If you were raised in an unpredictable, volatile or drug-and-alcohol addicted home, you may have developed a Fear of Happiness.
In my family of origin, I learned that happiness, fun and gaiety could be swiftly followed by rage and/or withdrawal.
As a result, I unconsciously began to fear Happiness, because sometimes it was followed by pain.
I believe I also unconsciously attracted relationships that kept me in low-grade misery; a state of worry, anxiety and control, because I was fearful of too much good coming into my life. Then I’d actually have something to lose!
After a crap ton of working 12-step recovery, I fell in love with an emotionally available, kind man who was head over heels for me.
This is when things got worse.
The happier I was in the relationship, the more terrified I became that something awful would happen to my love. I’d never felt so exposed and vulnerable.
How Do You Know if You’re Staying in a Toxic Relationship Because You’re Afraid to Be Happy?
Answer these questions:
1. When something good happens, do you downplay it because you worry the universe will take it away, or balance it out with something painful?
The cause of this might stem from being physically or emotionally abandoned by one of our important caregivers.
2. Do you feel shame when someone is kind to you, or something good happens to you, because you feel you’re not worthy?
When we were children, someone might’ve criticized us, and those voices might live in our unconscious mind; constantly undermining our ability to feel worthy of love and happiness.
3. Were you taught Happiness is associated with laziness or unproductive activities?
Many of us come from families where we’ve learned that if we’re happy we must be goofing off, not working hard enough, or not taking life seriously; as if seriousness and workaholism are the greatest values.
(This is not working out so great in Japan where working too many hours has been linked to low productivity in the country!!)
Yet I still have nightmares that we’ve been separated; that I can’t find him; can’t dial the numbers on my phone to reach him; or that he doesn’t love me anymore.
One day we will be separated by death. It’s inevitable. But, I have to train myself not to push him away, or enact barriers to protect me from that inevitability.
I feel equally happy about the daughters in my life. I often downplay how wonderful they are, because I worry the shaming God from the Old Testament will deem me unworthy of them and take them away.
But guarding myself against misery by shoving away happiness will not make the misery any less painful when we one day part.
So I am practicing happiness. Tentatively allowing myself to feel it — even if it scares the ever-loving shit out of me.
How I Am Reprogramming My Unconscious Brain To Get More Comfortable With Happiness
1. I notice when I feel Self-Loathing
The other day, while driving in my car after spending money on myself for something I didn’t need, I was awash in self-loathing and I noticed it.
(Sometimes we don’t notice when we’re in self-loathing — it’s good to start paying attention and noticing negative thoughts and beliefs you have about yourself, so you can vanquish them.)
I made myself come up with one of my good qualities and speak it aloud, as if I were a kind friend to myself. I said,
“Shannon, I’m so proud of you. You try so hard. Nobody tries harder than you do.”
I didn’t feel proud of myself until I forced myself to say it out loud, and then something crazy happened. I felt proud of myself!
Speaking the words aloud, I realized they are true.
In fact, they’re more true than the negative beliefs and thoughts I have about myself, which were programmed in my unconscious brain before I had words, or conscious memory.
Sometimes healing self-loathing happens from the outside in.
Meryl Streep once famously couldn’t find the beating heart of a character until she found the right clothes for the character. Stepping into the character’s clothes brought her to life.
Self-love can come to life in the same way. Find the exterior, then work your way in.
2. I’ve become extravagant in showing my love to my closest ones, instead of finding fault or trying to fix and control them.
I try to catch myself when I’m nitpicking my loved ones and take Contrary Action (I “do the opposite,” like George Kostanza).
I realize my need to fix and control keep happiness at bay; so I try to embrace my children when they annoy me; tell them they’re beautiful when they really could use a shower. (I don’t do this perfectly)
My husband is the easiest to nitpick.
So I’ve begun the practice of connecting with him before bed time; looking into his eyes and talking before we turn out the lights; telling him what a wonderful husband and father he is when I’d rather ask him to stop eating so much bread. (I do not do this perfectly either, as my man can attest.)
3. I am working on imbedding a belief in my unconscious that when I’m happy I’m actually accomplishing more in life than when I’m miserable.
Joy was highly suspect in my family of origin. I have German roots, which says a lot. Work and earning was valued above all. This is a value I’m trying to shed.
Fun and play are very important activities. Allowing ourselves to be happy makes the world a better place.
4. I no longer have people in my life who inflame my codependency and control issues.
I’ve realized codependency, control, criticism are all things I used to buffer myself against the pain of loss. Loss is inevitable; Happiness is a choice.
Don’t Turn the Pursuit of Happiness Into Another Thing to Beat Yourself Up About
My wise 13-year-old daughter told me she doesn’t pursue Happiness.
That it absolutely cannot be a persistent state of being. That Happiness, like all feelings, just pops up along the way in life.
I love this idea of not pursuing Happiness and feeling like failures when we can’t achieve perpetual bliss.
The idea here is to stop pushing Happiness away. To embrace it when it knocks on our doors by learning to embrace ourselves.
If you believe you’re in a relationship that’s keeping you busy with control and codependence so you can avoid a Fear of Happiness — I have two great books I can recommend below. (One of them is mine, naturally.)
Happiness isn’t the end game. Spiritual progress (not perfection) is the goal.
Read more on Shannon’s fabulous: http://thewomanformerlyknownasbeautiful.com/
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