For over a decade, it has become a “thing” to think about and talk about oneself as a brand. You are encouraged to protect your brand and grow your brand and promote your brand, especially in regard to business relationships. I bring my brand and its services to your business, and I expect us to be on a more or less equal footing.

In addition to this being total B.S., I find it deeply offensive and unhealthy.

Humans are not objects to be branded and sold. We are complex, sentient beings, and each of us is unique and multifaceted. We are not a series of transactions. The idea that all interactions are transactional, that we are each supposed to “get” something out of the transaction each and every time, precludes the higher parts of our nature, like altruism, compassion, understanding, caring, intimacy, and even love.

Back in the late ’80s and early ’90s, we heard the idea that, especially in personal relationships, we were to become the right kind of product that “people would want to take off of the shelf.” Become the right product and you will succeed. People will want you. You’ll find the relationship or job you are looking for.

I like and use certain products regularly, but is that the way I would want to be treated — like a paid-for product that is used by the purchaser however they see fit?

The right product/brand wears the right clothes, goes to the right places, knows the right people, watches the right TV shows, likes the right music, and has the right way of thinking. No dissent or divergence or diversity of thought is tolerated. The danger here is that these things that we are supposed to do and be begin to warp our self-image.

If my identity — what I do, say, think, and feel — is that of a product or brand, then I am focusing only on what I need to do or be to please other people professionally or personally. This leaves out important questions, like: Who are you? What do you believe? What matters to you? What brings you joy? Who are you becoming? What fulfills you?

My self-image is how I see myself, and that starts with the components of self-value, self-awareness, knowing who I am, knowing my beliefs, attitudes, thoughts, feelings, and choices. Having a positive self-image gives me a sense of agency over my own life instead of being something that others use to fulfill their purposes. My self-image determines my self-worth and how I acknowledge and honor my emotions and their complexity, my self-esteem and self-confidence, and ultimately, how I love myself. When these values are properly developed, nobody can take them away from you.

When I relate to other people, whether in a business, personal, or intimate relationship, I need to have a real good idea of who it is that I am asking them to relate to. If I have fallen into trying to be the right product or the right brand, then there’s the potential trap of letting others define who I am. I may be a good brand for making your teeth whiter and stronger, but what about my own teeth?

Self-image and self-identity are important issues in our lives and should not be trivialized. Yet with this branded way of thinking, that is exactly what we wind up doing: trivializing ourselves.

Why am I making an issue of this? Because products and brands aren’t authentic. They may be good or bad quality. I may or may not like them. But they are only good for one purpose. They either work or they don’t. We are all so much more than that. You are so much more than that.

If you have to play the Brand Game at work, that’s okay. But don’t let those narrow confines define who you are and are becoming.

Living Skills offers positive psychology counseling, spiritual counseling and life coaching services in Atlanta for the LGBT community. Also available by Skype. If you have questions, comments or want to find out about our services, please email us at livingskillsinc@gmail.com.