Having a partner with cancer is hard and emotionally painful. If you are like most people, you are probably adding a lot of unnecessary suffering to your already difficult situation. Not intentionally of course! It’s just the way our mind works. We often pile suffering on top of our pain.
Pain Versus Suffering
You might be wondering what’s the difference between emotional pain and emotional suffering? Emotional pain is part of life. We often feel it when things don’t go our way or turn out as we expected. We feel it when people we care about are hurt or struggling.
Most of us don’t like feeling pain. It’s not a comfortable feeling. It feels terrible. So instead, we try to argue with the pain or the situation that we don’t like. We resist it and want it to go away. We get angry with the world or with ourselves. This is suffering. We suffer when we try to resist or argue with the pain we are already feeling.
A Heavy Purse
Think of it like the purse you carry over your shoulder. When your partner gets cancer, a golf-ball sized rock gets added to your purse. That rock is the emotional pain you will experience as a result of your thoughts around your partner’s cancer. This one rock, called “pain” is a little heavy, but you can carry it. You even get a little stronger the longer you carry it.
Now imagine that as your partner goes through chemo and struggles with the effects, you become really depressed at how much pain he is in and how little you can do to help. You wish he didn’t have to suffer so much. The depression and helplessness you feel is another rock added to your purse. Now your purse is heavier. This rock is called “suffering” because it comes from wanting the situation to be different than it is.
See the difference?
The good news is that you can let go of the suffering! Really. It’s not easy and this is the work I do with my clients. Once you let go of the suffering, and start learning how to build your resiliency skills, you will become so much more equipped to deal with any challenge that comes your way!
3 Things You Need To Do To Stop Unnecessary Suffering
- Stop arguing with reality so you can get on with dealing with what is
- Stop distracting yourself from difficult emotions so you can process them and move on
- Stop wanting others to behave a certain way, because adults get to do what they want
- Stop Arguing With Reality
It’s difficult having a partner with cancer. It throws your world into chaos and adds so much more to your plate. The emotions you feel about this are painful. However, when you start wishing your situation was different, then you will suffer. Of course no one wants their partner to get sick, but the reality is they are sick. Anytime you resist your reality, you will create suffering. It’s a losing battle trying to argue with how things are. Thinking it’s unfair or not right are other ways of “arguing” with what is.
Accepting your reality, even though you don’t like it, is how to let go of unnecessary suffering. It’s a mental shift to move from resistance to acceptance, but it’s a critical one! If you find yourself arguing or resisting any part of your reality, then start the shift toward acceptance by trying out one of these thoughts:
This is just where we are right now.
This sucks, and that’s OK.
This is hard, but I can do hard things.
Byron Katie explains it best when she says, “I’m a lover of what is, not because I’m a spiritual person, but because it hurts when I argue with reality.” So, start working on becoming a lover of what is! This one step alone will make your life so much easier!
2. Stop Distracting Yourself From Your Emotions
Negative emotions are part of our human experience. However, we are not taught how to allow them. In fact, we are taught that we should get out of feeling bad and start feeling good as quickly as possible. So, it’s no wonder why most of us seek distractions in the form of comfort food, alcohol, or excessive screen time. The problem is, all these efforts to distract ourselves from what we are feeling work in the moment, but then we are often left with unwanted weight gain, feeling hungover, or just wasted time.
For example, say you found out from the most recent scan your partner had that the cancer has grown. You are feeling devastated and your partner is scared. To cope with your feelings you turn to the pantry and find a big bag of Oreos you bought for the kids. Eating those Oreos dulls the feeling, but afterward you feel sick, disappointed and angry with yourself. And the emotion is still there. The Oreos only provided temporary relief. Now, you not only feel devastated, but also disappointment and anger. You are suffering.
Distracting yourself from the feelings you don’t want to feel creates unnecessary suffering. It may seem counter intuitive, but actually feeling and processing the anxiety, the sadness, the helplessness when it comes up is the quickest way to feeling better. The best way out of an emotion is through it. When you’re caregiving, you are going to have a lot of emotions come up, so it’s critical you just acknowledge them and process them, and you’ll find that amazingly, it’s really not so bad. (Check out this post if you want to learn more about how to feel emotions.)
3. Stop Wanting Others To Behave A Certain Way
When your life spins out of control, it’s natural to want to seek control in any way you can. A lot of people do this by trying to control other people, either their kids, their spouse, or other family members.
What I see my clients doing most (and I did it myself) is want their partner to take better care of themselves. They are the ones with the diagnosis, but it affects you too. This is a hard situation. You feel like they shouldn’t eat so much sugar or they should exercise more. Perhaps they are too stressed or angry and need to calm down. When you tell them how they should be doing it, it’s rarely welcomed. So they continue to do what they want and you just get more frustrated. See how that creates unnecessary suffering?
Anytime you want other adults in your life, whether it’s your partner, or mother, or father in law to behave a certain way, the way you think they should, you will suffer. The truth is, adults get to do what they want, even if you disagree. This doesn’t mean you don’t ask them to do something differently, or make helpful suggestions. However, it needs to come from a place of love and not an effort to control them. If they don’t comply, you don’t get angry or frustrated. Remember, you only have control over you. Taking care of ourselves is enough of a challenge for most of us, we don’t need to add anyone else to that list!
Allow It To Be Difficult
This is a difficult time, no doubt. Allow it to be difficult. Focus instead on eliminating the unnecessary suffering you are causing with your thinking so you can focus on building your resiliency.
Remember, you can do this!
Sometimes it’s hard to see what we are doing or how we are thinking. This is why a coach is so valuable. They help us see ourselves and get perspective. If you want to see how you are creating your own unnecessary suffering, then hop on a free consultation call with me. It’s totally worth doing, especially if you are feeling stuck!