When Survival Gratitude Leads You Astray

As a cancer survivor, I feel like I have been given a second chance to live. And I’m truly grateful to be alive.

But am I taking my Survival Gratitude too far? Has it turned into a sort of warped emotional crutch that is negatively affecting the very life for which I’m thankful?

It recently occurred to me that I use Survival Gratitude as an excuse to avoid doing some of the unpleasant work of the living. Specifically, I allow myself to avoid conflict in my personal relationships because I don’t want to ruin the magic of this beautiful second life. Compared to the prospect of death, whatever minor interpersonal conflicts existing in my life I know I can deal with. But here’s the problem: I’m not always “dealing” with them. Because dealing with issues implies taking an active role in addressing or at least acknowledging them rather than just choosing to ignore them.

Survival Gratitude is a very sneaky avoidance technique. For instance, it’s easy to overlook something by thinking, compared to cancer, this isn’t really that big a deal. I should just let it go. After all, I could be dead. But then that little thing grows and festers and eats at me until I am ready to explode, proving it was a big deal after all.

What about having to say no to helping someone who is very persuasive and good at laying on guilt? Survival Gratitude can sneak its golden claws into that situation too by shooting dangerous “shoulds” into my head. I should help him/her because I got the privilege of living. I should drive an hour on a weeknight to support his/her cause even though I don’t feel comfortable driving at night because I received the gift of life and need to give back whenever I can. I should, because if I don’t spend all my time giving to others, maybe the cancer will come back.

I wonder if Survival Gratitude as a warped form of emotional torture is common. And if so, why?

Do survivors feel so fortunate to be alive that we don’t want to “sweat the small stuff” but we sometimes lose track of just which stuff is small enough not to sweat over? Does it relate to guilt about all the emotional stress our cancer put our loved ones through. Does it relate to survivor’s guilt? I’m not sure. And I’m not even sure this is a problem for anyone other than me.

But I am going to make a vow today not to let my Survival Gratitude trick me into being a pushover or extending myself too much. Because I’ve already expressed my gratitude for surviving. Now I need to get down to the more difficult work of living. Authentically. Unapologetically. And also gratefully.

Note to self: Anyone who can build a sand "foot" can learn to use gratitude the right way

Note to self: Anyone who can build a sand “foot” can learn to use gratitude the way it’s intended!


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