Don’t Let Labels Define You, Smash Them Instead

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Maybe it’s because we are so often forced to make new sets of in-person friends thanks to frequent moves. Or maybe it’s because we are so used to holding down the home front during very stressful times like deployment. Whatever the reason, military spouses seem particularly good at walking around under the cloud of personal labels that they don’t really want or believe.

It’s not that they are necessarily bad things, although often they are. It’s just that are labels that someone else has given us. They are labels that hold us back from living the kind of life we want, from being the kind of people we want to be.

Dependent. Catty. Happy. Frumpy. Strong. Courageous.

We hang onto the labels because we feel like we don’t have a choice. But we do.

What if we gave ourselves permission to be those things only when we wanted to, only when we felt like it? Being courageous certainly isn’t a negative, but what if we decided that it would always be our choice — and that sometimes it is OK to not be courageous? Maybe it’s OK to feel afraid.

Maybe it’s OK to decide who we want to be for ourselves.

It was just labels like those that I and a small group of military wives sought to break away from at a recent retreat with Courage Beyond and Her War, Her Voice (a fantastic, deep and honest support blog for military spouses) in the mountains of Tennessee. Placed on ourselves by us or given to us by others, the retreats’ leaders told us that we don’t have to live with those titles. We can let ourselves break free of them and be who we really are.

“Maybe the journey isn’t so much about becoming anything. Maybe it’s about un-becoming everything that isn’t really you so you can be who you were meant to be in the first place,” was written on a board placed near a tree outside the retreat center.

We were handed a raw egg and a marker, asked to write on the egg a label others place on us that we feel is not who we really are, and told to throw it and break it on the board.

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One at a time, more than two dozen eggs smacked against the board, leaving it a yolk covered mess.

“Dependent.” Smack. “Happy.” Smack. “Stuck.” Smack. 

The women who walked away from that exercise did so with the feeling that they had just conquered something huge. We had taken the first step toward acknowledging that the military or our experiences and burdens because of it do not define us. We can be whoever we want to be. We can choose to be happy — we don’t have to be happy. We can choose to be independent  — we don’t have to be “dependent.”

We can choose to be who we really are.

Are you letting other peoples’ labels define you?

About the Author

Amy Bushatz
Amy is the editor in chief of Military.com’s spouse and family blog SpouseBuzz.com. A journalist by trade, Amy also covers spouse and family news for Military.com where she is the managing editor of spouse and family content. An Army wife and mother of two, Amy has been featured as a subject matter expert on CNN.com, NPR, Fox News, NBC, CBS, ABC and BBC as well as in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post. Follow her on twitter @amybushatz.
  • That person

    This one :)

  • jojo613

    I just think that people who are attaching labels to themselves and others need to remember that we are all complex people. Yes, being a military spouse is part of who I am, but I don’t let it define who I am. There are people out there, who think because of who am I married to that I don’t count, that I don’t have value, and that what I do (or don’t do) has no value. If someone thinks that, “screw them.” Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior, without your consent.”