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Nella Coiro

Bending and Breaking

In both of my books, I cite a powerful scene from Fiddler on the Roof, where Tevye talks about his inner conflict and his struggle to forgive his daughters. Briefly, his first daughter refused to marry a man through an arranged marriage because she was in love with someone else. This caused Tevye to feel humiliation and turmoil. Yet, eventually he forgave her. Then his second daughter married a revolutionary, and although he struggled again, eventually he forgave her too. 

However, when his third daughter eloped and married outside of the faith, he could not get past his internal struggle, saying,  “Can I deny everything I believe in? On the other hand, how can I turn my back on my faith? If I try and bend that far, I’ll break!”  Then he pauses and says, “On the other hand…”  He pauses again, and then he shouts. “No! There is no other hand!” And so, although it was upsetting and painful, he simply could not forgive his third daughter. 

Likewise, there are some people who are so toxic that they can push us to the breaking point. Moreover, if these toxic people are family members, we will usually tolerate more dysfunction or abuse than we would if the person was not related to us. 

In an effort to maintain harmony and avoid conflict, we might ignore offenses, or relent and apologize, even if we were right. In doing so, we begin to lose pieces of ourselves. This position is unsustainable, and is physically and emotionally unhealthy. 

No relationship can survive with ongoing drama or one-sided compromise. More importantly, if we keep relenting (bending), we sacrifice our self-respect. Therefore, we need to take a good look in the mirror and ask ourselves why we are allowing others to disrespect us. Why are we clinging to a situation that is hurting us? 

Dr. Phil often says that we teach people how to treat us. If this is true, then when we don’t establish clear boundaries, we are part of the reason why these individuals are treating us poorly. Moreover, it’s possible that toxic people might interpret our compliance as weakness or stupidity.

Concerning family members, if there is a shared troubling family history, then this further complicates things. This is especially true if we have moved past the dysfunction, while other family members might not have done so. Then there’s a good chance that they are just continuing the same unhealthy, toxic patterns. 

I often hear the cliché, “Be the better person.” On the surface, that sounds like good advice. However, we must ask ourselves: Are we sacrificing our self-respect under the guise of being “the better person?” It is really wise to “take the high road”, when it’s to our detriment? Is our compliance teaching people to hurt or disrespect us? 

Unfortunately, there are times when forgiveness cannot include reconciliation. There are some situations where we can only forgive and let go of our resentment by ending the relationship, especially if we are dealing with someone who is unreasonable and unapologetic. Then, exiting the relationship might be the only healthy option.

If we don’t take this stance, then we will continue to accumulate resentments, as our self-respect continues to melt away. As Tevye asserted, sometimes the solution is clear - we need to remove ourselves from the situation, and “No. There is no other hand,”

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