Letting in the Positive vs Practicing for Tragedy and Disappointment

How often have you been in a situation that you “should’ve” been enjoying but found yourself tensing up or imagining how it could go wrong? Ironically it is not only fear of things not-working out that can paralyze us in life, we can also feel just as threatened by when things go well!

Brené Brown, in her book Daring Greatly, describes it as “Foreboding Joy”- “the paradoxical dread that clamps down on momentary joyfulness.” When people were asked about the most vulnerable moments in their life, she was surprised to hear there were many joyful moments. Such as…

– Acknowledging how much I love my partner and/or my kids
– Knowing how good I got it
– Loving my job
– Going into remission

She describes how, “in a culture of deep scarcity – not enough – not feeling safe enough, certain, or sure enough – joy can feel like a set-up.” Instead of allowing ourselves to enjoy the moment that is going well, we worry when it will end or something goes wrong. To protective ourselves for the eventual loss of joy, we may “rehearse tragedy” or holding on to “perpetual disappointment.” She summarizes beautifully…

 “Once we make the connection between vulnerability and joy, the answer is pretty straightforward: We’re trying to beat vulnerability to the punch. We don’t want to be blindsided by hurt. We don’t want to be caught off – guard, so we literally practice being devastated or never move from self-elected disappointment.”

I remember my husband shaking his head in wonder at the fantastical images my mind could come up with about how my children could be hurt or maimed. By “rehearsing tragedy” in this way, I tensed up which interfered with my enjoyment of my kids as they … skied down the hill, zoomed along on their bikes, headed off to their first… (insert any big step or activity.)

Brené Brown describes how “It’s easier to live disappointed than it is to feel disappointed. It feels more vulnerable to dip in and out of disappointment than to just set up camp there. You sacrifice joy, but you suffer less pain.” How many times have you said or heard, “I am trying not to get too excited in case it doesn’t happen”… be it a job, a promotion, a relationship growing, becoming pregnant and even giving birth to a healthy baby.

Yet who are we kidding? Will we really NOT feel disappointed or hurt after any of these difficult experiences? No, we are human. We can not prevent the longing and wishing, just as much as we can not prevent the hurt and disappointment. Trying to practice for the pain or avoid it does not make it less hurtful. Rather it focuses our attention and experience on the feeling of weakness and inability. I remember receiving the advice – don’t try to put your hand out to stop the fall, it leads to broken arms, wrists – learn to loosen up and roll with it.  It totally goes against our instinct, yet focusing on the worst increases the likelihood of it happening and increases the role of the pain in our life.

Nor should we ignore the pain. Sure we can use these difficult feelings as a warning to help us see where we can prepare, practice and build skills. Yet, a certain point we need to dare to move on and into the experience. To soak it up. I realize it is these moments in life that make the risks worth it. It is when I feel most connected with life, my relationships and my environment. They also feed me during the difficult  times … which yes do come at some point.

One of my sons did break his arm while skiing and the other while bicycling… yet we have had sooo many wonderful moments skiing or cycling. They too love those moments. Would I really want to give that up? For me the answer was clear. I am grateful for the beauty around me, and the beaming faces of those I love when we share those moments. Even more so, I also see how my sons learn from the painful events. They experience how they too will not only survive but continue to grow and build skills. I learn with them, that I too will survive my pain at their pain.

I am building my trust in myself and my skills, and gratefulness for what I experience and have… it is an ongoing, everyday practice.

In Women’s Group this month, we will explore how do we respond in those joy moments? What ways may we get in our way? And can we practicing letting them in?