Fear of joy.


There was another thing my therapist and I talked about last night, which I forgot to mention in last night’s post.   Another reason why I might have become sad and depressed is because while the inner peace and quiet joy I felt upon returning from my vacation felt wonderful, the pathological part of my mind–the one that obeys the “narrative” I was expected to adhere to for most of my life–fears the emotional openness that joy requires, and also the freedom it makes possible.  That part of me feels “safer” staying confined within its gloomy prison of defenses and avoidance because it’s all it ever knew.

There’s a kind of sadness inherent in intense joy.*   This is very hard to explain, but I think it’s because the emotion is so “big”–bordering on the spiritual.  Maybe “sadness” isn’t quite the right word, but it’s easy to become overwhelmed by too much joy if you’re not used to it.    It’s like looking into the face of God if you haven’t prepared yourself first.  An example of this that many people remember (and found funny because it was) is that guy who made that viral Youtube video of the double rainbow and broke down in sobs because he couldn’t handle how beautiful it was.

To someone who has felt too little joy, and has spent most of their life running away from authentic connection with other people, with your authentic self, with the world, with nature, with the creative impulse, or with the divine (all things that lead to joy), suddenly finding the door to your soul–which has always been safely locked and kept you from being able to experience any emotions other than the survival ones (anger and fear) or the ones having to do with shame (self hatred, shame and guilt)–  flung wide open with the sun streaming in can be overwhelming and even frightening.    It’s a kind of emotional agoraphobia.  I think it’s related to our fear of the unknown.  The type of joy I experienced recently was intense and seemed to have some sort of profound meaning.  I couldn’t decipher what exactly what it all meant, but I knew it was big. Being able to feel something so intense and spiritual required being completely open and vulnerable in a childlike way, something I’ve long protected myself against.

My therapist thinks the defensive, disordered part of me rejected it because it was afraid of its mystery and unknowability–and the requirement of allowing so much childlike openness and vulnerability.  It’s part of the unhealthy narrative I was programmed to adhere to:   Never take emotional risks, don’t walk blindly into the unknown, always know exactly what you’re doing at all times.  Don’t trust. Don’t love anyone or anything too much. Don’t let yourself be too vulnerable.  Keep the door locked tight.  It’s too dangerous not to.

So when the internal narrative finally had enough intense positive emotion and kicked back in to guard against it, my inner child felt grief stricken at the loss of those glorious  feelings and believed the lie that she could never feel that way again because what she had thought was real was merely a bizarre and dangerous delusion suddenly dropped into an otherwise constricted, unfulfilling, but “safe” life.


* There’s also a kind of joy inherent in certain types of sadness (NOT depression), but I won’t elaborate on that in this post.


4 thoughts on “Fear of joy.

  1. In one of her talks on vulnerability and shame Brene Brown talks all about what you have written about here. It makes heaps of sense to me. She talks about how this fear of joy comes up all the time when we really open to and risk vulnerability. Its so sad we would run from it if we aren’t familiar with it, but makes heaps of sense. I might have to reblog this as its a very insightful post, Lucky.

    Liked by 1 person

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