In today’s video, I’m going to cover the cognitive distortion of “labeling.”

Read or watch below to learn more about labeling.

Zachary Stockill: Hello and welcome back to my ongoing series on retroactive jealousy and cognitive distortions. In today’s video, we’re going to cover a classic, and that is the cognitive distortion of labeling. 

So what is labeling? Labeling is something that certainly we’re all guilty of from time to time. It generally involves taking one behavior and using that to define a person as an individual; making a judgment about someone else, or maybe making a judgment about yourself, rather than seeing the behavior as something that doesn’t necessarily define you, or doesn’t necessarily define them as an individual.

You might call yourself or label yourself a failure, or a bad person. Or you might label yourself as not trustworthy, or you might label someone else as not trustworthy. And often it’s based on one particular incident, rather than a long pattern of behavior.

This is yet another reason why I talk all the time about…

Looking for patterns rather than perfection when you’re trying to decide who someone truly is. 

Because if someone is honest for 25 years, and then you catch them telling one little white lie, does that make that person a liar?

Now, technically, maybe the answer is yes. Because a liar is defined as someone who tells lies, obviously. 

But my point is if you really want to label that person and want to get a sense of who they are, should you look at that one incident? Or should you look at your entire experience of that person? Should you consider the consistent patterns they’ve demonstrated over their entire lifetime, as opposed to one minor incident?

One of the ways you can challenge labeling and yourself is to…

Ask yourself if the opposite is true. 


So for example, coming back to this liar example, let’s say you’re calling someone else a liar.

Maybe they’ve told the truth on numerous occasions. You can look at evidence of that you can realize “I actually have a lot of evidence that they’re a truth-teller, because of X, Y, and Z…” You can easily label them as a truth-teller based on more evidence. 

This whole issue of labeling raises some really interesting philosophical questions. Such as: what defines us? 

Many people would say our actions, the choices that we make as individuals, that’s what defines who we are. But more than individual actions, I think what truly defines us as individuals is patterns rather than one-off events that conflict with those patterns.

It’s also important to remember that labeling is very constricting. Because human beings are universes unto themselves. 

Human beings are deeply, deeply complicated. 


And when we assign a label to someone else, or even ourselves, it’s extremely constricting. It doesn’t tell the whole story, because human beings are so complicated. We have much more that defines us as opposed to one-off events. 

So my homework for you in this video, as I’ve been saying, throughout this series, is to ask yourself: where in your life are you assigning labels that aren’t necessarily accurate, that aren’t necessarily fair? And are these labels potentially contributing to things like retroactive jealousy, or even obsessive jealousy in your relationship?

If you need more help with retroactive jealousy and cognitive distortions, check out my online course “Get Over Your Partner’s Past Fast”, or consider applying for one-on-one coaching with me.

Zachary Stockill
Zachary Stockill

Hi! I'm a Canadian author and educator whose work has been featured in BBC News, BBC Radio 4, The Huffington Post, and many other publications. I'm the founder of, the author of Overcoming Retroactive Jealousy and The Overcoming Jealousy Workbook, and the host of Humans in Love podcast.