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It’s Not An Option

by Ruth Gordon, LCSW

I saw an interview on TV a while back with the fashion designer, Diane Von Furstenberg. When asked about the people who had inspired her, she named her mother, a concentration camp survivor, who taught her that fear was not an option. Well, that got my attention.

On one hand, I think it’s unhealthy to deny our feelings to ourselves — that practice will always bite you back. On the other hand, becoming paralyzed by the so-called negative emotions is not exactly a principle that supports thriving mental health. So, I spent some time thinking about that.

What makes sense to me is that we acknowledge our fears and insecurities as we continue to do everything we can to attain and maintain the life we want to live. Fear, after all, can be a great motivator when it inspires us to put in that extra effort and redouble our efforts to be the best “us” we can possibly be.

These thoughts led to a consideration of the non-negotiables in my own life. It’s a good inventory to take — it leaves you free to cease worrying about the non-essentials.

For me, giving up is not an option. First of all, I’m not sure what “giving up” means. Killing myself? Not likely, I’m a cancer survivor and would not have the audacity or lack of gratitude to end the gift of life that I have been given. Quit working? Why? Even if I’m struggling to find a way to be more profitable, how would not working help? At the very least, I know I would feel utterly bored and useless — how is that an improvement?

Then I reflected on relationships, which, as most of you know, I consider to be the bedrock of a meaningful existence.

The principal familial bonds, for me, are my husband and children and their children.

When I married Harry, +15 years ago I promised that I would remember, on a daily basis, to be grateful for the incredible love I had found. Now, we have had moments that have been incredibly painful over the years, but, the delight has far outweighed the disappointment. So, in this marriage, divorce is not an option. One of the advantages of having made this type of commitment is that even when I wish to skewer him on a bread knife, I know that I am obliged to work things out. Think about it — it really makes things easier.

When it come to my kids and grandkids, my responses to their needs rests not on obligation, but on a deep belief that I want to be the first line of defense in times of joy and trouble. Do I extend this concern to every relative on my family tree? No!! Ancillary kin are supported (by me), emotionally and financially, on a case by case basis. For the most part, if I think there is mutuality in our relationship, I’m happy to help; if not — oh well!! I feel no duty to loan Uncle Zachariah’s step-sister $10 just because a fraction of his blood is mingled with my own.

What shall I say about my friends? These are the people who love me “just because”. There are a small number of people for whom I would do ANYTHING (they know who they are). Every one in this amazing group has stood by me, no matter what, which was not always an easy task. I believe in reciprocity and commitment and love, and this group, who did not inherit me, have come through for me time and again. I would gladly do the same for any one of them. So, betrayal, for me, is not an option. Along that same line, when I believe I have been betrayed, I have to think long and hard about whether the perpetrator is a person who belongs in my life.

I will not tolerate being treated disrespectfully in my own home. “My house, my rules” has always been my philosophy. Accordingly, I will abide by “Your house, your rules”. I believe in boundaries and accept that it’s my responsibility to let people know where my boundaries lie. Anyone who knows me, knows that rigidity is not one of my unswerving principles, so, if I lay down certain guidelines, I expect that they will be respected and followed. I’m not a “one strike and you’re out” kind of person, but, if you repeatedly cross the line, make excuses and refuse to take responsibility, there’s a good chance I will wish you well as I escort you out the door.

There are many other behaviors that I consider to be unacceptable: cruelty to animals; unremitting self-absorption; slander and malicious manipulation. Do I sound like a vice-principal? Well, think about it this way — it makes having to wear the same old dress to the next party a whole lot less important. This is the list (or part of it) that works for me. What works for you?

Please, think about it — what in your life is NOT an option? You might be surprised at what you come up with!

The hardest thing to learn in life is which bridge to cross and which to burn. ~

David Russell

Ruth Gordon is licensed clinical social worker in both Massachusetts and Florida. For more information, please visit her listing on the Therapist Directory. This article may not be reprinted, reproduced, or retransmitted in whole or in part without the express written consent of the author.

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