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The value of a relationship is in its quality, not its title.

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Most of us were taught that labels like "mother," "friend," "brother," etc. are something more than words used to describe how one knows another.

As a society, we attach tremendous meaning to labels and consequently suffer intense upset when people fail to live up to our definitions. We judge the label-wearer harshly and, bound by our perceived future guilt, we stay in unsatisfying relationships, tolerate unspeakable behavior and endure consistently poor treatment.

Marriages, bloodlines, familial or professional associations do not, on their own, create good, healthy or true relationships. The value of a relationship is in its quality, not its title.

I have sisters with whom I share no biological link and blood relatives that I haven't spoken with in more than a decade.

It's possible, and a blessing, to be born to a family who actively loves and cares for us, but it isn't always so. Families are an amalgamation of assorted personalities, capacities and values. It's natural that the full spectrum of wonders, maladies and challenges are represented. As primary advocate, protector and caregiver for ourselves, we must work to improve relations or, where that isn't possible, remove ourselves from harm's way.

I was born into a family with a few racially prejudiced members. As a child, I struggled with the conflict between society's familial images and the truth.

We must always choose to live by the truth.

When I grew older, and wiser, I realized that I didn't have to remain in unhappy situations. I didn't need to cause a firestorm of upset either. I could release myself and the label-wearer of all obligations, free myself from the upset, and let go in peace.

I went on to create a new family, brimming with people who have one thing in common, genuine love and regard for me. Words can't adequately convey my feelings for them.

Choosing to move away from harmful, unhappy relationships creates space for real, substantive connections. It improves one's self-image and garners self-respect. This confidence effortlessly attracts others with similar mindsets. As a result, all of life changes.

There are situations where one may choose to compromise their peace and comfort to bring happiness to another, but when doing so one must understand the motive for the choice, clearly identify a benefit, and do no harm to anyone, including and especially to oneself.

~Cynthia Occelli