Pressing Pause Podcast episode 45 Being afraid to feel truly happy
Welcome to Pressing Pause, the podcast for overthinkers.
I’m Gabrielle Treanor and I’m here to share with you ideas, inspiration and actions to empower you to spend less time overthinking and worrying and more time enjoying your life.
Welcome to episode 45. At first glance the title of this episode – being afraid to feel truly happy – may sound like nonsense, everyone wants to feel happy so why would you be scared of it? However, overthinkers know that to feel truly joyful, to be utterly content and happy is not only hard to feel but can be terrifying because that joy is accompanied by the fear of what if I lose this, what if it all goes wrong, how can I be this happy, there’s got to be a catch.
Let me give you an example. You’re with the people you love, it could be your friends, your partner, your family, and you’re having the best time. Everyone’s getting on, perhaps the weather is glorious, there is nothing that isn’t great about this moment and you feel utterly happy. And then it hits you, an icy hand clenches your heart as the fear of how joyful you feel washes over you. A few seconds ago you were carefree, totally in the moment and feeling full of joy. And now you’re gripped by the thought that this is too good, everything is going too well, you love these people so much and the thought of this moment, these people, this feeling being taken from you is terrifying. You let down your guard, you allowed yourself to stop overthinking and you let yourself be happy. And that feels incredibly scary.
As humans we’re built to be on alert, looking for danger and ready to react, which was useful when we had to protect ourselves from lions and bears that wanted to eat us. But as we no longer have these kinds of threats our fear responds to our imagined concerns. So when we become aware of just how perfect this moment is, how well life is going we’re gripped by the fear that something is bound to go wrong. We can’t be this happy, life cannot be this great, this good feeling will be snatched away from us at any moment.
Allowing yourself to feel such joy means you’re opening yourself up, you’re being vulnerable, your guard is down. And as the wonderful Brené Brown says, “When we lose our tolerance for vulnerability, joy becomes foreboding”. Being so happy, feeling such contentment and peace is too scary, life can’t be this good so up goes the wall as the fear of being vulnerable, the fear of something going wrong, wraps itself around the joy you felt. You no longer feel pure joy, now it’s cloaked in foreboding.
This is all about us trying to protect ourselves, not from bears and lions but from imagined future pain. We think that if we don’t allow ourselves to get completely carried away with how great life is, if we don’t permit ourselves to really revel in the joy we’re feeling, and instead keep it reined in, we’re protecting ourselves from future pain.
We believe that if we allow ourselves to feel true joy then if we lose what is giving us so much joy we’ll be more devastated than if we had kept a lid on our happiness and not allowed ourselves to feel quite so much joy. We think that if we don’t allow ourselves to feel total love and happiness for the people we care about it won’t hurt as much if something bad happens. We think we’re doing ourselves a favour, we’re protecting our future selves.
But we’re not. This simply is not true.
If a loved one suffers in some way the anguish we feel isn’t lessened because we kept a lid on how happy we felt with them in the past. The pain and trauma we feel is as real as it would ever be, but, and here’s the real punch in the gut, it may be accompanied by the regret of not making the most of the joyful moments together when we had them.
Imagining upsetting events that could happen in the future in the hope that it will prepare you for the hurt and make it easier to bear does not work. What it does do is steal the joy, the fun and the contentment you could be experiencing in the present.
So what can we do? How can we protect ourselves from future pain so we feel free to enjoy the good moments in life now? Well, the truth is we can’t.
Let me explain. Now, I love my husband so much, he means so much to me I can’t begin to articulate it and the thought of something happening that would cause him pain or for us to not be together terrifies me. In the past there have been moments where I would suddenly become aware of what a brilliant time I was having in that moment, how utterly joyous I felt and how much I loved him and how flipping wonderful life was. And then, in the next second, I’d be gripped with the terrifying thought of what if this ends, what if I lose him. And that light, joyful, carefree feeling was replaced with a dread, a fear of an imagined future. And that would be it, joyful moment gone, overthinking kicking in. My husband, who is not an overthinker, would be oblivious to these thoughts rushing through my brain and he would continue to bask in the joyful feelings, just as I had been.
And where did this foreboding joy get me? Nowhere. All that happened was I enjoyed myself less, I made myself less happy. Now that I know and understand more I realise what I was doing and how futile it was. I know perfectly well that if something happens to my husband I will be devastated, there’s no denying it and no preparing for it. All I would be doing by stopping myself from feeling happy with him now is limiting how much joy and content and peace I could feel now. It wouldn’t prepare me for anything horrible that could happen in the future, nothing can.
So what do I do instead? What can you do when you feel joy become foreboding?
You hold on to this present moment. When your mind starts fast forwarding to the scary future where things go wrong – it happens in milliseconds I know – notice where your thoughts are going and consciously bring them back to this present moment. Yes you can imagine a hundred awful versions of the future but they are imagined, they are not real, you don’t know what is going to happen so do yourself a favour and drag your thoughts back to what you do know is real right now.
Focus on this moment and whatever is creating the warm, content, joyful feeling within you. Soak it up, savour it, relish it, let it seep into your bones. Capture this gorgeous, wondrous, beautiful moment in whatever form it takes – feeling the sun on your skin, success at work, listening to your friends’ laughter, seeing your partner’s face, watching your children play – and be thankful for it. When life is more challenging you won’t wish that you’d reined in your happiness, you’ll thank your past self for fully embracing these joyful moments so that you have happy memories and experiences to look back on.
I know how lucky I am to have my marriage and while it’s not perfect, obviously, no-one’s is, he can drive me up the wall sometimes, when there’s a moment where I feel absolute joy I grab it with both hands and I revel in it, savouring and appreciating the contentment and happiness I feel in that moment and banking it into my memory. I know that there is no benefit from stopping myself feeling that joy, there’s no way it can prepare me for anything bad that could happen in the future. All it does is stop me from being happy now and creates a regret for the future.
I know this may sound difficult to do, risky in fact, it requires vulnerability after all, you’re letting your guard down. So go gently and try it out, it takes practice but over time you’ll train your brain to realise that it’s okay to feel the joy you’re feeling. That you can allow yourself to feel the happy, carefree, content feelings in that moment.
I’d love to hear what this episode brings up for you so please do email me firstname.lastname@example.org, you can find me on Instagram as @gabrielletreanor or there’s my Facebook group, a safe place specifically for overthinkers to gather together, look for WorryLessEnjoyLifeMore in groups on Facebook or follow the link in this episode 45’s show notes at gabrielletreanor.com/podcast.
And if you’re interested in working one-to-one with me on your overthinking challenges take a look at theoverthinkerscoach.com or email me and we can have a chat.
Thanks for listening, until next time, lovely people.