By Jennifer Grace Martinez
Years ago, I came across a book entitled, The Hidden Messages in Water, by Masaru Emoto. (It was not what I expected it to be about.) After reading a lot of it, I remember thinking that the title should have been, “The Power of Labeling.”
For me, the book wasn’t so much about water, as it was about the effects of negative or positive labels on water, which has a direct impact on us, (as our bodies are mostly water). Essentially, the experiment highlighted in the book was as follows; vials of water were labeled with either a positive or negative word. The vials of water were then frozen. Afterwards, the ice crystals within each vial were analyzed.
Now we get to the interesting part: The vials of frozen water with the positive labels had beautiful snowflake-like ice crystals. However, when the ice crystals from the vials with the negative labels were analyzed, they were essentially deformed.
The point that I gleaned from the book, was that if our bodies are mostly water, negative labeling of ourselves could be detrimental to our well-being.
Point in fact; recently, I wake up at 3 o’clock in the morning, and I write two lists, side by side. The first list was all the positive labels I have received from a close family member from the time I was small, until present day. I have exactly one item on the positive side of the paper; “good mother.”
The second half of the paper is a list of negative labels I have received. I have 64 items on the negative side of the paper. 64 labels that were put on me since I was small, by one person who was oblivious to how their words affected me. 64 labels that I internalized and have carried with me for years…
Although logically I know that someone else’s labels should not define me, I have to admit that I have been deeply affected by them. Sometimes I would wonder; if someone else can only see negative things in me, what does that say about me?
As a result of how I internalized their words, for many years I have felt as though I am “not good enough.” I have felt worthless, alone, deeply sad, insecure, incapable of making decisions on my own, a strong need to feel validation from others and to be liked, and finally, an inability to allow criticisms to “roll off of my back,” thereby absorbing each negative thing people have said to me into my consciousness- whether I knew it or not.
I have tasted and eaten every criticism and judgment that has been served me throughout my life, having recurring nightmares of people “getting sick” inside of my mouth; a putrid substance sliding down my throat, into my belly. (Sorry for the imagery.)
Although I put on a tough exterior, every negative word has been like an arrow finding it’s way to the center of my heart. And as every wound begins to heal, a fresh wound is made; leaving me with a seemingly fragile heart that is constantly and simultaneously being healed as well as being wounded. It has left me feeling both ill, and abnormal… for as long as I can remember.
After getting cancer, and realizing the importance of peacefulness of mind and heart, and the direct link that anxiety has on the immune system and the development of disease, I came to the realization that severing ties with people or things that cause me anxiety is not only a necessary step in my life, but a life-saving one. I came to a simple conclusion; Anxiety + Stress = Cancer and Death… and I was NOT going to leave my beloved children on this planet without me.
The problem was, that although I was able to limit contact with anxiety-provoking people, I could not eliminate some of them from my lives completely, for various reasons. Because of this, I began to be completely honest with the perpetrators of the “slings and arrows” that had kept my heart constantly injured throughout the years; thereby creating clear and distinct boundaries. It was as simple as this:
I will not speak to you if you continue to say things that are hurtful to me. I criticize myself so much already, that my cup of negativity “hath runneth over.” I will no longer tolerate comments, “suggestions” for my life, “thoughts” or “opinions” that are negative, because, simply… I CANNOT TAKE ONE MORE CRITICISM. And…I will not live in bondage to anxiety, because you do not know how to show me love without hurting me. I choose to live what’s left of my life without additional pain, for as long as I can help it.
I have found that my anxiety has greatly diminished after the implementation of my new boundaries, and my unwillingness to allow people in my life to negatively label me or cause me emotional distress. (I also began to eliminate stressful media from my life, such as nightly news, and films that contain horror, gore, or other things that would impact me in a negative way.) The nightly “ruminating” about negative things people say to me during the day have mostly stopped, because I have either cut hurtful people out of my life or have told them that I do not want to listen to their criticisms any longer.
Every day, I still battle with unexpected things that come up that threaten or undermine my peace. However, I feel a sense of strength and power with the knowledge that I do not, under any circumstances, need to compromise my own sense of inner peace out of obligation or guilt. Obligatory gatherings with people who aren’t willing to change their ways, and/or are negligent with my emotions, are not worth me being sick for days. I am always able to find something healthier to do with my limited time, such as spend time with my husband and children.
Creating the clear boundaries was the easy part. The hard part was the push-back. The difficulty was not due to me being unable to tell people when they crossed a line. It was with other people fighting to maintain the status quo. It is difficult for people to learn how to treat you differently than they always have. It sometimes seems impossible for people to really change. For a person to change, they must admit that they have a problem. Unfortunately, most people do not enjoy being “wrong” and will fight to the death to prove that they are right. But “being right” means never changing for the better.
I have spent years of my life listening to people tell me that I am “too sensitive” and “reading into things.” This is called gaslighting, if you are unaware. Fortunately, in my quest for self-healing, I have done an enormous amount of reading on the subject and can finally say that the “spell” has now been broken, and I will no longer believe such lies. The problem was never my sensitivity. The problem was that others did not have the self-awareness to understand that they were hurting me. When I finally explained it to them, they did not seem to have the inclination to change; to admit their shortcomings, and to seek outside help in order to prevent my suffering due to their words and actions. This is a failure to love. I believe that love is an action word…and the refusal to take action in order to change negative behavior is the opposite of love.
Learning that the people in my life who caused me pain were incapable of loving me the way I needed to be loved was a tough pill to swallow. I still struggle with it. I still long for the day when things will be different…when they will finally see how much they are hurting me and wrap their loving arms around me; filling me with all of the love I will ever need. I feel as though I have a 30 gallon tank, capable of being filled with copious amounts of love, and they are feeding me love-by-the-teaspoon…never able to fill me up.
Being always empty of love is a frightening, and devastatingly sorrowful experience. However, I have come to learn that God, my true Father in Heaven is ready with all of the love I will ever need. So, I journey with the Lord; getting to know Him through His Word, talking to Him in prayer, and taking Bible studies at church.
I have come to learn that when people fail you, (which is usually inevitable because of their fallible nature), God is ready to take our burdens and show us the true meaning of Love. Love that is PERFECT, uncompromising, non-judgmental, and without contingencies.
Negative labels are hurtful and can be life threatening; if we allow them to be. It is time for all of us to shed negative labels and replace them with positive ones. Here is a simple activity that might start you on your journey. You can invite a friend to participate!
- Write all of your negative labels on small sheets of paper.
- Meditate on how you have been impacted by them.
- Destroy them.
- Write new labels for yourself that are positive and remind you of the way you would imagine God sees you; without judgement, and without condition. Full of LOVE.
- Put the labels somewhere you can see them every day, when you first wake up in the morning.
- Meditate on all the gifts God has given you.
- Ask God to forgive and bless those who have hurt you. Thank Him for everything.
- Forgive those who have hurt you. Say the words, “I forgive ________.” Say those words every day, for as long as it takes for you to truly and honestly forgive them.
- Get closer to God: Pray daily, join a bible-study, and read the Gospels. Give your burdens to the Lord. Pray for healing.
- Start a gratitude journal. Pick 5 things every day that you are grateful for and write them down; even if they are the same things every day. This simple act has been proven to help people sleep better and increases your overall well-being.
How has negative labeling impacted your life? What ways have you chosen to combat anxiety? Please leave your answers in the comment section below, and if you liked this post, please subscribe! (I have written a Christian children’s book about this very subject and can use as many subscribers as I can get, in order to get it published! Thank you and God Bless You all!)