Challenging Our Labels on the Road to Self Discovery

I love good stories. Some of the best stories are written for children. They are wonderfully simple and deeply complex at the same time. Are you familiar with the children’s fairy tale “The Ugly Duckling” by Hans Christian Andersen? It’s about a mother duck with several baby ducks who live on a farm with many other animals. One of her babies is larger, taller, and not so cute. The other baby ducks tease him and call him the “ugly duckling”, and the other animals on the farm bully him.


The ugly duckling is shy and scared so runs away from the farm and his family. Everywhere he goes, he is teased and bullied. No one ever saw a duckling as large, tall, and unattractive as he. One day, far from home, the ugly duckling sees several swans fly by. They are beautiful, graceful, large, and strong. The sight of them makes his heart beat faster, and he can’t take his eyes off them until they are far, far away.


Several months later, the scared ugly duckling spots some swans nearby on a lovely pond. He hides in the tall grasses and watches as they gently and gracefully swim through the water as if floating above it. The ugly duckling builds up all his courage and decides to swim over to them. He’s eager to see these beautiful creatures up close. As they see him coming, the swans excitedly and quickly swim over to meet him! When they reach the ugly duckling, they happily welcome him and are kind and gentle to him.


The ugly duckling doesn’t understand why these beautiful swans are so nice to him; no one has ever treated him that way before. Feeling uncomfortable with all the attention, he hangs his head and tries to hide under his wing. As he’s looking down, he sees his own reflection in the pond. He can’t believe what he sees! He doesn’t see an ugly duckling at all. He sees he is a beautiful, graceful, large and strong swan himself. He was never an ugly duckling.


While there are many life lessons woven throughout this wonderful story, this is what I believe to be the most important: Find the TRUTH about Yourself


When the mother duck and baby ducks labeled him an “ugly duckling”, they were wrong. They didn’t know what a baby swan looked like so spoke from what they believed about themselves. The rest of the farm animals also didn't know what a baby swan looked like, so they continued the same label his family gave him. Worst of all, the “ugly duckling” didn’t know he was really a baby swan, so he believed the defeating and limiting labels given him.


We humans do the same thing. We believe defeating and limiting labels others give us, such as, not good enough, unlovable, never amount to anything, ugly. Defeating and limiting labels don’t have to define you. Test those labels.

  1. Look at who is labeling you. If the person doesn’t know much about you, then the defeating and limiting labels are probably more about them. By definition, bullies want to tear you down in an attempt to feel good about themselves. It’s not about you at all. It’s not the truth.

  2. Surround yourself with people who build you up. People who spend time with you, laugh with you, and listen to you are people who want the best for you. Hang on to what they say about you, and fill your life with these people.

  3. Reduce your time with people who tear you down. Choose carefully when to be around those who tear you down. Learn to kindly say ‘no’. Decide in advance how to gracefully excuse yourself from their presence; and allow yourself to take a break from them whenever you need to. The truth is there are people we must exclude from our lives because they are poisonous to us, even if they are family. Build up the emotional strength to do so with compassion.

In our story, sadly, the “ugly duckling” had to remove himself from the only family he knew because they tore him down. He didn’t have my blog to help him, so he didn’t know how to test the defeating and limiting labels. Finally, he found a group who built him up … the swans. Only then, did he realize he was never an ugly duckling, and he is a beautiful swan!


Test the labels. Find your truth and your inner swan-ness!


If you’d like help with getting rid of defeating and limiting labels or with finding your truth, consider contacting a mental health professional, such as me. You’ll be amazed at what a difference it can make.


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