In life, we oftentimes exist in a boxing ring of identification. Some of our labels are our opponents and some are our dearly beloved masks. We are either throwing a punch at one which has been forced upon us, or we are dodging, ducking and rendering ourselves bloody in an effort to maintain one we are hiding behind.
Labeling others creates a false sense of comfort within us. It forges a feeling that we can encapsulate and wrap our minds around the totality of what that person is, thereby creating a point of reference for determining what we can expect from that person. It gives us the illusion of control and security, oftentimes packaged in ego-feeding judgment. What if, the majority of the time, we are way off base? What if the “why” behind the “what” of whichever appearances and behaviors we see are not at all what we presume them to be?
Consider all of the labels you have been branded with in your life. There is the all-star. The outcast. The class clown. The freak. The good girl. The quiet one. The rebel and the groupie. Perhaps some you wore like a useless badge, some you paraded like a prized medal and some you wore like “The Scarlet Letter.” Whatever they were, what if you gave yourself permission to discard them forevermore?
Sometimes The Labels Are Way Off Base, Anyway…
I grew up in a closely-knit, conservative family. Although the loving and the loyalty came naturally to me, I was a free spirit from the time I came out of the womb. I wasn’t the type of child who subscribed to a belief system merely because I was instructed to. I hungered for deeper understanding that no “this is the right path and is, therefore, what you should follow” could pacify. I ached to explore unfamiliar terrain. I needed to learn of other cultures and modes of knowing – to touch, even at the risk of being burned. I had an itch to satisfy what only enlightenment through experience could give me, and it needed to be scratched.
It wasn’t satiating to be told that something was or was not true; I needed to explore truths deep within the fiber of my own being. I need to feel it digest in my belly. I needed it to wash through my veins and become alive within me. I needed my tongue to taste the bitter fruit and my feet to touch the cold soil.
In retrospect, I realize my restlessness wasn’t so much for the sake of rebellion or defiance as it was for a deep, organic appetite for understanding and expansion. I felt caged in my own life, and this feeling only fueled my curiosity and hunger for what was on the other side of the safety of my bubble. Trying to force myself to not challenge my instinctual curiosities was smothering.
I was like a mad scientist – testing and reformulating every rule and concept forced upon me. By the age of 15, I was nearly a professional at pushing boundaries. My ultimate goal was never to defy or upset anyone; I was just trying to figure out who I was – not the me anyone else thought I should be, or the me I thought another expected me to be, but the me I chose organically – behind all of the layers of how others identified me – my physical appearance, my race, my inherited religion, and the legalistic and oppressive ideals and rules I felt it burdened upon me.
If you were to look into my childhood and youth from the outside, “the rebel” would be an appropriate label. I often terrified my elders with my strong will, boldness and restless spirit. But those personality attributes have come to serve me well as an adult. My brazenness has awarded me many wonderful opportunities. So any negative connotation that label once held is irrelevant. So is that of all of yours.
Stop Hexing Yourself With Who You Never Were Anyway.
You are not the competitions you have lost or the races you have won. You are not the lies you have told. You are not your failed relationships or marriages. You are not the trend you followed or the train you stepped off on. You are not the kid who was picked on in high school or the kid who was worshipped. You are not the poor little girl who grew up on the wrong side of town. Those are experiences and roads ventured, but do not define a human being.
You are not the skeletons in your closet. You are not the mistakes which make you cringe, make your hands shake and hide your face in shame. None of those things, even if containing fragments of your truth, make up the totality of who you are.
We must stop allowing the limitation of labels to either serve as a crutch or cripple us. Most of the time they were created by people who don’t have a clue what we have walked through, or what goes on deep inside our internal forests of desire and vulnerability.
You are not who your past says you or – whether glorious or shameful. Your worth is not damaged by having been the villain, or amplified by having been the victim. You are who you choose to be now. Today. This moment is where the power exists.
In my life, I have been a girl who shamefully rekindled an abusive relationship time and again – after years of emotional and physical warfare, sickening dysfunction and episodes upon episodes of public humiliation. But I’m also the girl who walked away from it triumphantly. I’m the girl who once feared I would never be acceptable to others if they knew the mental dungeons I’d crawled through. But I’m also the girl who has bravely unloaded some of her most shameful skeletons for the sake of liberating others to do the same.
I’m the girl who once fought to smother the truth, but I’m also the girl who shouts it boldly. I’m the girl who once stalled the pursuit of her dream of being a writer, but I’m the girl who is now living it prosperously and unapologetically. I’m a girl who has been weak and a girl who has been strong, but my relevance lies in neither ideation. I’ve been labeled wonderful things and awful things, but not a single one defines me. I am not my labels, past or present. Neither are you.