Canceling Is A Cop-Out


Well, happy December! I, for one, never thought we’d see the 12th month. Does it feel like there was like–I don’t know–4 years packed into this one?  

One of the hardships and mental drains that defined my 2022 was the brutal but much needed review of who and what I truly wanted in my life, especially in terms of relationships. Recognizing a relationship isn’t what it used to be is difficult. On one hand, you may be feeling the pain of ‘what once was;’ you likely have some confusion around what to do, if anything, to make it viable again. You may feel some horror at the prospects of letting it go. However, from a strictly theoretical point of view, if it’s really not working anymore, letting it go should be a relief, right? Don’t we strive to participate in relationships with people who honor our needs (and we honor theirs), appreciate our quirks (and we appreciate theirs!) and celebrate the trusted, on-going moments of growth that only a loving, respectable relationship can provide? 

I wish it was that easy, or even that straightforward. 2022 has been a work-in-progress sorting out which relationships fit into the above-mentioned profile and which ones do not. An utterly exhausting exercise in and of itself, it was a double-whammy to realize some of the relationships I was trying to salvage were with folks who really weren’t that interested in fighting for our relationship or in figuring out why things were broken, stale or unsatisfying.  

Or maybe they, like me, just didn’t know how to end it. If you read my last newsletter, then you’ll remember that a massive cleaning-of-my-psychic and spiritual houses has been underway since the end of May. I don’t think I was quite ready to grasp that this sanitation process was to be applied to a handful of friends, some of them very dear to me. 

And breaking up with a friend can be as messy and just as painful as breaking up with an intimate partner or lover. In fact, most people really do not have a clue as to how to compassionately have a friend-breakup. Oftentimes, you just slip away from each other, the ‘recognition’ that something has devolved between you not addressed at all. But I think you’ll agree that unspoken words of betrayal and loss still haunt us, even if the slippage feels benign. The effect of not acknowledging something that once stood sacred in our lives will take up residency in our oldest, darkest places of hurt. I think this may be because those shadowy caverns are our childhood places. Places where the little girl or little boy who wasn’t asked to sit at the lunch table with others lives. It’s where the one who wasn’t picked for kickball lives, and the one who did not receive an invite to the party. Our ability to actually ‘grow up’ is based on how successful our social bonds were when we were learning about the world, and we learn early on that rejection hurts. 

Because I received so much gratitude and kudos for bearing my soul in my last newsletter, I’m going to try and re-assert some of that vulnerability in this one. With such a commitment to authenticity, some of you might not like what I’m about to say. Please know it’s only my opinion, and my intention is merely philosophical: for you to think about the troubling and nuanced ways of how we all bear or break our relations with other human beings. 

I believe canceling someone from your life is a cop-out and naming anyone who doesn’t jive with your energetic reality as someone who is ‘toxic’ is also a grave disservice to your very soul. Relationships happen to be the exclusive penthouse wherein the soul has the opportunity to grow. Without meaningful relationships, life would be miserable! And we’d know nothing of substance about ourselves. Without difficult, sometimes challenging relationships, our hearts would never deepen and our ability to truly build the megaphone of compassion would be lost. Relationships–intimate partner ones, family ones and friend ones–are our lives’ wisepointers. They show us what lessons we came here to learn, what karmic contracts to work through. They stretch us emotionally and sustain us when we need it the most. And they also teach us that the seduction of “getting our way” is a default setting designed to protect and defend. A hardy relationship is one which has seen and weathered a variety of storms…and revels in its own happy container when the seas are calm. 

And that’s why ghosting and unfriending and canceling people from your life is dangerous and could result in the upset of a half-realized human. The repercussions are far-reaching but there’s a bigger issue at play: our propensity to avoid people who do not share our particular perspective and to only gravitate to the ones who mirror our own values works to create the deadly polarization we’re presently experiencing in our country (and beyond). Is it possible that the polarization epidemic has given rise to the cancel culture, or is it the other way around? 

Just to be entirely clear, I am not advocating for anyone to stick around for abuse, violence, neglect in a relationship or to stay in even an atrophied relationship. But if you do agree with my assertion that relationships are the school teachers of our lives, why then is it so easy to give up on them? I want to also recognize that not all relationships are necessarily forged in the fires of trust, loyalty, levity or even friendliness. With the ubiquitous nature of social media and the dizzying communication tools of texting and email, we are “in touch with” a whole lot of people these days. But do we really have solid relationships with these people? Not likely. It’s easy to surface-feed on “friends” these days. So, perhaps some of the relationship wreckage is due to the fact that the relationship in question really didn’t have good footing in the first place. 

I have talked to so many people who have experienced friend break-ups this year, many of them confounded as to what they “did.” If you’re feeling ignored, snubbed or otherwise unsure about a friend, it might not have anything to do with you. It’s 2022! That person is probably just busy/distracted. But it’s human nature to assume that we did something wrong; also, we can go to the dark place with these ruminations. I’ll add that as a matter of checking in with yourself, if you are feeling ignored or forgotten, ask yourself: Who am I ignoring? Who have I forgotten about? If you’re feeling unseen, you might be putting the energy out there in the cosmos. I believe ‘what comes around goes around.’ 

As a matter of spiritual hygiene, I went to my upper world guide with this conundrum. My heart still hurt so deeply over the two friend break-ups I endured this year and none of my rituals, ceremonies or prayers were really doing much to heal the loss. And so, Athena–the Goddess of Wisdom and War–gave me some very simple but wise action steps to take that I’d like to share with you. 

In the event that you (or the person you are in relationship with) have recognized that the relationship is starting to wither or has weathered some uninvited change, then acknowledging this fact is the first step. This can be as easy as saying to them (or texting!), ‘I’m sensing some distance creeping in between us and I’m wondering if you’re feeling it too? Would you be up for a chat?’ [DO NOT discuss or explore what could be going ‘wrong’ over your phone or email! No!] 

Athena then explained that one of two likely outcomes after acknowledgment would present: 1) Reassurance, or 2) Reveal. 

In Reassurance, the person who sensed that the relationship was amiss is, well, reassured that All Is Well. A classic case of “I’ve been stressed/busy/overwhelmed” might be the reason; reassuring the person that they did nothing wrong is essentially the purpose of this tack. 

In Reveal, something is indeed amiss in the relationship. This stage of exchange is for both parties to hear the others’ perspective, explore where the breakdown happened (communication, assumptions, trigger) and to own whatever role each played. Listening with the ears of the heart is crucial. You absolutely want to avoid the defense position here, and it’s best if you have some non-violent communication tools up your sleeve in order for this conversation to be as helpful as possible. 

Once the Revealing has taken place, Athena explained that there are then another set of outcomes which will play out: Working Through It or Honor and End. 

In Working Through It, heartfelt apologies are the first step. It’s important to not get bogged down with why something happened the way it did, as ongoing explanations do signal defensiveness. Both parties agree to resolve the issue(s) with forgiveness first and clear action steps to act more responsibly in the future. For instance, if it was a communication mis-fire, perhaps you talk about what you will do in the future to change your language choices.  Identifying needs–and speaking them–is also a stop to make in this phase, and will help to dictate the needed action steps. 

However, there is another option: Honor and End.  This stage is appropriate if you both have realized that Working Through It is not an option. There could be a myriad of reasons for this: too much time has passed; respect has been irrevocably lost; positions on what to do to resolve the issue might be in opposition to each other; the karmic contract is up and therefore, the desire to carry on simply is not there. Although not a complete list, it covers many scenarios. 

When we are too impulsive to cancel someone in an effort to extract ‘toxicity’ from our lives, we are robbing ourselves of honestly healing from a relationship that ends. This “flowchart” offered by Athena makes the process a little more gentle, and a lot more holistic. Goodbyes are never easy but they are part of life. No one is exempt from loss. 

It takes someone brave to capitulate to this process. And I’m fairly certain that the friends I’ve lost this year would still be people who needed to move on from my life even after going through these thoughtful steps. However, we’d have healing and closure to take with us on our respective journeys. 

I am so thankful for this instruction from Athena and pray that, in the event that another misfire happens in a relationship I care about, I’ll have the courage to walk through these steps. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it. 

In closing, I want to wish everyone a very blessed Yule season. It is the time of quiet contemplation, of rest and of dwelling beside the teacher of darkness. May gentle self-inquiry be with you! 

Shine On,

Mary Katherine

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