Everyone wants to be happy, right? And yet, when you catch yourself smiling and feeling a level of joy, contentment or excitement, you start to worry. Suddenly, your state of happiness is a source of anxiety and fear. These positive feelings you’ve wished for and, maybe, worked hard to get are now the very things you want to avoid.
Fearing positive emotions is a fairly common symptom for people struggling with their mental health. But why would you fear feeling good? Here are a few reasons which may have led to this fear:
- You don’t believe you deserve to be happy
Maybe you grew up in an environment with many strict rules and expectations around behaviour. For example, becoming excited and lively because it was your birthday would be met with stern faces and commands to “Calm down” and “Stop being naughty”. These rules and expectations may have made it very difficult to be spontaneous, to allow yourself to feel and express the full range of human emotions. Or maybe you’ve done things in the past as an adult which you now regret and think that only a bad person would have acted that way. You come to view yourself as flawed and that you aren’t worthy of being happy.
- It feels more familiar and safe to be unhappy
Feeling sad, depressed, angry, or any other painful emotion can become a habit. When you’ve been feeling this way for a long time, it becomes very familiar, and you know what to expect on a day-to-day basis. Everything becomes more predictable, from how you’ll feel when you wake up to how people with respond to you and how your days will pan out. All this predictability offers a level of comfort and safety. Feeling happy is not familiar, and you may even say to yourself, “This doesn’t feel right”. In addition, things may change if you’re happy and with change comes uncertainty and the unknown.
- Having fun and feeling happy causes bad things to happen
This is a belief that if you allow yourself to feel good, it will be taken away from you, or something awful will follow the period of happiness. This negative association with happiness can also have its roots in childhood if you linked pleasure with pain, for example, being punished or made fun of for enjoying yourself. Those who struggle with high levels of anxiety and worry may also be prone to believing happiness will be short-lived and will, eventually, lead to bad luck.
Many clients come to therapy because they want to get rid of and avoid emotions such as anxiety. In such cases, the focus of the therapeutic work will be to start to expose the client to situations in which they are likely to experience anxiety. In this way, the client will start to learn that the emotion is not dangerous and that they can cope with feelings that arise. In the same way, you can start to expose yourself to situations, activities and people that provoke good feelings. Start to allow yourself to feel okay and know that there’s no need to punish yourself for feeling that way.
When you start to feel good, connect with the physical experience of the moment. Move your attention to the body and label – without any judgment – what the feelings are, such as comfort, affection, happiness, awe, and joy. If your mind starts to have thoughts that pull attention away, move back to the body and allow yourself to just feel whatever it is for a few more minutes. Take it slowly. If feeling good is unfamiliar, it will be normal to experience some fear about accepting these feelings.
It’s also an idea to become aware of what is making this particular time in your life feel happy – the people, places, activities, and thoughts we are having – so that aspects of the experience can be recreated at another time.
Remember, it’s safe to allow yourself to feel good.
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