Throw Away Your Labels and Accept Change in Others

change in others

The hardest part about change isn’t that it happens to you. Of course it happens to you. You remember how breaking up with that guy made you see life from a different perspective. How quitting your job made you learn a new skill. You are a constantly evolving person and, for better or worse, you have learned to cope with change all throughout your life.

But do you realize change happens to those around you too?

Before you say “yes,” consider this anecdote from my childhood. I grew up in a family with six children. Separated from oldest to youngest by 13 years, you can imagine that we had a wide variety of personalities amongst the siblings. My oldest sister was the Care Giver. My brother, the Logical Scientist. Me, the Dreamer. My younger sister, the Lazy Genius. My youngest sister, the Hard Worker.

And then there was the Fashionable One, the older sister I just didn’t understand.

Growing up, the Fashionable One and I had little in common. I loved video games and comic books while she could care less about pop culture. She loved clothes shopping, while I wore the blue jeans and T-shirts. Our differences didn’t stop at our personal tastes. We squabbled constantly. She thought I was a brat. I looked at her as a demanding babysitter. When she went off to college, we both chose not to stay in close contact. I had my life, and she had hers. Sure, we saw each other at Christmastime, but our interactions remained within the realm of dinners and opening presents.

When I went to college, our relationship worsened. She had gone into dental school and offered to give my boyfriend a free root canal. My boyfriend cried through the whole thing, saying it caused him pain. I blamed her. She blamed me for not being grateful for her work. Our subtle pact to be indifferent to each other had blossomed into a deep distrust of one another.

Everything changed when I went through my divorce. I didn’t tell anyone I had separated and neither did my ex-husband, so not a lot of people knew what was going on. I had never felt so alone in my life. I withdrew into myself, only getting up to go to work. I’d slap on a happy face, do my job, then come home and fall into bed until the next morning. I told all of my family that things were bad and pushed them away, bitter and angry. I wasn’t really angry at them, but I lashed out anyway. Everyone kept their distance.

Everyone, except the Fashionable One.

She called me several times a week, most of the time not to even talk about the divorce. I felt grateful because I didn’t want to talk about it either. She told me about her 1-year-old son’s antics and it made me laugh. I would find a funny Hallmark card in the mail tucked in between bills and advertisements and put it on my refrigerator. She sent me some gas money to take a trip and told me to enjoy it. I used the money to go on a long hike and contemplate my life choices. It was peaceful and just what I needed.

The Fashionable One even came out to visit me. She dragged her husband and son across two states to watch me mope on the couch. She stayed for two days basically talking at me, planning on staying another day when I told her I wanted to be alone. I really thought she would be angry since her family had travelled over 5 hours with a baby to see me. But she wasn’t angry. She made an excuse about how she needed to get back anyway and almost made the idea sound like it was hers. She hugged me good-bye and continued to call the next week.

It wasn’t until I’d gotten over my divorce that I realized how much our relationship had changed. I had spent 28 years of my life largely indifferent to her, and she to me. Suddenly, she wasn’t the Fashionable One anymore. She was the Listener. I asked her why she had taken care of me, even when I pushed her away. She replied, “Because I hurt once too.”

My sister taught me something. Change isn’t a personal thing; it is a dynamic thing that touches you, me and everyone else. It redefines relationships and makes someone you never cared for your best friend. You might not see it because you have already put labels on people. The Arrogant Brother. The Complaining Co-Worker. The Indifferent Father. But sometimes, if we put forth a little effort, we can surprise each other and learn to get past our own labels.

I’m grateful my sister tossed away “The Brat” label and gave me a chance to become something else in her eyes. We don’t always agree on issues, but we’ve learned to accept one another. Besides, she’s fun to be around. She’s one of the most generous people I know. She has an awesome sense of humor. And she’s definitely not the person I thought she was while we were growing up.

Photo by Sean McGrath

25 thoughts on “Throw Away Your Labels and Accept Change in Others”

  1. The most wonderful thing about change is it’s hiding newness. We often find people telling how past was good, and maybe, we’ll find ourselves telling the same in the future. That basically means, now is already better. It’s how we see the change that we define it. Like Alvin Toffler says, change comes faster than our predictions and that’s why we’re to accept it :\ Change is life, it’s personal.

  2. What a lovely tale!
    If I think back to the person I was several years ago I would barely recognise myself….yet I imagine others are still as they were. How wrong I could be. We often catch ourself labelling or judging new people we meet and realise we should stop, yet we rarely reassess how we think of the people in our lives continuously.

  3. Deborah,

    What a beautiful story – gave me goosebumps! And it’s so true – I’ve been guilty of judging and disgarding people who turned out to be wonderful and supportive friends. And I’ve been on the other side- judged by “old tapes” that other’s had of me.

    Thanks for sharing your story,


  4. I was really touched by that story….

    What really struck a chord was your sister’s unconditional love at just the right time. Even though I am a stranger commenting on your blog for the first time, I do feel happy that you got it.

    I am currently trying to heal my relationship with my parents. There have been a lot of fights, a lot of disagreements. And slowly, I am understanding – that I am waiting for them to change. They are waiting for me change. And I have decided to take the plunge and change …for the better. Argue a little less. Love a little more. Be a little more patient. And so on.

    Thank you for the post anyway. I felt nice reading it.

      1. Actually, Melinda, it’s funny you mention trying to heal your relationship with your parents. When I originally drafted this post, it was about that very thing you mention: trying to mend a relationship with someone else who is dear to me, but due to a set of unfortunate circumstances, we’ve grown apart. However, that draft came off as bitter because I, like you, deep down want that person to change just like she wants me to change.

        Instead, I tried to find a better example of true acceptance of change and found it in my sister. Looking at her selflessness made the post easier to write for me because the two of us have managed to bury our differences. However, I give her large credit because it did take a huge effort on her part. I reciprocated (eventually), but did not initiate. It can be very hard to take that first step. But she inspires me to try harder.

  5. Very nice story. I used to say “bad boy” to my 2-year-old son whenever he’s done something wrong. At first he seemed to understand that he’s not supposed to be like that. But as I continue to say that, he chose to give meaning to that label. Labels sticks and could damage a person for the rest of his life. Instead of labeling, I now try to talk to him nicely and explain to him why he’s being scolded. Though he’s very young, he’s learning to understand and I’m glad that we’re making progress.

  6. I like how you put that change is a dynamic thing that touches all of us.

    Like others say on here, great story! It is indeed very touching. When changes happen around us, changes start to take place in our lives as well. We must learn to adapt the best that we can to those changes.

    Keep up the good work.

  7. Your post made me tear. Friendships and relationships have soured because of labels and my refusal to believe a person could change. Gotta have faith.

  8. I like your article, I grew up in a family of five. My brother used to hurt my sister a lot. I grew up wishing the worst of him. I wanted him to die because to me he was evil. Now he is a different person, he is the opposite. He is a loving and caring person. Reading your article, i realized that i didn’t want to give to my brother the opportunity to change. He is a beautiful person now, and my sister loves him very much. I sometimes asked my self how can my sister forget how much my brother had hurt her. Your article made me look in side me and I still haven’t forgetten the past.

  9. Hi Deborah!!!

    Currently I’m going through the same phase… My girlfriend is keeping distance with me and that’s the most disturbing thing.. I tried every-way to solve her problem.. met her… messaged her.. but nothing seems to be working… cried a lot over the same why the days are not like they used to be… also decided not to disturb her by messaging her.. calling her… now getting much more worried what should i do so that things will be fine again… confused..what should i do.. please help

    1. Hey Legolas,

      I don’t consider myself an expert on relationship advice in any way. I’ve only got my life experiences to draw from. But here’s my two cents from those experiences.

      It’s hardest to help someone who is pushing you away. In the end, she has to solve her own problems, even if you want to solve them for her. The best I can advise in this situation is let her know you are available. It doesn’t even have to be related to her current problems. When my now-husband wanted to date me, I was going through a difficult time and pushed him away too. He just made sure I always knew he was around. He called once a day to check in, he invited me to things (even when I turned down his invitations several days in a row), and was all around supportive.

      Given that, I always realize it was always his choice to move on if I didn’t get out of my funk. A relationship is a two-way street. I told my now-husband several times that if I was depressing him, making him angry, or causing him stress, he should stay away from me too. I didn’t want to impart any of my bad feelings onto him.

      Whatever you decide to do, know that you are trying your best, and always, be willing to accept someone else’s change, but also, be willing to accept you might need to change too.

      1. Hi Deborah,

        Thanks for those kind words…

        I’ve always tried my best to be the best for her… In past, though I’ve behaved like a person who always doubts her. She talks with her ex, other friends and that made us feel very badly to she used to prefer others over me. Right now, I don’t have any doubt abt her. But if i tell her this thing she won’t accept. Now she doesn’t trust me. Also things at my home are so worse. Family problems has always made me feel alone. I always expected she should be with me but she was not.. Now things are getting worse when it comes to family and I’ve said she should forget me. Because she is the only person to whom I’ve shared my all happiness and sorrows and now she is so busy with her other stuff that she doesn’t even care for me.

        God has never loved me n that’s why I’ve so many problems and sorrows in my life.

        I just want to run away from all

        1. One More thing Deborah,

          I told her to forget me because the same reason what you stated ‘I didn’t want to impart any of my bad feelings onto her’.

          I still love her. i still feel to be getting married to her.. i always wanted she should just follow ‘forget and forgive’… but no… she doesn’t..

          I love her more than myself, my life….

        2. Legolas,

          Sorry to hear that you are going through a tough time. If you need support and love, and for whatever reason she’s not available for you, make sure to look to other friends and relatives for guidance. Seek out those you love. And even if you feel at your absolute lowest, there are always places where you are welcome. Spend more time doing charity work or with your religious institute. Know, overall, there are lots of good people around you even when it doesn’t feel like it sometimes.

          And though it’s hard sometimes, make sure you love yourself. I am often my own worst enemy, my own bad critic. But it sounds like you are doing your best, so don’t give up on yourself.

        3. Hi Deborah,

          Thank you so much for your kind words…

          One thing I want to share with you…

          Now she doesn’t contact me.. no message… no phone call at all….

          A 3year relationship is ended like this…

          To whom, I dedicated my whole life… every second.. every minute i just loved her… always stood near her when things were not good for her… but now she doesn’t ‘need’ me…

          I’ve also anger towards her for not being with me the way she used to be..

          Don’t know what should I do…

      2. Hi Deborah,

        Thank you so much for your kind words…

        One thing I want to share with you…

        Now she doesn’t contact me.. no message… no phone call at all….

        A 3year relationship is ended like this…

        To whom, I dedicated my whole life… every second.. every minute i just loved her… always stood near her when things were not good for her… but now she doesn’t ‘need’ me…

        I’ve also anger towards her for not being with me the way she used to be..

        Don’t know what should I do…

        1. I’ve been through a divorce, a relationship that lasted 8 years, so I understand how terrible a time like this can be. Whatever you do, please find time to do good things for yourself. I enjoyed hiking and music, so I spend a lot of time in wooded areas with my earphones on, ridding myself of a lot of sorrow and guilt. I sought the company of really good friends and family, who listened to my problems or just distracted me from them. I saw a counselor, just to get an outsider’s opinion that I wasn’t going crazy (I wasn’t). And finally, I told myself over and over that, at some point in the future, everything would be better (and it was).

          Take good care of yourself. You won’t get it completely right, especially at first, but you’ll be surprised by your own strength.

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