Does Deployment Make Change Invisible?


After a deployment, we are supposed to scan our service members for signs of some kind of change.  Change in sleep habits. Change in temperment. We are supposed to worry that somehow they are changed.

Yet one of the facts of deployment is that it changes people. Whether they have been in combat or not, service members return home changed. Spouses change. Kids change.

We aren't just older or thinner or suddenly wearing bathing suits and flip flops. We who have been through deployment have invisible accomplishments that fundamentally change who we are and what we can do. And no one notices. So even though the deployment was a success, it doesn't always feel like a success. It feels like our change is invisible.

I thought this was something unique to deployment. But I was ran across this research from Douglas Hall and Dawn Chandler at the University of Boston that said periods of transition in civilian life (like the end of deployment for us) can make people feel unsatisfied, unseen, invisible -- even when they were successful at a work challenge.

Hall and Chandler offered an example of someone working overseas for their company. When that person masters a completely different culture and language, or starts up a new branch of the business in that country, the skills required to master the new challenge are so huge that the person changes on a fundamental level. They return to the States feeling all "hail-the-conquering-hero." Yet corporate superiors still see this person as the same person he was before he went overseas and treat him the same.

Sound familiar? Our servicemembers come home with all their new skills and experiences -- some good and some bad. We meet them at the door with all of our new skills and experiences -- some good and some bad. We treat each other as if we are exactly the same.

In one way, there is such comfort in sameness. We long for sameness. Sameness is safety. Sameness is that we still love each other and our life together here is still rolling along. But I think this research shows that transitions like the ones that occur after a deployment are times of opportunity to see each other, to witness the change in our partners, to make what feels invisible, visible. And move forward from there.

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