What is the Cost?

One of the few Spanish expressions I remember using on my high school trip to Mexico (besides una cerveza, por favor) is ¿cuanto cuesta?

What is the cost? Or literally translated, how much it costs?

Most of us are examining the cost of things these days. Between post-pandemic inflation and a raging war between Russia and Ukraine that has globe-spanning effects, the price of nearly everything has skyrocketed.

It’s evident when I fill up my gas tank, get my hair cut, or buy groceries. Every service and good from oil changes to light bulbs to dark chocolate (probably milk chocolate too) have higher price tags. The items that cost the same seem to come in smaller portion sizes.

The end result is the same: spending more and receiving less.

There is no shortage of memes, social media complaints, editorials, and Medium articles produced over these issues. Few of us are immune from the impact and subsequent grumbling and penny (or dollar) pinching.

So I won’t spill any more virtual ink on this particular issue. These recent global events, however, have gotten me thinking about the cost of other things in our lives beyond day-to-day expenses.

  • Habits
  • Addictions
  • Procrastination
  • Thought patterns
  • Toxic relationships

These less-tangible items can cost us money, but payment more often appears in the form of less-visible currencies.

  • Time
  • Stress
  • Energy
  • Emotions
  • Brain space
  • Physical health

I recently checked in with a friend who now lives a few time zones away. She told me about a perennial conflict she has with her husband, who threatens to split when certain conflict arises between them. He goes there as a first–not a last–resort. The possibility of divorce hangs over their household like the sword of Damocles, taxing their emotional stability and nervous systems.

That issue arose again in recent days, triggered by what she thought was an innocuous exchange that escalated into potential grounds for separation. He has made similar proclamations in the past, but has never followed through. Over time–hours, usually–he cools down, regains his composure, apologizes, and laments the drastic measures casually tossed about during the heated exchange.

It seems as though he doesn’t plan to actually leave, nor actually wants to do so. The looming cloud of divorce may be a matter of theatrics or displaced frustration. That is a silver lining, but an exhausting one.

I listened to this most recent iteration of the same story, unsure of how to proceed or help my friend navigate the emotional minefield that threatens her 5-year marriage while becoming a familiar part of it. Feeling more qualified to inquire and explore rather than dispense relationship advice, I posed this question.

What is this pattern costing you?

It wasn’t a rhetorical question. I certainly didn’t know the answer. She didn’t know either. But we both pondered it, vis-à-vis this particular issue as well as others that have plagued our respective lives. My friend still considers that question as she broaches the issue with her husband.

As if on cue, this very inquiry boomeranged in my own life the next day as I discussed with my sister a pesky issue that triggers an adrenal response for me: poor boundaries among some people close to us both.

I could feel the inflammation reignite as I mulled over the same frustrations I have repeated for years, especially as I held the fortress of my personal boundaries.

My older, wiser sibling gently yet firmly pointed out that my parameters with these unreasonable people, while justified, seem to require an inordinate amount of my energy.

“While you’re often adaptable, some of your boundaries with these specific people are rigid,” she said, doling out a rare dose of tough love. “They may be an inch thick, but they’re 50 feet high. What is that costing you? I worry that it’s draining your vitality, which is a steep price.”

Vitality. Life force. Essence.

I hadn’t thought of these elements as valuables that could be spent, bartered, exchanged, lost, stolen. But they are, and I was allowing unworthy people to drain a precious resource in limited supply. What I needed to preserve and protect instead I squandered because of my determination to hold up the iron-clad wall with sheer force of will.

The solution, of course, isn’t to remove boundaries. Those are in place for a good reason. But I am reassessing them, devising ways to soften or restructure them without forgoing self-protection.

Some coping mechanisms made sense at one point–they may have saved my emotional life during crises–but are no longer serving me in the same ways. An approach that guided me through a survival phase was once a gift and now a burden.

There is an abundance of tools available to all of us, some more helpful than others. No single one is the only correct way, but here are a few I’m trying to decrease the poor-vitality spending habits I’ve developed.

  • Yoga
  • Exercise
  • Meditation
  • Journaling
  • Creative thinking
  • Deep breathing techniques

I feel confident that I’ll strike a healthier balance, find a more appropriate approach, and reclaim some of my joy and energy.

What started this embarkment of growth was the simple question: What is this costing me?

Ask yourself that and see what comes up in your own life. You may be surprised by the answers, and they may point you in a direction toward healing.

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