.

Your Better Response: Say to yourself:  “Is this person qualified to slap a label on me or even begin to have the gall to instruct me how to change?”

2. Acknowledge when there is an “ax to grind”. It is the insecure or threatened parent who seeks to marginalize their child with a malignant label like “loser” or “irresponsible”. It is the insecure boss who harps on his reports faults without looking for and leveraging their strengths.

Your Better Response: “This person is acting out his/her own issues. I am not going to take it personally or I am going to learn when either to push back or detach

3. Affirm the Mystery of Your Person. Each of us is like the starry sky. We are full of wonder and mystery with many undiscovered and undeveloped parts. The latter should make us humble and accept the range of possibilities in others as well as in ourselves.

Your Better Response: “What new and exciting territory in me waits to be explored and expressed?”


How would your life be different if you moved beyond the labels that have been slapped on you?

What view of the self would demonstrate more self-respect or acknowledge your possibilities?


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About cedricj

I am a licensed psychologist and management consultant and have always been intrigued by how leaders can inspire people in their organizations. The bottom line is that people are not always motivated by material rewards, the use of the carrot or the stick, fear and intimidation,and command and control, Five human needs inspire and drive us. Kristine S MacKain, Ph.D and myself describe these inspirational forces in our book "What Inspirational Leaders Do" (Kindle 2008)
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2 Responses to You Are Not What They Say You Are

  1. Karen Montgomery-Hodges says:

    I am inspired by your writings. So very true to my life here in the Pacific Northwest. Stereotypes abound about many members of this beautiful land. The Native American tribes fight a daily battle to keep their ancient and resource friendly traditions, while alcoholism from the intruders decimates their youth and kills their spiritual future. I write this in honor of my student in school who was also my spiritual mentor, Gerald Cooper.

  2. cedricj says:

    Thanks for you comment Karen.

    I worked for a number of years with senior leaders in the BIA. I was deeply impressed how they worked so hard and passionately for the wellbeing of their people. I learned so much from these wonderful leaders.

    Warmest regards,


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