- My Account
Emotional Health•Recovery • 7 minutes to read
I can safely say, we have all been in a place where we want to take the magic pill that will take away all our troubles. We feel weighed down, lethargic, not wanting to communicate with anyone. It is much easier to stay in our own world than find a way to elevate our mood. We sometimes like to wallow in our misery. What is it about going into hibernation (isolation) that feels comforting? Are we afraid to ask what the Psalmist asked:
Why so downcast, O my soul?Psalm 43:5
Wading through our troubles is like walking in muck and mire. It is like walking through a pool of mud. Each step is an effort and sometimes we lose a shoe as the mud sucks it off our foot. Many of us who have navigated recovery know what this feels like.
It’s easy to stay in this place because it doesn’t require us to do anything. We can sit in silence, nursing our wounds, as we let our thoughts rehearse revenge. We can get lost in binge watching a series and not have to think about that shameful event. Or, we can click on an image and find a way to feel better. None of these remedies lead to what we really need.
The feeling of being comforted, loved, accepted, and enjoyed as a human being is what we really need. Not a hostile world where we will inevitably be hurt, betrayed, or let down. A world where we are capable of hurt, betrayal and letting others down. How do we defend ourselves against such hostility?
Many of us, myself included, find it difficult to consistently manage our gut reaction to hurt. Our reactions tend to lead us to fight back in anger, run away in fear, or numb out for that instant jolt relief. For those of us with years of practice, many times from childhood, it is the quick and easy route that our brain has found to deal with living in this fallen world.
As we matured into adulthood, we tend to take a skeptical approach on how to achieve a sustainable state of being okay, centered, normal, or content. We have become experts at pushing away any hint of happiness. For an addict, a compliment is met with an internal dialog of, “If you only knew what I did last night, you would not be saying that.” For a betrayed spouse, a compliment often goes unheard as they wait for the next betrayal to send them over the edge. Through years of hurt and betrayal, we learned to not let the good in or even savor those moments of what it feels like to be loved and enjoyed, deep in our being. This also includes the love and acceptance that God offers.
Through my years of experience helping men and women wade through the mud of recovery, I have discovered that many have lost their ability to feel joy. They have been rehearsing tragedy for so long it has become a way of life for them. They continually go over worse case scenarios in their mind so they don’t get blindsided or hurt again. Emotional security is elusive.
It has become difficult for them to imagine that their relationships could be fun or exciting again. Many are very good at recognizing “fun” coming their way. They immediately put up a stone wall to defend against it. Some want to stay in their oppression, feeling victimized by God for not protecting them. Jesus proclaimed that, “the oppressed or downtrodden will be released” Luke 4. The question now is, “How do we get released from our oppression?”
I don’t know about you, but when I have been hurt by others, I usually want to be comforted. I want someone to notice my hurt and offer comfort. For me to ask for comfort feels weak and dangerous. Growing up in a chaotic house I never learned to find comfort in empathy. This is what I was taught: don’t be vulnerable with your feelings, opinions, or thoughts—you will be mocked for them.
Looking back at the remainder of Psalm 43:5, it tells us to “put your hope in God.” This sounds simple but experience has shown us (me) it is not that simple. In fact, a lot of what I read in the Bible about hope and praise is prefaced by an “I will” statement. “I will praise God.” “I will call upon the Lord.” It seems to me that we need to “will” ourselves to praise God. It is not natural. We must exercise our free will and set our minds to do what does not come naturally.
It is my view that our mind is the last battlefield the evil one has over us. He lost access to our spirit when we received Jesus as our Lord and Savior. He lost our body because we will get a new one (yeah!). But our mind—the seat of our will and emotion—is still under the influence of the evil one (the liar) who is hell bent on getting us to believe that God does not love or care about us. This is his last battlefield. We can fortify our boundary wall by mounting a counter-defense of “I will” statements to speak truth to ourselves.
Joy is a powerful emotion. It is also one of our most vulnerable emotions. Joy is felt in those moments when we are in the care of someone, they enjoy our presence, we feel relaxed and open. It is the basis for creativity, amusement, delightfulness, and fascination. Joy conjures up from the inside and overflows to the outside. This may be why sexual intimacy is one of the most difficult to sustain. When we are at our most vulnerable, fear elevates in the care of another, and we guard against the joy that is meant to be experienced in sexual union.
What is it about joy that when we need it the most it is the most fleeting? To push away joy is a way to protect ourselves from being vulnerable. We fear the feeling of joy. To do so opens up a risky pathway of vulnerability and emotional exposure.
When Joy Meets Gratitude
Where does gratitude fit into our quest for joy? Gratitude is: the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness. In her research, Brene Brown concluded that the antidote to “foreboding joy” is the practice of gratitude. I understand this to mean that joy does not come easy. It is up to us to practice the “I will” statement so that we can experience joy. It is not our natural go-to emotion.
It is interesting, too, how Brown’s research revealed that it is a spiritual practice. She stated, she was “startled by the fact that the research participants consistently described both joyfulness and gratitude as spiritual practices that were bound to a belief in human connectedness and a power greater than us.” It seems the biblical writers did not need a research study to explain this. God has been saying it all along. A simple search in the Psalms for “I will” shows us that it takes effort to naturally turn to the Lord when we are in need of comfort. This is renewing our mind.
Apostle Paul tells us in Galatians 5:22 that joy is a fruit of the Spirit. I venture to say it is not “low hanging fruit.” Rather, joy is the fruit found at the top of the canopy requiring us to exert some energy to climb. At the top we can also gain a clearer perspective on our situation while we eat the best fruit.
Think of it this way: joy is an emotion that creates levels of vulnerability. We can become skeptical of joy when we have experienced trauma or neglect. We can develop a defense against joy to protect us from vulnerability. Such defense tactics include rehearsing tragedy, denying feelings of passion and excitement, and numbing ourselves from the discomfort of vulnerability.
The antidote to these defenses is the practice of gratitude. Moving out of our comfort zone will require us to “will” ourselves.
The challenge of incorporating the practice of gratitude into our lives will take effort and discipline. Consider the following:
- Create your “I will” statements. When you are in a place of hurt, anxiety or despair (or thinking of using), bring out your arsenal of “I will” statements: “I will praise the Lord.” “I will put my hope in God.” “I will call upon the Lord.” “I will give thanks.”
- Learn to savor joyful feelings. When someone compliments you, say “thank you” and allow yourself to feel the pleasure of someone appreciating you. It will feel uncomfortable at first, but over time you will learn to tolerate it. Grab your Feelings Wheel and examine all the feelings in the joy category. Now, allow yourself to feel the emotion of playful, delight, and fascination. When you savor these feelings your body will become accustomed to it. Take pleasure in what is good.
So far the year 2020 has not been a very joyous one, but we can change this.
Join me in climbing to the top of the tree where we can gain a fresh perspective and experience new levels of joy and gratitude.
Brown, B. (2012). Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. New York, NY: Penguin Random House. 123.