Withholding Joy… Why do we do it?

I’d like to bring you back to my junior high days for a second. Allow me to paint you a little picture of a classic “Bibs in junior high” scenario: I’m sitting in class, and the teacher is handing back our tests from the week before. My palms are sweating, my face is anguished, and the narrative repeating over and over in my head is,

“I failed. I failed I failed I failed I failed. I knew I failed it. I’m prepared to fail. I can’t believe myself. Why didn’t I study more? Maybe if I had studied more I wouldn’t have failed! UGH HOW COULD I HAVE FAILED AGAIN???”

This is all running on a loop in my head until the teacher comes to my desk and puts my test face down in front of me. I pick it up and as I begin to flip it over the thoughts in my head are going strong,

“I failed. I failed I failed I fai– a ‘B’! I got a ‘B’! Holy crap I didn’t fail! How did this happen? It’s a miracle! It’s a true Christmas miracle!”

This happened every time I took a test in junior high. (And I do mean every time). And actually also throughout high school, and even a lot of times in college. (Anyone else???)

Basically, I spent the majority of my younger years expecting the worst in not only my test grades, but in most areas of my life if we’re being honest. 😏 It’s like I was so scared of being disappointed that I would preemptively disappoint myself whenever possible, just so I could avoid the potential of disappointment (and be “pleasantly surprised” if the outcome ended up being good). In other words, I was the poster child of a Debbie Downer 💁🏻‍♀️ even in situations where, in the end, I had no need to be disappointed (i.e. Had I just expected a non-failing grade on my exams, when I got a non-failing grade back 90% of the time, I could have bypassed the disappointment stage altogether!)

Why do we do this to ourselves? Brene Brown talks a lot about the topic of suppressing joy. (So does my therapist incidentally. 😄) And they both come back to this question of, “Why do we pretend we’re not invested in something, when we’re clearly already invested?” Or, “Why do we prepare for the worst when what we’d like to do is hope for the best?” It could be something as simple as a grade on a test, or something as big as wanting that job you interviewed for, or to date that person you like, or to get pregnant, or to get that clean bill of health (or a million other things in between)…

If we’re being truthful with ourselves, for all the times that we prematurely prepare ourselves for the worst and pretend not to be invested in things that we actually care about deep down, what we’re actually doing is refusing to grant ourselves the opportunity to hope and experience joy, even if just for a time. Because at the end of the day, we’re either going to be disappointed in the outcome or we’re not. The only difference is, with premature disappointment, we will find ourselves either disappointed for a whole lot longer than just the actual period of disappointment, or for no reason at all if we do actually get the outcome we were secretly hoping for.

So I guess we get to choose really. Do we want to experience true, immeasurable hope and joy as we anticipate the outcome of things that matter to us (with the potential for true disappointment in the end)? Or do we want to experience feigned disappointment as we wait for the outcome of things that matter to us (with the potential for true disappointment in the end)?

I’d like to choose hope and joy more during the waiting periods of my life. To hope is just so much more fun that to willingly and pointlessly dive into a pit of disappointment before I even know if that’s where I belong yet.

Why are we so afraid of negative outcomes anyway? Why can’t hope that is either fulfilled or not still be GOOD and celebrated and enjoyed regardless of the outcome? My hope (lol) for us humans today is that we wouldn’t be afraid to hope and celebrate HOPE as one of the very things we want, rather than just certain outcomes. Because more hope is what keeps us moving forward and upwards. And we’ve been taught to fear disappointment, but I think it’s actually what makes us strong, and resilient — the combination of that with hope (and of course, some positive outcomes along the way).

I mentioned in my last post that our hearts were made to be break. I think it’s still sometimes a foreign concept to me, that it’s possible to experience immense, intense joy, and also experience immense, intense sadness and heartache, sometimes within the same day, sometimes even within the same minute. Incoming sadness does not take away from or need to cause us to fear any preceding hope. I wonder why I so easily forget this.

Another way I’ve caught myself withholding joy is when I’m enjoying one area of my life and not another. Let’s keep it super general and say I’m really finding joy in my job, but experiencing disappointment in the area of a friendship — all hypothetical. So I’ll find myself enjoying my job but then as I’m working will think, “Wait, I forgot things with my friend are really sucky right now. I can’t be happy about this!” and I’ll actually try and suppress my happiness about my job by re-membering (over and over) the situation with my friend almost as if to imply that if I did dare to be happy about the work situation, I wouldn’t be honoring the sadness of the friend situation.

Now, as always, there are exceptions to everything. For example, I would say that if I was ALWAYS focusing on how happy I was in my job, and pretending that the thing with my friend didn’t exist (otherwise known as denial) then it probably would make sense for me to spend a little more emotional energy on the thing with my friend. (As I’ve mentioned on Instagram, living in reality is important) BUT regardless, that still doesn’t mean that I can’t enjoy my job situation as it truly is.

I guess my point and my note to self here is everything in life doesn’t have to be good or even mostly good for us to feel really GOOD in a certain moment in time. We should all dare to experience joy and hope even when not everything around us points us to doing so.

3 takeaways:

 

  1. Get comfortable with disappointment. Don’t expect it, but acknowledge before you begin to hope, that if your hopes are dashed, you are more than capable of handling the heartbreak and disappointment that will come with that, and you are strong enough to fully and truly grieve the loss of what you wished would be rather than pretending you weren’t invested in it in the first place.

 

  1. Get comfortable with joy. And get comfortable with it coming and going. Don’t view it as something you have the right to “have” all the time (it’s not a commodity that you own), but view it as something you’re gifted with along the way, as you continue in your journey. This way, you can let it come and go with a certain lightness and gratitude for it in your heart, knowing with certainly that even after it goes away, it will always come back to find you again.

 

  1. Have the courage to hope. Not with the expectation that you’ll definitely get the outcome you desire, but with the intention of giving your desires the space to make themselves known honestly. Not only does it tend to sway things in your favor (and minimize the cynicism that is rampant in this day and age), but it also allows you to live a more honest life, and not pretend that you actually like expecting the worst all the time. (Nobody likes a Debbie D).

Okey doke. That’s my brain dump for tonight. Happy hoping, y’all. ✌🏼 As always, let me know if any of this resonates with you (or not)! Always interested in your experience.

“May the God of green hope fill you up with joy, fill you up with peace, so that your believing lives, filled with the life-giving energy of the Holy Spirit, will brim over with hope!” Romans 15:13

Photo by Hanny Naibaho on Unsplash