Expecting Disaster: Limiting Your Happiness
Tammy came in for counseling because she was unhappy in her marriage. She was tired of being unhappy. She was ready to change. We wanted to find out how she got that way.
This is one of her earliest recollections. The incident itself isn’t traumatic. What is significant is that she remembered it for thirty years. There is a message embedded in the recollection. Our task is to find out what it is so that we can change the beliefs that grew out of it.
Therapist: What is one of the first things you remember?
Tammy: “I remember playing a game with my grandmother. We were having such a good time. I was really laughing and having fun. Suddenly my mother came into the room and said, ‘Stop that, Mother. You’re spoiling her.’ Grandma pushed me off of her lap. We didn’t play after that.”
Therapist: “How did you feel when that happened?”
Tammy: “I felt sad.”
Therapist: “What was the saddest thing about it?”
Tammy: “That I couldn’t play with my grandmother any more.”
Therapist: “Your happiness was over. For all you knew, it might be over forever.”
Tammy: “That was how I felt.”
Therapist: “What was the worst thing about what happened?”
Tammy: “I remember feeling all alone. I had no one else to play with.”
Therapist: “You felt abandoned. Did you deserve this painful abandonment?”
Tammy: “No. I wasn’t doing anything wrong.”
Therapist: “It didn’t make sense. You couldn’t understand it. You couldn’t do anything about it. You felt powerless and insecure.”
Tammy: “That makes me angry. It wasn’t fair. My mother had done that quite often as a matter of fact. She was always interrupting moments when I was happy.”
Therapist: “Did this loss of happiness make you angry?”
Tammy: “Sure it did. I’m angry now just thinking about it.”
Therapist: “We’re not talking about playing with grandma any more, are we?”
Tammy: “No. It’s the story of my life.”
Therapist: “This powerful recollection taught you things about life that you have never unlearned.”
Tammy: “Are you psychoanalyzing me?”
Therapist: “No, I am just revealing how your past has shaped your expectations, so you can begin to make new choices.”
Tammy: “I see, that makes sense.”
Therapist: “From recollections like these, you have learned certain expectations towards happiness that may haunt you forever. As the prisoner of these feelings, you can never be happy.”
Tammy: “What did this it teach me?”
Therapist: “First, you may have learned that happiness is only temporary, and it ends in disaster.”
Tammy: “Isn’t happiness only temporary?”
Therapist: “No. It is a mistake to put such a generalized limitation on happiness. Happiness is not temporary. Happiness isn’t permanent, either. Happiness is happiness, and when it ends, we go on to something else. We cannot predict that it will end in disaster. We are not fortune tellers.”
Tammy: “What is so wrong with believing that happiness is only temporary and it ends in disaster?”
Therapist: “This particular conviction has many malignant, secondary derivatives. For instance,
a) It means that you can’t enjoy your happiness. It’s contaminated by the expectation of loss sooner or later. It means happiness is associated with impending disaster. On this basis, it is logical to prefer being miserable, because misery, at least, does not end in disaster. Misery is safer. We don’t enjoy misery; it is just that predictable misery is preferable to unpredictable disaster.
b) When you are ‘happy,’ you may tend to bring about the end of your happiness yourself in order to control how and when the ‘disaster’ that you ‘know’ is coming occurs. You may have the feeling that it will hurt less if you do it yourself!
c) People who expect disaster often cannot stand the suspense of waiting. So they bring the disaster down upon themselves sooner in order to get it over with!
d) People may come to conclude that the ‘reason’ that happiness always seems to end so badly is that they don’t ‘deserve’ to be happy. When this happened to you, you may have felt ‘punished’. You may have felt there you must be guilty of something awful to deserve such a punishment. But you couldn’t find out what crime you were guilty of.
Tags: Anger Management, Archive