Are you Afraid of Happiness?

How Our Unconscious Fear of Happiness Sabotages Our Efforts to Find Peace

I first became aware of the fear of happiness in my one-to-one psychotherapy private practice, where I experienced three repeating patterns with clients-patterns that my training had in no way prepared me for.

Pattern #1: We Stop Just Before We Get Started

In the first pattern, I would help clients address a particular fear or problem to the point of letting go of fear. Then, when I was convinced they were now ready to let go of their pain and be happy, they would suddenly stop coming.

Without notice, they’d disappear. All my telephone calls would go unreturned.

Where I was able to follow up, my clients would most often say, “I’m just too busy to come” or “I don’t have any money.” Sometimes my clients would simply say, “I’m just not ready.”

Pattern #2: We Cling to Familiar Situations—Despite the Risks

The second pattern I called “the familiar devil,” derived from the common saying “Better the devil you know.” In this pattern, a client would get to the point where he or she was ready to let go and move on past something painful and destructive, only to decide at the very last minute to stay put.

One client, Jonathan, came to see me after having a heart attack while working in a highly demanding and very unrewarding job. He often spoke of looking for a more fulfilling career, something that suited him better, once he was healthy enough to work again. When he was well again, he went straight back to his old job. “It’s all I know,” he told me.

Pattern #3: We Sabotage Our Best Efforts to Let Go

My client Susan’s case perfectly illustrated the third repeating pattern. She was single, in her late 20s, living with a boyfriend who was consistently abusing her both emotionally and physically.

I’ve come to see you to get the strength to leave my boyfriend,” she told me during our first meeting.

Susan did eventually leave her boyfriend, despite great hurt and fear to herself. Happiness now beckoned. Her friends had hardly gotten the celebrations under way, however, before Susan moved in with a new boyfriend who also started to abuse her.

By witnessing these three patterns, I began to see that helping people resolve a problem isn’t the same thing as helping them experience personal happiness.

One obvious reason for this is that happiness is quite clearly much more than just the absence of pain or problems. More than that, though, I began to realize that until you develop a healthy, conscious, creative, and unconditional relationship to happiness, you’ll always experience unhappiness and illness.

Excerpted from my book, Be Happy

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