I’ve realized that I need to free myself from some painful relationships that have kept me down. Situations that are just too draining to try to fix, or fight. In order to truly achieve this freedom though, a person needs to be at peace with the decision and stick with it. But when emotional pain is connected to family and close friends, it makes things difficult and sensitive.
Walking away from some relationships instead of working to “fix” things through forgiveness or giving-in has been challenging for me for a couple of reasons.
As a cancer patient, I’ve often felt pressured to face my unfinished business. People tell me that I would be more at peace with myself if I did. There’s also this misconception that ‘running away’ from problems is a sign of weakness. But here’s the real problem though — holding on to painful relationships has done more harm than good in my situation. Why would I want to condemn myself to suffering by trying to meet other people’s unrealistic expectations of me?
The other issue is that my needing to walk away from emotional difficulty means I’ve lost some level of support. People judge without understanding. People condemn. So on top of me dealing with the fears and uncertainties cancer brings, and on top of all the other work and life challenges, I also have dealt with the burden of trying to make others understand where I am coming from. I find myself exposing my emotional scars more often than I really want to. It is exhausting and disappointing when people won’t try to see from my perspective. Or, maybe, they don’t want to see from my perspective to keep some level of denial.
It seems I am often expected to accept bad behavior from people because I’ve been diagnosed with cancer. They expect me to be more welcoming of people’s imperfections, to forgive and forget quickly when other people’s actions and attitudes have hurt me. It’s as if the survivorship relationship I have with my breast cancer is supposed to have made me more enlightened and humble and grateful. If I can feel more at peace in relation to my health situation, there is no excuse for me not to be able to reset my other toxic relationships.
But I don’t take my cancer personal. Cancer isn’t a person. It doesn’t have feelings or the ability to recognize its mistakes. Cancer isn’t aware of the pain it has caused. It doesn’t discriminate. And cancer’s actions are done with no understanding of what’s happening. There are no manipulations or intentions. I can never have an honest, productive conversation with cancer. It’s simply impossible. No matter how many times I ask questions and demand answers, cancer will never respond. It’s frustrating because I can’t fully walk away from it. It will always be with me and not by choice. And none of it is negotiable. But I’ve been forced into this relationship.
With people however — even with family — the relationship is a choice.
When it comes to this notion of “forgiveness,” people have different ideas about what it means. I myself have thought about it from time to time. Recently, Eileen Rosenbloom — a friend and fellow blogger— wrote about the concept of ‘forgiveness’ and what it meant for her to forgive (you can read her post, “Forgiving the Clueless”). I was touched by her piece and in many ways it resonated with me, particularly this part:
“Forgiving requires me to let go of the offense but doesn’t demand I continue a relationship with someone who spews toxicity, even when it’s sprinkled with concern. It doesn’t force me to be friends with someone who upsets me.”
I am aware that emotional cancers caused by family can be a lot more painful than those caused by strangers because there is an expectation that families aren’t supposed to hurt one another. But they still do.
Sometimes we choose to carry those emotional cancers with us for the rest of our lives for different reasons – religion, family dynamics, financial needs, etc. But I often wonder if we contribute to those emotional cancers by allowing ourselves to be hurt, over and over and over again. Is it possible to fully walk away from emotional pain? Can we truly live (and die) in peace knowing there are still unresolved issues to deal with?
I may not be able to walk away from breast cancer but the good news is I still have control over building healthy relationships and creating a healthier environment for myself. Why would I want to live the last years of my life feeling sad?
Realistically, I don’t think I win either way by trying to cure my emotional cancers or walking away from them. But I need to stick to the situation that gives me less pain.