Something I’ve been thinking about lately is how to be happy when someone you love is sad. In some ways, it feels so wrong to not be sad as well. Shouldn’t you share in their unhappiness? Does it make it worse for them if they see you happy when they feel anything but?
Let’s explore this a bit. If my partner has cancer, is it wrong for me to feel happiness? Is it wrong for me to celebrate? Does my partner’s condition dictate everything?
While my husband battled cancer, I had many birthdays come and go. I changed jobs. I got a promotion. I got certified as a life coach. None of those events I celebrated. Not because of anything he said. It was a choice I unconsciously made. I didn’t much feel like celebrating. My successes felt wrong in so many ways. I was a bit ashamed of even sharing them. I thought it would be more painful for my husband to see how my life was going alone while his life was stagnant. My happiness would make him more conscious of his lack of it. He never asked me not to celebrate my achievements. He was always supportive of me and my goals. However, when he was sick, I didn’t really want to celebrate. It felt wrong to have happiness when there was so much struggle and sadness.
I think this is a concept worth exploring. Whether it’s our spouse or our child or ourselves, there will be times when someone is happy while another person is sad.
Can the two coexist? Let’s look at some possible scenarios.
Let’s explore what happens when you suppress your own joy in favor of the suffering your partner is experiencing. Perhaps your partner is really struggling with their new reality of a cancer diagnosis. You are struggling with this news too, but also you just got offered the long awaited promotion at work. You feel both excited and sad. You want to share your news, but fear that it will seem insensitive or highlight how much his life is “on hold” because of cancer while yours continues.
What if you are the one who is feeling really down. Your partner is sick, you have more on your plate and you are stressed out. In addition, because of your partner’s weak immune system, COVID has restricted you and your family members more than others. You feel stuck and stressed. Your closest friend on the other hand has just become engaged and is bursting with happiness. Do you feel happy for her while you feel anything but? Is it “right” for her to express her happy news to you when your life feels like crap?
What if despite his cancer diagnosis, your partner is the one who has “bounced” back. They are embracing life and really determined to be grateful for what they have. They are upbeat and optimistic, despite their diagnosis. While you on the other hand are still reeling from the news. You feel like cancer has already stolen your future, brought everything into uncertainty… Then you look at your partner and feel even worse because they seem to be handling it so well!
At the heart of all these scenarios is a contrast of emotions with someone who is close to us. One person feels great while the other feels terrible. What magnifies this situation is the closeness of the relationship.
Discord In The Tribe
Human beings are social creatures. You have a “tribe” that you belong to, the people you live with and your close friends and family. It’s important that there is harmony in your tribe. When a cancer diagnosis enters the tribe, it’s natural for different members to have different emotional responses. Cancer disrupts the tribe.
Emotions are caused by your thoughts. So it’s natural that each member of your tribe will have different thoughts about cancer, and thus will feel very different emotions. How you think about cancer will be shaped by everything you have been through in your life, your temperament, your expectations, and your beliefs about yourself and the world. One person may feel devastated while another is determined.
Validity Of All Emotions
All your emotions and the emotions of others are valid. Where people often get into trouble is when they compare themselves with their partner or with their own expectations. Caregivers often think they need to be strong and upbeat. Friends and family often feel they need to be supportive. When your thoughts and feelings conflict with those expectations, you may judge yourselves and feel even worse. You may also try to act positive in front of others, which only denies your true feelings even more.
Meet Yourself Where You Are
There are no good or bad emotions in any of these scenarios. There is no right way to feel or better way to be. All human beings feel both positive and negative emotions. They are part of the contrast in life. This is a really important point because many of you believe the opposite. You think you shouldn’t feel selfish or sad or discouraged, so you pile on judgement and fake it in front of others. This doesn’t make the emotions go away, it does the opposite. It keeps them around because you are not letting them have a voice.
Instead, drop the self judgement and meet yourself where you are. It doesn’t mean you are a bad person or weak if you are feeling discouraged. It just means you are thinking thoughts that cause you to feel discouraged. If you are angry, it means that you are thinking thoughts that cause you to feel angry. If you want to feel differently, you have to first start with where you are. Allow the negative emotions. Be honest with yourself. This will give voice to those thoughts and feelings. When you bring them into the light, you will find it easier to eventually let them go.
Being Honest Connects Us Deeper
I think it’s also important to be honest with your tribe as well, especially when you feel discord. If you have found your way to self acceptance, then it will be easier for you to be honest with others about where you are at emotionally. It’s OK to be at different ends of the emotional spectrum. True honesty opens the way for deeper connections. It allows others to see that you are fully human just like they are.
I know this work can be tough. Let me coach you through it! Having a coach when you are caregiving and dealing with all sorts of emotions makes a huge difference. Let me be in your corner! Click here to book a free coaching consultation.