Warning – this is deep for a Sunday night post ha!
I don’t know about anyone else, but I have realised recently that when I feel something deeply joyful, when I feel a real connection or deep happiness, I seem to withdraw from that joyful feeling somehow and lessen the happiness somehow. That feeling of something being too good to be true. Waiting for it to go wrong, predicting it ending badly somehow. Freaking out even. It turns out, Brene’ Brown has written about this and refers to it as “foreboding joy”.
“Our actual experiences of joy—those intense feelings of deep spiritual connection and pleasure—seize us in a very vulnerable way,”
“When something good happens, our immediate thought is that we’d better not let ourselves truly feel it, because if we really love something we could lose it. So we shut down our ability to completely enjoy so that we can also shut down our capacity for feeling loss.”
The words Brown writes sum my experience up exactly. My main thought as I read and write about this today being the feelings I was left with after my last session with T. On Thursday I felt so deeply heard and understood by T, I felt such a wonderful connection with her. The connection warmed my heart somehow, it felt as if I had been hugged tightly – emotionally speaking. When I got home, I could feel this strange sadness setting in. It became more than just a sadness, it became a deep longing.
At first I thought I was missing T but something about that didn’t feel quite right because I hadn’t left her long ago. I later realised thanks to one of my very intelligent and insightful fellow bloggers Blue Sky, that she had also experienced what I was writing about and wrote her blog “When Love Equals Loss” which is where I found this reference to “foreboding joy”. Since then, I have read lots about it and it has helped me so much (Thank you again Blue Sky!).
“Joy is the most vulnerable emotion we experience. If you cannot tolerate joy, what you do is start dress rehearsing tragedy”.
She also says:
“We’ve learned that giving into joy is, at best, setting ourselves up for disappointment and, at worst, inviting disaster”
“We’re afraid that the feeling of joy won’t last, or that there won’t be enough, or that the transition to disappointment (or whatever is in store next) will be too difficult.”
There are so many other brilliant snippets I am tempted to insert here, but I won’t keep on. If you are interested I am sure you can google it yourself or buy one of her books. The point is, this has really spoken to me. Her words have resonated so deeply and I have been reflecting on this all weekend.
I think this is what happened after that session Thursday. I felt a wonderfully deep connection with my T. A connection that I have craved for my whole life from my mother. Clearly T isn’t m mother, but in my psychotherapy process right now, I guess due to transference and all my unconscious desires, T is the new fantasy mother figure and so in a way, I finally got something I’ve always really, really wanted. Needed.
What followed that was panic. Panic it wouldn’t last. Grief because logic told me she isn’t my mum and won’t ever be my mum. Grief and longing that I should have had that from my actual mother, but never did and never would….. and I now think, dress rehearsing tragedy as Brown writes about.
Thinking about the fact that T could leave. Stop seeing me. Give up her practice, decide she no longer wants to treat me etc etc…. Perhaps not logical but that doesn’t make any difference to the unconscious fears. It is interesting because at the time I thought perhaps I was crying about the loss of my second session a week (my decision, my choice etc but still a loss for me) and that may well be in there somewhere but I think its deeper than that. The loss of the second session is a harsh reminder that I can’t have it all can I? I can’t have my new job AND continue to see T as much as I would like to, because, she isn’t my mum, she isn’t my family and unfortunately, I can only see her at times when she has appointments available that also fit in with my work commitments. The “loss of T” then, triggers my abandonment fears and all sorts of other things and the joy I felt from the connection we had, is suffocated and replaced with sadness and panic.
When in my past was I left distraught from joy and vulnerability ending badly? My childhood of course. Connecting, even for a second or a minute once in a blue moon with my mother would have been a dream. It would have felt just incredible. Connecting with my emotionally unavailable and distant mother would have given me the hope that things were finally going to change, to get better.. I was finally going to “get” to her….
… until that didn’t happen. The connection would be broken (by her) and she once again, moved out of my reach. Shit that is painful. And that is when my template was set I guess. Connection equals heartbreak. Connection equals disappointment and connection was not going to last.
I guess then, its no surprise I would immediately “dress rehearse” tragedy when feeling joy, is it?
I thought to myself earlier, I wonder if this is something I have always done. I am sure it is. I am trying to think about how this may play out in my relationships. It’s weird because I don’t think of myself as being guarded or defended or someone that moves away from commitment – I think of myself as the opposite because I CRAVE love and affection and commitment and forever-ness (not a word, I know) BUT…. looking back, my relationships with men were disastrous because I attracted avoidantly attached men, men that didn’t want closeness or forever-ness. This was bad for me because it totally reinforced my internalised opinion that I wasn’t worthy of love.
Every time I felt these men move away from me I felt abandoned all over again. Every time the relationships failed, I was left heartbroken. I got nicknamed something at school which referenced how many boys I had dated. Friends used to tell me I was constantly in relationships. Even as a young teen I knew that the amount I dated was more than most, but I didn’t understand why or see it as an issue. I was trying to find love – but in all of the wrong places. Christ as I write this the phrase “you need to love yourself before you can love another” springs to mind. I’ve always thought that phrase was bollocks!
As I write this my eyebrows lift up and I realise the weight behind the words. The realisations I am having. Writing this feels so revealing.
I was drawn to avoidantly attached men for a few reasons I think.
- Anxiously attached people attract avoidantly attached people due to confusing the mixed messages and the going hot and cold with passion.
- Anxiously attached people wish they were “less needy” and avoidantly attached people seem to have these admirable traits, independence and confidence. So we are drawn to them.
I question tonight whether I had a need to keep some emotional distance so that I wasn’t left distraught? I’m not sure.
Both of my parents are incapable of emotional closeness with me and I craved that so very much all of my life. It hurts me a lot to really realise that neither of my parents gave me the connection and emotional closeness that they should have – could have. But understanding it wasn’t me, my fault, that helps to ease some shame. It makes me so determined to never repeat that pattern with my own children. Also, it makes me determined to never waste time with anyone who isn’t able to tolerate emotional closeness again. I only hurt myself trying to change them. I guess I was trying to “right a wrong”. Trying to finally “get” an emotionally distant guy. To change the ending of that childhood story where I never did “get” either mum or dad.
Anyway, back to the point, I was drawn to these men and that was in some weird way, what I needed/wanted because unconsciously I knew that if they were incapable of real, intimate closeness, then I didn’t have to panic did I because I didn’t need to dress rehearse tragedy, the deep intimate connection was never there for the offering. I think? Something like that, my head hurts a bit as I try to work this out. I think I need a bit more time with that bit.
Weirdly I dreamt last night that I was in Starbucks and I ordered something I didn’t want. That is making me laugh now as it suddenly feels relevant. I didn’t order what I really wanted. HA!
Applying this to my time in therapy, it makes sense that feeling that connection with T would have freaked me out so much. It makes me think again about the fact that I decided to drop my second session a week whilst she was away on holiday. Leave before being left maybe? Sabotage the closeness that was building in our relationship perhaps?
You know I have never been broken up with before. I’ve had a lot of relationships and I’ve done the leaving every.single.time. One of those times I was heartbroken for a few years afterwards which I could never understand. Why would you grieve a relationship that YOU ended? I can understand now that it was because I didn’t WANT it to end, our whole relationship was a battle of me wanting more closeness and commitment and him not being able to offer that. I will admit, I cheated on him several times and I could never understand why when I loved him so much. Finally after about 6 years I ended it but then tried to go back to him a month later to find out he had met someone else. That hurt me so much.
Even looking at my fiance now – okay so I finally met a more securely attached man. A man capable of closeness and intimacy (thank God) but he wasn’t truly “available” when I met him. He was married with children. He left his wife before we got together, but the first few years of our relationship was drama fuelled due to his ex-wife’s rage. He also has 3 young children (strangely my father also went on to have 3 children) and so I was never able to be his total focus, his number 1 because there were “others”. There has always been “others” in my life and understanding this has helped me to get a hold of pangs of jealousy where his children are involved. As T says, I can now use those painful feelings to understand more about myself and my childhood.
In terms of my career, I started a psychology course once but then quit. I tried to learn to drive for 10 years on and off and on and off again. I applied for a promotion last year at work, only to pull my application when I was offered the interview! And now, currently, I’ve been freaking out about starting my new job in November. Why? Because I’m dress rehearsing it all going wrong of course!
But as Brown has taught me this weekend, predicting it going wrong won’t change anything. It won’t hurt any less if it does. All it means is that I lose out on that wonderful feeling of joy that may not actually, ever be ruined at all. Being vulnerable then, is the way forward.