The Toxic Name I Lived By—and How I Broke Free

Finding Freedom From Labels

Middle school. Seventh grade. That was the year I began living by the name that stripped me of my self-worth.

The first time I heard that name, it was from a couple of my neighborhood friends. I loved to make them laugh. And they laughed at stupid things. So, I did stupid things.

But then, all of a sudden, I did one too many stupid things—and something shifted.

I felt it. And I couldn’t do anything about it. I knew they had already made the decision that I was the “stupid friend,” and no amount of backpedaling would convince them otherwise. Each day—on the bus, or rollerblading around the neighborhood, or playing video games at one of our houses—I felt that identity being pushed into me.

Hah! You idiot.”
“You’re doing it wrong, dummy.”
“Tim barely has enough common sense to get around!”

Names have power. When someone forces a name on you every day, you start wondering whether they’re right.

Stupid followed me long past middle school, even though my childhood friends and I completely lost touch with each other.

As I look at my life, I can see that I’ve been working ever since to prove to myself that I’m not.

At 32 years old, I still catch myself correcting people. Yes, I’m fully aware that one of the most infuriating things a human can do to another human is to correct their grammar. But I’ve noticed that deep down, it’s how I subconsciously try to convince myself that I’m smart enough. Because if I’m not smart, I’m not useful.

Deep inside, I long to be useful. I long to find something amazing and valuable inside me that’s able to make an impact on the world. So, when someone makes me remember that old name, Stupid, I react like a cat backed into a corner. I fight for survival.

I think most of us have a name—or a series of names—that make us do that. False identities the world has given us. We’ll do anything to prove those names wrong, but we’re worried they’re right.

I once did an exercise with my friends in college where we wrote the name, we hear most often about ourselves on a “Hello, My Name is…” sticker and stuck it to our shirts. Then, we wrote the name we believed God was calling us on another sticker and stuck it over the first one.

I couldn’t believe some of the names my friends lived by: Insufficient. Ugly. Worthless. Screw-up. And even more shocking was this:

Every name tag said essentially the same thing: “Not Enough.”

We all have wildly different names, but I believe most of us are hearing the same core message about ourselves.

We each were originally designed to be something beautiful, before the world got its grubby hands on us. But that version of us is hiding under layers upon layers of masks that we’ve created to hide our real selves.

For the last few years, God has been directing me back to Genesis 1:27—the very beginning of the Bible—to remind me how I was originally designed. “So, God created man in His own image; in the image of God, He created him; male and female He created them.”

There’s something incredibly important in that verse. Do you see it?

We are created in His image. Here’s what that means:

We are the only thing on earth God created and said, “I am going to put myself into these people.” We have divine genes. We each are so different...but we all share one thing: When God created us, He made us each look like Him.

That has so much more meaning than we give it credit for.

Whether you’re an introvert or extrovert, an INFP or an Enneagram 1, you show the rest of us a part of God in a unique and amazing way.  And that’s why the rest of us need you to become your most authentic self, so that we can be blessed by the God-given gifts inside you as you learn to harness them more and more.

I used to be skeptical of the verse in Psalm 139 that says, “I praise you because I was fearfully and wonderfully made.” But with that context, I think I finally get it.

Now, when I hear the accusatory voice start pushing my false identity on me, I hear another voice. It’s the voice of God, telling me something I finally believe: “You ARE enough, because you are mine.”

I’ve been working on those lies for years now, and God is starting to free me from my false name. I’m finally starting to believe Him when He says I have immense value—apart from how smart I appear to others on a given day.

But I’m also realizing something else: My false name is strategic.

God has called me to teach, and the name “Stupid” was an extremely effective way to undermine part of my original design from the beginning. If I was made for teaching, wisdom, and leadership, that name is the perfect way to paralyze me.

When I look back on my life, I see a hundred ways the name “Stupid” kept me from using my gifts.

Can you see how the enemy might be doing this in your life?

What might he be trying to hide from you, about who you really are?

See, the enemy knows that if you were to step into who you truly are in Jesus, you would become dangerous to him. So, he is doing everything in his power to keep you from understanding your true identity.

Once I realized that about myself, everything started changing. My inner accuser stopped sounding so loud and convincing.

Because I finally had another voice drowning it out. It was a voice telling me who I truly was.

Today, even during moments when I feel stupid, I’m now able to see that I reflect a part of God that no one else on this earth reflects. And He uses that truth to chase away the false identity and restore my true identity. Every day, He is bringing out more of the unique image of Himself that He’s placed in me.

I believe that’s his plan for you, too.

Personality frameworks like the Enneagram have given me a ton of clues about what that image actually looks like. But the most powerful thing I’ve done to discover more about it has simply been listening to God in my time with Him.

What might God be telling you about your identity? And how might he want to speak into the false names you live by?
I can tell you one thing: He has a lot to say about it.

Tim Branch is a blogger, former ministry leader, and the author of The Enneagram Growth Guide: How to Become Healthier in Your Number—which you can download for free right here. His writing is focused on helping you grow into who you were originally intended to be.

Do you hate yourself? There are many things in this world that attack our self-esteem and sense of worth. Find out what they are here

TheHopeLine Team
For over 30 years, TheHopeLine has been helping students and young adults in crisis. Our team is made up of writers and mental health professionals who care deeply about helping others.
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