Emotional HealthRecovery 6 minutes to read

I have a good reason to celebrate today. I have been in recovery for nearly 30 years; but just now, I have come to understand why I procrastinate on certain things. A part of me wants to keep this to myself because it reveals my childhood wounding, but another part of me finds it fascinating that after 30 years, I am still discovering new things about myself and why I do what I do. I am determined to make this discovery a celebratory event!

For anyone who has taken the time to watch children at play, you will notice them being very spontaneous and open. They say what’s on their mind and easily share their inner world without reservation. There is a vulnerability to the way kids share their joy and enthusiasm. This is just one part of the nature of a child. If this child is affirmed and nurtured in their joy, they often grow to have a solid self-esteem, thus able to withstand the vulnerability of being in relationships.

Unfortunately, what happens far too often is that we as children are not nurtured or affirmed in our joy and passion. Parents are busy and may have overlooked their child’s desire and passion. Their child’s enthusiasm may be annoying to them. Parents may teach their child to restrain their enthusiasm. Or, like me, the child may be mocked for getting excited—made to feel stupid for having joyful emotions.

When a child experiences neglect or abuse, it affects their spontaneity. To be open to joy and unreserved in the expression of passion makes us vulnerable to shame. We may have come to the conclusion that “something must be wrong with me for feeling happy.”    

Whenever I ask a client about what they are feeling, rarely do they identify joy or any of its derivatives. It is curious to learn when these “happy” or “spontaneous” feelings subside. When we review their childhood events, we find these hidden times when being joyful was restrained. Over the years of childhood development, we learn to hide away our more vulnerable feelings. Our ability to live in the state of joy is compromised when we lose our tolerance for vulnerability. We may feel that to be joyful is somehow inviting disaster. Brene Brown calls this “foreboding joy.” Rather than expressing our joy or passion, we rehearse the tragedy of what “might” happen, thus giving us the illusion of control. We shield ourselves from the shame we feel about our value. This process of “curbing our enthusiasm” shuts down our emotions and feelings. When we shut down joy, other feelings like anger, sadness, and fear take over, leaving us depressed.

I remember being an animated child full of ideas. I was adventurous and dreamt of being an underwater archeologist. I most likely followed the adventures of Jacques Cousteau as he discovered the mysteries of the ocean. I had many other dreams too. But my older brother would have nothing of that. He was my after school “babysitter.” For some reason, he decided that I was stupid for even having these kinds of passions and he was not shy about telling me. With years of mocking and bullying, I gave up on sharing my inner world with others. It hurt too much. I learned to keep my passions to myself. I felt shame for having such dreams and shame for being stupid enough to share them. 

This can still affect me today. After I have gotten excited and shared my ideas, I often feel a twinge of shame. The outcome is that I rarely finish a project I feel passionate about. On two occasions, I have shared a unique perspective, only to see someone else take my idea and use it in a published work without recognizing my contribution. I am sorry to say, I have been resentful about it. But as I searched my heart on this issue, I came to see that the shame I felt for my passion was rooted in a web of childhood trauma still affecting me today.

Changing this pattern as an adult is what the renewing of the mind is about that Paul talked about in Romans 12. The current pattern by which we operate includes carried feelings from our family of origin. These carried emotions make it difficult to change our adult behaviors because when we make a change, it somehow doesn’t “feel” right. In order to change, we need to sometimes override these carried emotions and trust that we are going to be okay and survive.  

Finding joy is a process of dwelling on whatever is lovely, true, pure… (Philippians 4:8) and intentionally allowing your body to experience this joy. Your childhood may have wired you to forebode joy and stifle your passion, but you can rewire your nervous system. The process then is to retrain the body to FEEL joy. Take in those moments of wonder, beauty, and passion, physically into the nervous system, by sitting in it. Allow your body to feel or rewire to the sensation of your enthusiasm. This is a reason to celebrate.

I took on this challenge some years ago. When Harry and I first got married, he had a dog he would take for a walk every night. He would return happy and rosy-cheeked. In my avoidance, I would dismiss his excitement. One day, I asked him what was so exciting about taking the dog for a walk. He said, “I like the way Conrad’s ears bounce up and down when he walks.” Oh, my goodness! How weird, I thought. I may have cringed inside. 

I often found myself dismissing comments about the beautiful setting sun and would occasionally roll my eyes or dismiss this beauty. As I learned more about how the brain works, I decided to try to rewire my felt-sense. I used Harry as my muse and took up walking the dog. I had to consciously think, Conrad’s ears are cute when they bounce up and down. Over time, I began to enjoy it. His ears are cute! I mused. Even now, I get emotional thinking of that little guy who passed away many years ago. And today, sometimes, I am the first to mention the beauty of the sunset.

What I learned through the process of getting my childhood exuberance back is that it takes time. The nervous system needs to be rewired to tolerate vulnerability. I had to risk expressing my passion. I began to look for moments of passion and joy, stop and let my body feel the power of those emotions, then celebrate that I was able to feel it. In time, my nervous system will be renewed to God’s will for how He initially created me: alive, with passion and exuberance!

I hope you will join me in the celebration of discovering new things about yourself. I want to live wholeheartedly. Sharing my passions wholeheartedly is a big step of vulnerability for me. 

I hope someday to be able to celebrate with you. If you are having a difficult time feeling happy, joyful, or “good enough,” the prophet Nehemiah reminds us that the joy of the Lord is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10). We can share in our Lord’s joy as a source of strength. 

 Dance like nobody’s watching; love like you’ve never been hurt. Sing like nobody’s listening; live like it’s heaven on earth.

Mark Twain

Debby Flanagan

Debby is a Pastoral Sex Addiction Professional for Pure Desire. She has a heart for bringing healing to men and women who are broken due to sexual and emotional issues. Debby has a Bachelor's from Corban University and has an Advanced Certification through International Institute for Trauma and Addiction Professionals (IITAP). She contributed to Unraveled: Managing Love, Sex, and Relationships.

Add a Comment

Recommended Posts