"laestadian, apostolic, gay, lgbtq, ex-oalc, ex-llc, llc, oalc, bunner" LEARNING TO LIVE FREE: The Limits of Labels

Friday, January 03, 2014

The Limits of Labels

"She's a narcissist."
"He's totally ADD."
"I'm depressed."
"You're OCD."

We all do it, but when it comes to armchair diagnosing, proceed with caution. This is a helpful article explaining why.

As a parent, I have to consciously fight the urge to "explain" my kids as shy, outgoing, hyper, or whatever, when trying to analyze the cause of some action or mood. Labels limit and inhibit, because we tend to seek evidence that fits, ignore evidence that doesn't (confirmation bias) and act in ways that make the labels self-fulfilling. I know that labels can reduce them, in my mind and more dangerously in theirs.

When our kids diagnose themselves, e.g., "I'm no good at math," instead of simply commiserating, I try to remind them how well they learn when they apply themselves. This doesn't come naturally, but after reading the book Mindset by Carol Dweck, I am persuaded that kids who are told the truth, that their brains are constantly evolving and capable of growth, do better and feel better.
"In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits . . . In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment."
If only this was common knowledge when I was young! As a Laestadian in a public school, I was labeled as a loner and a snob (and no doubt much worse); after all, I didn't hang out, or go to football games or parties. My teachers, grateful to have a compliant student who turned in her work, a pleaser, pegged me as smart. The bar was very low. Because I could win friends by drawing sketches, I got a reputation as an artist. My mother, adapted to a life of cooking, cleaning, and sewing (not disappearing with a book or drawing pad) warned me that I was lazy and not good marriage material. When I questioned the teachings of the church, my father called me disobedient, proud, and self-righteous. Each of these labels I absorbed, as children do, and also questioned, but they all bit me on the butt in different ways, limiting my perceptions of who I was and what I could do, and whether I was lovable.

But the most insidious label was the one I gave myself, without quite realizing it: victim. That one is a soul killer, and I'm glad that it has been replaced in recovery literature by survivor, but the truth is that whatever we say to ourselves about our past, if our self-perception stays rooted there, in circumstances that were out of our control, we are stuck. We are passive, reactive, the audience rather than the creators of our lives.

Infinitely better than surviving is thriving. This chart describes the difference, and while simplified, I think the comparisons may resonate for you as it did for me (you may even recognize voices from this blog over the years). But -- as with everything -- eat the chicken and leave the bones. Take what helps, toss the rest.

Walt Whitman, that wonderful courage-giver, wrote: "Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes."

That is where I am now, accepting myself as a infinitely complex and always evolving. I am sometimes a loner, snobbish, smart, artistic, lazy, not good marriage material, disobedient, proud, self-righteous, and a victim. I am also gregarious, unassuming, dumb, unoriginal, productive, a decent spouse, servile, humble, and an instigator. There is truth in all of these labels, but the larger truth is that they don't define me. I want to offer that same grace to others, especially those in my past, who are so easy to label and so difficult to understand. I'm trying.

What labels have helped or hindered you?


  1. In high school, I was considered a square, a goody-two-shoes, and a day dreamer, because I dreamed of a life I would get to leave my hometown and move to where believers lived and I could be with my own people. I would daydream about my future. I would work in an office for a two to three years at most, and then I would meet some guy from church, get married, and live the church life. I would have four kids, in fairly close succession, and a nice home in which I would have the fun house that my kids would have gatherings at. Those were the kinds of things I would dream. The dream never came true, and I lived alternate lives I had not expected, but I never forgot that dream and I always compared the way my life was now to the "gold standard" that I failed to achieve. The things I found to grab my interest were not sinful things, but certainly earned me some labels, like "eccentric" or "odd" or perhaps even "strange."

    The big freedom came when I have learned to resist any of these labels. When I walked into my class reunion, I could see I was still viewed as a goodie-two-shoes and it didn't bother me. It took more time to resist the labels the church people gave me, both real and perceived. The important thing was how I felt about myself. I often were jealous of people from the church who were able to keep their individualism and remain in the church and I realized the most important thing they had going was that they accepted themselves, were comfortable in their own skin, and refused to let themselves be bullied. (And many had supportive family members who respected their choices).

    So...yes...resist labels, and labeling others. And especially, labeling oneself!

    The last post contained some discussion about why people don't move on. The original poster meant no harm, I don't believe. I post here from time to time and lurk here more often. If I find anything troubling about the church, I think, its the bullying that goes on and the pressure that it takes to conform, outside pressure to be what others want you to be. So what if you're a believer who only shows up 10 times a year and doesn't go to the annual meeting? Why can't church be a refuge for anyone who grew up in the faith and for those who have found the church on their own? I find more people, through situations in their lives who have cut down on their attendance because of bullying issues. I found it harder to deal with people making snide remarks when greeting me because I missed church (I was sick for several years) because they were related or had hung out with me in the past and thought they had a right to. It doesn't go very far to be shamed. If someone, in your estimation, isn't attending enough, and you're truly concerned as a fellow "loving" believer, why not be a friend? Invite them to your home when you're having a social gathering. Make a special effort to be inclusive. And yes, refrain from labels, like "malingerer" or "mixed up in the world" or whatever you feel is to blame for their low attendance rate.

    Or maybe just deal with the fact that for them, ten times a year is enough, and there may be a day that comes when you don't see them at all anymore, or you may see them 30 times a year.


  2. The most powerful help I found when I found myself thrown under the Church Bus was downloaded to me,there is a verse in proverbs that reads "as a man thinks so is he". It all becomes more powerful when we realize that we can change our thinking,we can think for oursellves and seek truth. Right thinking leads to right living,we will be victims no more....

  3. I think the label that bothers me most is "unbeliever".
    I left because I wanted to follow God's will in my life. I believe. My faith, however, is in God, and not in the human institution of the Laestadian Church.
    I also dislike the label of "heretic" or "tic" or whatever else those from the "other Laestadian groups" are referred to as.
    The label "Christian" takes on whole new meaning when one views it outside the confines of Laestadianism".
    but..to my family and most of my old friends...
    I remain,

  4. Crazy, but I was just thinking about this the other day! When you grew up in a Laestadian church, the last thing you want to be labeled is an "unbeliever". Unfortunately, as soon as that label is stuck on your forehead, your friends and loved ones will never look at you the same again. It is automatically assumed that you have been listening to the devil, are going to burn in hell forever, are leading a sinful life, and on and on. I don't believe that anyone considers the fact that you may actually be trying to grow yourself spiritually and be more open to the universe as a whole. Maybe it is easier to slap a label on people rather than taking a deeper look inside yourself.

    God's blessings to all,

    Unbeliever II

    1. Unbeliever II said, ""unbeliever"...Unfortunately, as soon as that label is stuck on your forehead, your friends and loved ones will never look at you the same again. It is automatically assumed that you have been listening to the devil, are going to burn in hell forever, are leading a sinful life, and on and on."" You pretty much summed up why I will not attend a Laestadian service even if a 'guest minister' is in town. I get those invitations from some who seem to think that if I just hear this new speaker I will suddenly realize the errors of my way and that I will feel this burning desire to return to the fold. Having been a member, I know what is said about outsiders and particularly those who have left. Even if one was to start attending they would be watched with a jaundiced eye as the 'label' of unbeliever would always be stuck on one's back. It is as though no one can conceive of the idea that there is spiritual life in other churches. So I just accept it all for what it was, specifically that I grew up in a semi-cult church with a dogmatic doctrine that amounted to brainwashing by overbearing guilt ridden parents. But I do know that I have a choice and I am happy not associating with my past. Old AP

  5. Punahilkka says "It took more time to resist the labels the church people gave me, both real and perceived."

    This really struck me, the perceived part. My family has adjusted quite well since I left the church last March, yet I constantly feel their judgment. When I read "real and perceived" I thought about it a bit...they don't voice that they believe I'm an "unbeliever," they don't voice that they "know I'm going to hell," yet these are things that I'm absorbing. I've even mentioned things to them and they feel hurt that I assume they are constantly judging me. It's a journey of learning, and this is one more thing that I am going to let go. If it isn't being said, it doesn't exist. Think it'll work??

    I too, have been on a spiritual journey that never existed for me in the OALC. I have a deeper faith, and have been to a higher place than I ever was aware of existing, and it has been beautiful.

    And as Unbeliever II mentions, when they know nothing, slapping labels around is what works...it's a way of keeping things black and white, with no "gray areas."

    Okay, cheers!


  6. I am very interested in the technique that is used by both sides, "If it isn't being said, it doesn't exist." That by skirting the issue, we can then skirt the truth and pretend that what is real isn't really there, for we didn't talk about it. I see it as co-operative denial. A place, that I feel many live most of the time. Especially where the sins are forgiven and we now don't or can't talk about it, like the sin of that behavior has magically disappeared, since we can't talk about it.

    It works, for if you were to press the issue about how you truly felt about each other, the chasm of difference would scream at you. So by remaining silent, you all can pretend to pretend there is no real differences. And yet, we all fully know the concept of how Believers believe and what those who don't are then seen as.

    I believe that most don't press the issue, because they don't want to know know the real truth beneath the unspoken. Yet you feel it. You no longer have the deep faith in their love or respect in how they now see you. Something stands in the way…and it is their belief.

    Beth Jukuri

  7. "24" is trying to deal honestly with her family and not with her assumptions of how they feel about her. That is not denial, or skirting the issue, it is humility about her ability to know another's thoughts except through their words and actions.
    Beth, what if there is no chasm between "Believers" and "Unbelievers"? What if those are deceptive categories, polar opposites, that not even those who use the words can actually define to their own satisfaction, let alone anyone else's? There is an alternative view, that beliefs are infinitely complex and malleable, often contradictory, and confusion is more common to humans than clarity.
    "Pluralistic ignorance" and "false consensus" are relevant concepts from social psychology. Pluralist ignorance is the assumption that everyone in a group believes in a norm (e.g., who is going to heaven or hell). Privately many (even most) may actually reject that norm. This is also described as "no one believes, but everyone thinks that everyone believes."
    What "24" is wisely doing is not participating in pluralistic ignorance. That is a journey I'd recommend to anybody. If it isn't being said (or done), don't assume it. Deal with reality, not projections or assumptions.
    False consensus is overestimating how many believe the same way. It is common in groups where consensus is highly valued and alternative views are suppressed, but can also be a factor of personalities who avoid challenge and seek friends and media that confirm their views.
    Social change occurs when people -- brave people -- dare to question assumptions about norms, and in doing so, reveal the already-existing plurality of views beneath the facade of consensus. We can speed social change along in Laestadianism by refusing to bow to any restrictive categories and instead, by judging people on words and actions, not by affiliation or membership.

  8. Call 911..you all are going nuts.

  9. " Maybe it is easier to slap a label on people rather than taking a deeper look inside yourself."
    AMEN! For me, this realization was very important for my being able to start moving on...past the anger, and past the labeling of all "Laestadians" as bad, simply because my experience with the Church, and with my leaving it was dificult. My parents love me. I love them. This is made difficult by their belief that I am damned because I am an "unbeliever"...and it makes them quite uncomfortable when in their presence I talk about my faith and my spiritual search, and my attempts to discern God's will in my life. But it was my willingness to move beyond my anger, and look at their motives (as I understand them) and know that they have to be true to who they are, just as I do. And I pray we continue to be able to find common ground based on our mutual love and care for each other...and deal with each other as people rather than as "labels"

  10. Commendable thinking Free, but I seriously doubt "we" will speed social change in Laestadianism. I doubt those groups give a flying rip about what those of us who have left think. A few might be curious...and if something resonates with them, then they too will leave the fold. The churches will assume those "unbelievers" are lost souls and for the most part, not give them another moment's thought. The only way social change will be effected within those churches is when people decide there is enough of value for them to stay, and then they fight from the inside. I have seen people leave, and I have seen groups of people leave -- and it doesn't change a thing except to give a little fodder for gossip for awhile.

    So...should we all have stayed in the churches and railed against something we didn't believe in anymore? More and more, I am accepting that other people have the right to believe whatever they want to believe, and it is not up to me to be their judge, jury, executioner...or moral conscience.

    1. By "we," I meant we humans, inside or out. Is there npt positive change happening in the churches -- not just in Laestadian ones, but everywhere? I think so. It is difficult to see the forest for the trees, but when we think in terms of generations, not years, it is evident that the arc of history is bending toward justice. I'll post something I read recently about the value of emphasizing this progress . . . said much more eloquently than I can . . .

    2. There is change happening, at least in Conservative Laestadianism. Contraception is widely used in the SRK, especially in Southern Finland. Neither women there nor the men who love and respect them are as willing to keep half the church population as second-class citizens who procreate, feed, and clean up after the menfolk. Some of that enlightenment has made its way, quietly, into parts of the LLC, too. It’s a bottom-up process. The old guard will be the last to change, if not by attitudes of individuals then by their slow attrition.

      Most of the LLC preachers have toned down their rhetoric. They know that they can no longer talk literally or even seriously about Adam and Eve, Noah’s Ark, Jonah and the whale, etc.without insulting the intelligence of their listeners. Nor can they dwell on the grandiose claims about being “God’s Kingdom,” the only place on earth where salvation may be found, without their listeners thinking about just how outrageous the numbers are of saved vs. unsaved.

      There will probably always be a core of true believers, and that core is over-represented in the public voices of the church, by design. Marginal believers are unlikely to be chosen as preachers or board members, and the most committed among those selected will wind up taking on more responsibility in the central organization.

      That’s not to say that Conservative Laestadianism is headed for extinction. The true believers will wind up keeping the organization alive for at least another generation as they toe the line on contraception and outproduce the marginal ones. That will limit dilution of doctrine within the group, as will the drifting away of the marginal ones and their slightly less indoctrinated children.

      But this is happening to some extent in many other fundamentalist groups all over. Religions evolve just like organisms, and those that fit within their societies or just the mini-societies they have cultivated will survive in some form. Descent with modification.

  11. Free sometimes I feel you are wanting there to be no contrast, but that reality is all one. And, that just believing there are opposites, makes it so. That we live in an illusion that there are polar opposites OR that our families are NOT really that bad, or not harmful or not loving. That we just have to look at them differently and they will be different.

    I do however agree that confusion is much more common than clarity! And, I feel that those of us who are trying to clarify.

    Beth Jukuri

  12. Perhaps we don't understand each other, and that's okay. I am keenly aware of the evil and injustice in the world and also within Laestadianism (which this blog has not shied away from), but what we "choose to emphasize" as Howard Zinn says, can make a difference, not only for our wellbeing but our ability to be of use to others.

    1. "Maybe it is easier to slap a label on people rather than taking a deeper look inside yourself." Amen. Labels tend to, by definition, separate us. It is part of the reason why Laestadians label everyone else as unbelievers, even the other Laestadian Sects, because it is in that separateness that the identity is found, and it is in the "otherness" that their specialness lies. As far as promoting change, it is not be helping foster the us vs. them mentality that brings about change. I believe change happens in the margins, it happens in the knowing and interacting respectfully with people. It happens through compassion and love. I could blame the all of the LLC for my sexual abuse...however, while I know that the closed nature and the emphasis on "forgiveness" upon request with little else expected makes it a breeding ground for abuse, not every individual is responsible for the acts perpetrated upon me. I can rage and blame them all...and on an emotional level that is appealing, but it will never foster my healing. My healing comes from my knowing that I am following my conscience and attempting to discern God's will in my life, and from knowing that the LLC, and especially my abuser, do not define who I am or more importantly whether or not I am a beloved son of God, made in his image and likeness. Beth, I have a limited understanding of your pain, having been abused as well, and I mean no disrespect, but it seems as though you are intent on painting with a broad brush. "OR that our families are NOT really that bad, or not harmful or not loving." Your family was harmful, and it may not have been loving. My parents loved me. They adopted me, and they raised me the best they could within their religious beliefs. They had no knowledge of my abuse until I told them...long after I had moved out. While I find the belief system to be stifling and legalistic, and a potential breeding ground for abuse, I treat hundreds of people who have never heard of Laestadianism, and were not raised in a Fundamentalist setting, who also suffered horrendous abuse. I concur with Free's quote by Howard Zinn, and would add one from Sister Joan Chittister "Our role in life is to bring the light of our own souls to the dim places around us" I found that extremely hard to do when the light of my own soul kept being overshadowed by my anger and fear.
      Wishing you all Peace

  13. We don't understand each other and/or our interactions with the world or reality. I know that there is lots of literature and practitioners that want to 'help' by taking our focus from reality and placing it on the good. Like keeping the eye on the good will magically erase the bad. IF this was actually beneficial, the evil from the planet would have been long gone.

    This mind technique does little to change the behavior in others…and even your self. Words without Action are useless. Certainly this blog has depicted the injustices, and we all or most have left the church. However, when the evil or wrongdoing happens in the families, we find it more difficult to leave and are often ridiculed and called unforgiving for doing so.

    It is much easier to see the churches failures than it is to see the parents…and or family.

    Even if I were to emphasize my parents hard work and effort the abuse would continue and has, to drip down to the next generation. No amount of positive thoughts will eradicate abuse. No amount of praying or being non-judgmental. And, if a family is treating you different for leaving the church, it is because you are different, you don't attend. Same goes for the exiting of a family due to their behavior.

    I don't know why actions that are moving away from evil are so often seen as wrong…and that staying in with those who hurt you can be addressed as grace or whatever.

    This is where the confusion lies…it isn't in the reality, but rather what we do with it or do not do.

    I am thankful you will post the opposition here.
    Beth Jukuri

    1. Beth,
      I understand that we have different perspectives, while I am FALC, I have not experienced the abuse that you and others have seen. That being said, I have to disagree with you. That statement "taking the focus from reality and placing it on the good" implies that that none of the reality is good at all. Despite the fact that I disagree with much of the FALC teachings, I cannot make that conclusion. I had a happy childhood. My experience working with abused and neglected children in Inpatient Psychiatry made me realize that while I was raised within the bounds of a narrow minded religion, there are many worse ways to grow up. I did not have to see the affects of drugs and alcohol on the people around me, fortunately as a child I also was unaware of any abuse that may have occurred around me as well. If I was to only focus on the things that I disagree with about my upbringing, it would make me a bitter person and affect my ability to be with the people that I love, mainly my family.
      Essentially what I want to say is No, positive thoughts will not eradicate abuse, BUT at least in my mind, the reality includes good as well as bad. And in the past I have found that just thinking on the bad makes me bitter, seeing the good as well helps me move on, with the idea that the future can only get better.

  14. One of the biggest frustrations and walls I bump up against is the concept that when I deal with abuse, I have tossed out all the good, joy and love in my life.

    It is because of have dealt with it, that I have a better life.

    Mostly what I hear are stories of abuse behind the scenes and then in the open the good things that the church has taught. What I am mostly trying to punch through is that because we talk about abuse and exit a family and a church, it doesn't leave us in a worse state, but in a better one.

    Dealing with the abused and being abused are completely two different things…
    Neglect is neglect. Betrayal and indifference is the same no matter the reasons behind it. In fact, I would respect more a mother who is drunk, than one who sits in the pews and proclaims the values and morals of goodness, while turning away from abuse.

    Living in the hopes for a better future while concentrating on good thoughts, again does nothing for the victims. I am sorry. If this was true, my father would not have been able to abuse for 4 decades.

    I wish it were so.

    I wish prayer worked and forgiveness worked and kind folks being kind to the abusers.
    Or that we can look at our bad situation and find one worse so we are to be grateful for all that we have.

    I will not change minds.
    I will not change how others view me.
    But, I will be the voice for victims who want a different way.
    If I could have found a way to heal and keep my relationships with the family I would have done so.

    Perhaps the affects of the narrow minded is to see victims as the problem, as bitter and cold and unloving. And how do we correct this narrow minded view?

    By loving the evil among us?
    I am without answers.

    Beth Jukuri