{flickr photo}

“You’re selfish.”

“You’re lazy.”

“You’re a dreamer.”

These labels can define us. Whether they’re given when we’re kids or are carelessly said to us as growing adults, we often carry these words as if they were invisible tags around our necks, showing the world who who we are.

The truth is words can empower or dis-empower us.

If we are conscious of the way words can negatively influence us, we can use the knowledge to become self-empowered. If, on the other hand, we hear those words as our truth, we’ll give them power, allowing others to control our lives.

I’ve seen how words can sabotage possibility and happiness for those who let them. People who think they are a loser, failure or dreamer because someone told them that as a kid, may never reach further in life simply because someone said it wasn’t possible. Another person may unconsciously adopt the traits of someone who is selfish because they believe it is an accurate depiction of who they are. Why? As a child they were told that repeatedly by a parent or an aunt.

It’s heartbreaking to see especially since it usually has more to do with the people who criticize, judge and slam us with negative labels than the ones who receive them. Yet, we take it to heart anyway. Like a seed, it grows inside us as self-hatred and sprouts out as a lie about who we really are.

Getting beyond the limitations imposed to us by false and painful words is possible. The solution? Realizing its hold on your life. Then, break free.

As a wannabe writer in my teens, I was discouraged by a teacher who called me an “airhead” and “a bad writer” to my face. As an adult, I also received a lot of criticism and judgment for wanting to write by friends, co-workers and acquaintances who told me that what I was trying to do (write for a living) was impossible. “If other, better more experienced writers can’t do it, what makes you think you can?”

I can’t say that hearing these things didn’t hurt. But I learned a valuable lesson in the process-that what they were telling me wasn’t necessarily true and that I had a choice about whether to believe them and adopt it as my own truth.

Whether people compliment you or condemn you makes no difference. It’s how you perceive yourself and your worth that matters.

In the end, I won a journalism scholarship for my writing in high school, which I’m sure came as a shock to that high school teacher. And I’m writing for a living, just like those “friends” and acquaintances said I couldn’t do. The thing is you make your own truth. As for me, I decided life is too short to listen to other people’s judgments of me. I had a choice. I could either allow a negative belief dictate and control my life or I could work on defining myself.

Initially it’s a difficult decision. But with awareness, how can we not follow our own path instead of the ones built haphazardly by others?


More from Beliefnet and our partners