“No Pain, no gain”, “Quitting is for Losers”, “If you really love someone/something, you never give up on them”, “My mom raised no quitter”, all these sayings and many more remain popular sayings within our culture, making quitting synonymous with weakness, associating pain with reward, even glorifying it. Pain becomes a “normal process” and we become resistant to quitting that which harms us, because we believe if we walk away, then we are weak, we are losers. I couldn’t possibly disagree with something more in my life.
One of my favorite Arabic sayings of all times is اعتزل ما يؤذيك which literally translates into “Quit that which harms you.” Notice here, it did not say quit that which challenges you, or quit that which makes you uncomfortable, it simply says, quite that which HARMS you.
There is a fine line between discomfort that comes from challenging ourselves to grow beyond our norms, and pain that we cause ourselves by being too stubborn to let go of that which damages us. Pain should never be glorified or romanticized; you should not tolerate that person, job, situation, or surrounding which causes you harm, be it a physical, mental or spiritual harm; this does not breed growth, but stunts it. You become so wrapped up in your pain and the unrealistic expectation that this will be rewarded that you lose yourself in the process, damaging yourself, waiting for that heroic salvation you have been taught you deserve because you endured a painful process.
In a lot of relationships, for example, you may find one partner that is an unhealthy partner to the other one, whether it is a result of them projecting past experiences, not knowing how to love, have psychological disorders, or simply because they do not love the other partner or appreciate them. In a multitude of movies, and novels you will find that the other partner takes on the heroic role of “saving” and “fixing” that person, that you always “tame the shrew”, or “turnaround the bad-boy cheater who never knew how to love.” You always see the protagonist crumbling after enduring so much pain, harm and damage, and right when they hit rock bottom, and they finally decide to walk away, the other partner comes back, sorrowful, regretful and a completely changed person, rewarding them for all the pain they went through.
We grew up thinking if we fixed their damage, put up with their tantrums, and go through a painful and difficult relationship then we are living an intense love story, one that we will be rewarded for, with a fairytale ending, of butterflies and roses by turning that person around; and right after we fall apart and the world turns bleak, they will transform into our knight in shining armor, or loving princess, or whatever you want to call them, and all our problems will be solved.
Now take a minute with me here and think about what that teaches us? What do we understand from years of watching movies, and reading books that teach us this culture? We learn to expect a reward for not walking away from a toxic relationship, to constantly be on the search for someone to fix, and to feel entitled to a happy ending, because we chose willingly to endure a crappy process. Our perceptions are skewed in this aspect, our understanding of situations have a filter on them, altering the reality of situations, and romanticizing the nasty. Not only that, but it breeds a culture of entitlement, people that prolong their suffering instead of trying to be proactive to change it and not only do they not see it as a passive behavior, they expect to be rewarded for it. They wait for the crumble, the crash, the rock bottom, expecting the illogical turn in events, because I mean, they didn’t quit, they didn’t walk away, they endured all this, and therefore they must be entitled to a reward! Right? No! These individuals have willingly chosen not to walk away, not to put an end to their suffering, and chose the unrealistic poetic life of pain and suffering, they should not be rewarded for inflicting pain and damage upon themselves, and they need help. When you reach this stage, you need to learn to readjust your perceptions, to touchdown to reality, and stop expecting the illogical.
So what is the difference between pushing your limits to achieve growth or transformation, and between what I wrote above? It is simple, one process might scare you, might make you uncomfortable, sort of like a “sore muscle” after a very good workout; the other one on the other hand becomes painful, detrimental to your current state of being whether on the physical, spiritual or psychological side; it is like attempting to run after you have sprained your ankle; eventually you will cause so much damage that you cannot even walk.
So the next time you are in a situation that you cannot identify as harmful or a growing opportunity think of what you are investing, what is your current state, what are you getting in return and what is the realistic outcome of the situation. If you find that you are slightly intrigued, but at the same time scared, or maybe slightly uncomfortable then it might be an opportunity for growth. If you see a realistic “next step”, one with signs showing progress, and not a scenario you have created in your head, then pursue it.
However, if the process is one that is causing you pain, to lose sleep, altering your functionality and bringing about anxiety/anger/depression, then this is a situation you must walk away from. We must be able to identify the difference between pushing our limits, and stunting our growth. We must learn to stop romanticizing pain, and that quitting is not just for losers. If executed correctly, and for the right reasons, quitting could be the biggest win of your life. To me, there is a fine art of quitting that requires pragmatism and careful analysis of situations. At the end of the day, you should always put your safety first, you would never walk on a broken bone, or jump from the 20th floor without a parachute and expect to fly, would you? If quitting saves you, then by all means quit, and feel no shame for it, be intuitive to your needs and only push yourself when there is room for growth and not harm.
Be mindful of yourself, be cautious, be realistic.
*photo off the internet and not my own.