Tag Archives: Labels

How to know when it’s time to remove the labels

A few months ago, a friend who has known me for a couple of years described me as relaxed. I was shocked.


In the same unconscious way that some women run their fingers through their hair, I scanned my labels and diagnoses: INFJ. HSP {Highly Sensitive Person}. Anxious. Round. Bookish. With occasional bouts of deep sadness.

Yup. All still there.

I’m a person who loves ALL the tests. At the school where I work as a counselor, we provide Grade 9 students with the opportunity to complete the MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and VIA Strengths. Our hope is that these instruments will help them recognize their own preferences and gifts as well as their responses to other people. These tests are meant to provide a flashlight for one’s insides.

I first took the MBTI as a 20-something RA in a university residence. I learned that I’m introverted, that I take in information through my intuition, that I make decisions based on my feelings and that I’m an organized list maker who doesn’t thrive on chaos. (Note: this last bit was no surprise.) When I got my results, I felt like I saw myself, my whole self, for the first time. Suddenly, I was able to understand why certain things were so easy for me, why they felt just right in my body, and why other activities (and people) were WAY more challenging.

My MBTI profile led me to the work of Elaine Aaron and the recognition that I’m also a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) which means that I’m profoundly affected by my environment, that I startle easily, and that my nervous system is in overdrive much of the time.

Then I remembered that my friend described me as relaxed. I wondered if I was simply doing a really good job of acting.

And then I considered the possibility that maybe I’m not THAT anxious anymore.

When I took those tests, the information I learned was tremendously helpful. I was able to be kind and gentle with myself, and set up more ideal conditions for my own success. This information also helped me develop better relationships with others because I could see their not-so-tiny gremlins and be more empathetic about the kind of crazy they dealt with every day. Understanding how we’re shaped by psychological and sociological forces helped me to develop greater empathy for the people around me.

Empathy led me to counseling and then to coaching. Empathy rocks!

Recently, I’ve started to be a bit less gentle with myself. I’ve begun taking greater risks and I’ve challenged myself to do hard things like become a coach, start a business, get out of debt, and give up my lovely full-time job in order to take a gap year. I reached out and gave Uncertainty a big old bear hug and, to reward my courage, Uncertainty hugged me back. Sometimes we even go dancing now, Uncertainty and me.

It’s not that I’ve stopped being introverted or having a preference for order over chaos. That’s probably not going to happen. What has been happening, however, is that I’ve been teaching myself to stretch beyond my natural preferences and strengths. I’m claiming more and more territory as home.

Ultimately, I’ve chosen to feel safe. Choosing to feel safe in my life, and in the world, has made me feel free. And if there’s a better feeling than freedom, I haven’t met it yet.

One morning, I was in the kitchen cutting the labels out of a silk blouse with a pair of orange handled scissors. This felt entirely satisfying to me. Damien walked into the kitchen and raised one eyebrow.
“Why are you cutting out the labels?”
“They’re rough against my skin and make me itchy.”
“Aren’t you worried that you won’t know how to launder them?”
“Nope. I know what fabrics my clothes are made of. I have it all in here.” (I pointed to my brain.) “Besides, when in doubt, hand wash in cold water.”

It was time to remove the labels in my life. They’d served their purpose. They were never meant to be boxes ~ only feedback. A bit of a map to get me headed in the right direction.

So it turns out that I AM relaxed. I’ve learned a lot about myself and now I’m ready to be NEW things. I’m ready to be greater than the sum of my parts and my labels.

What are you ready to be?
Note: This piece was first published as The Sunday Reader. If you’d like to receive these letters, sent every second Sunday, directly in your email inbox, you can subscribe here.