The Alternative To Shaming Labels


In my last blog post, I took a deep dive into label shaming.  


I shared research that indicates cultures that use a label to define a whole person (or group) have greater problems with crime and recidivism.  

Our culture happens to be a label-shaming culture.  

Shaming labels are so ingrained into the fabric of our culture that it is hard to even recognize when we are engaging in label shaming take, for example, my blog post where I label shamed 🙁

In this blog post, I’m going to share why label shaming isn’t helpful in healing relational injury.

Let’s start by considering a moment like this:

You harm someone. They call you a loser and a jerk.

Being called a loser and a jerk gets your attention…


…but here’s the question: Does it promptly get you curious about the individual’s concern and opens you up to listen more carefully and ask clarifying questions?


I think the answer is likely a ‘no.’


Does it cause a knee-jerk reaction- where you want to prove how right you are?  


And demonstrate how wrong they are.

Probably so.  

Now, let’s imagine the reverse scenario:

Someone you loved harmed you.
You call the person a loser and a jerk.

Do you feel better at that moment? 



Does calling them a loser and a jerk make things all better with no lingering frustrations at the person who harmed you?  

Probably not.


As I said in my last post… 

I sincerely wish it was as easy as using a label to shame another person to heal your pain.

The Alternative To Shaming Labels

So, how do you get over “it?”

This is a question that is frequently asked in the counseling room and one that- unfortunately- doesn’t have a simple answer.  


When someone wrongs you, there are two key elements for relational healing.  

The Alternative To Shaming Labels #1


I’m starting with the harder part of relational healing first because it is the one that is often absent in the discussion…


…but an essential ingredient towards restoring an injured relationship.  


Why is giving grace to the offending party critical?  

My favorite relationship guru Harriot Lerner states it best:

“Everyone needs a platform of self-worth on which to stand.”

“If there’s a big, strong platform, then we will handle criticism because we can look out and view our mistakes and our worst behaviors as part of a much larger picture of who we are as human beings.”

To have a platform means that there must be room for grace- that is- to see beyond the act of the person and zoom out to view them as a whole human being.


Let me be clear:  

It doesn’t mean forgetting, approving, or condoning their bad deed(s).  

It means being able to view the bad deed(s) within the context of the whole person.  

It’s not easy- and will likely take time (maybe lots of time) to integrate the positive and negative aspects of the wrongdoer and see them as more than a bad act. 


Please know:  It’s expected and normal to be unable/resist zooming out and recognizing positive attributes outside of the harmful act that was done to you.  


When you are extremely hurt, you- like all other humans- go into a fight-or-flight mode.  


In fight or flight mode, you are looking for danger and you become hyper-focused on the enemy.

In these moments, you get laser-focused on the “enemy” and you lose the greater context.


The way your brain is trying to “help” you is similar to the way your brain would help you when a lion is chasing you in the wild.


However, when you’ve been relational hurt and you don’t train yourself to navigate yourself out of fight or flight it ultimately hurts you.


The fact of the matter is- the other person isn’t a lion chasing you.  It’s an imperfect human engaging in a bad act(s).


Becoming so narrowed in on the offense that you can’t see anything other than that discards positive attributes and possibilities regarding the other human being. 



The Alternative To Shaming Labels #2


The hurt party deserves a full apology.   


An authentic and full apology provides the offended party with greater feelings of safety.  

It is also evidence that the wrongdoer is taking full responsibility for what they did (or did not) say or do.

What if the wronged party desires an apology but it never comes?  

How do you hold the wrongdoer accountable?  


Here’s the hard truth:  


We can’t change others.  

We can only change ourselves.


Therefore, creating healthy and clear boundaries is key.  

Boundaries aren’t just about protecting ourselves.

Boundaries are about safeguarding our mental health and well-being.

Getting clear about what topics you will engage the wrongdoer on or how often you will see them may be appropriate.  


It could be leaving if they begin drinking too much or walking away if they lose their temper.  


Creating healthy boundaries isn’t easy. 


It takes time to think through what’s okay and what’s not okay in the relationship with the wrongdoer and how you will handle yourself if your boundaries are violated.

Boundaries don’t necessarily mean throwing a person out of your life.

If you are thinking about shutting someone out of your life, please be advised:

Shutting their physical presence out of your life does not shut them out of your mental presence.  

In fact, it could be the opposite.  Shutting a person out of your physical presence invites them even more into your mental presence.  

The renowned researcher, Pauline Boss, has studied this type of loss.  She named it “Ambiguous Loss.”

It is the type of loss when there is no closure, the family or friend who did you wrong is still alive but is lost to you nonetheless

I’m not suggesting that there is never a reason to cut someone out of your life.  I am suggesting that only do it if you’ve really investigated and weighed the costs/benefits of doing so. 


I’ll leave you with this:  

You also don’t “get over” your hurt and anger by suppressing it and pretending like you aren’t hurt.

Sometimes you may want to rush grace.  


It’s understandable- who wants to hold on to bitterness?  


However, in my experience, giving grace or forgiveness isn’t something one does.

It is a process you are a part of and not fully in charge of…

Forgiveness is a process… a slow softening of one’s heart.

Are you ready to give therapy a go?

Free free to contact me directly if you have questions or to schedule a brief call to see if I might be able to support you as you journey forward.


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