Marsy Beron’s book examines how to prevent the “labels” often attached to us in childhood from becoming self-fulfilling behavior. Her thesis: some actions (e.g., not cleaning your room) lead to being labeled (“you’re sloppy”) and then to belief (“I’m sloppy”) and finally to acting that way. Thus, the early labeling not only damages a child’s self esteem and confidence, it influences his or her future behavior.
Beron, a former journalist who now practices Gestalt psychotherapy, presumably in Bulgaria, where she attended the National Institute of Gestalt Psychotherapy, draws extensively from her own life and from her patients’ stories. In her view, parents are the first culprits in assigning labels; later the perpetrators may be teachers, schoolmates, employers, intimate partners and mothers-in-law (for whom she shows a special antipathy). She cites the odd nicknames given by children to their peers, including “lumpy, booger boy, blob, splinter.”
The unusual names may be attributable to the translation (presumably from Bulgarian, though this is never stated directly), which is stilted and often clouds the narrative. Some of the writing is accessible, but many sentences take great effort to intuit: “The effect we seek is not always congruent with what the child is naturally drawn towards.” Punctuation errors also hamper comprehension.
Beron mentions a number of potentially helpful strategies to rid readers of negative labels. Some require exercise and physical exertion; a tenet of Gestalt therapy is that emotional pain resides in the body, so the pain needs to be released literally.
Near the end of the book, the author summarizes useful ways for readers to “straighten the crooked mirror” and evaluate themselves more kindly. They include rewriting your life story, reducing the power of authority figures, using sports and physical rituals and focusing on successes and positive traits.
Good advice, certainly. However, it’s unlikely that many readers will get this far, due to the effort required to understand the translated work.
Also available in hardcover.