I was talking to a 20-year-old the other day and I was rather surprised by what she said (or didn’t say) when I asked her about joy.
It’s probably not what you would expect someone of her age to say, but it’s definitely something I’ve heard many times before, but usually from people much older, but I’ll get to that.
So, this 20-year-old was actually in a really good place. She’d had good teenage years, did well at school, excelled at sport and at 20 had moved countries to study abroad.
Outwardly, she’d done well in life so far and was by all accounts a brave, determined, adventurous soul eager to do her best in the world.
When you think of someone this age, you think of them as being carefree, on the cusp of adulthood, responsible but sometimes not lol, and feeling in touch with the possibilities of life and not yet worn down by life’s knockdowns and set backs.
Have you experienced those times? When life feels like one big burden, and one disappointment after another?
Even though she was only 20, this is actually how this young woman felt. That the weight of the world was on her shoulders, that there was no time or space to be carefree or, god forbid, playful. Taking life lightly wasn’t an option, she told me, it wouldn’t get you anywhere in life.
Clearly there was very little room for joy or fun or play in this young lady’s life. So I asked her, what about joy? She froze. And just stared at me.
Even though she couldn’t bring herself to say this out loud, I knew she wanted more joy in her life. But she admitted that the simple truth was, she was afraid to feel.
She was afraid that if she opened her heart to joy, she would open the door to her pain too.
And she wasn’t having that. She’d spent a lot of time and energy keeping her pain, her hurt and her disappointment buried, so that she could pretend she was fine and life was grand. So in her mind, allowing joy, meant allowing the tsunami of emotions she’d kept at bay and she was NOT willing to go there.
I meet a lot of people like this, who want joy but fear it at the same time because of what it might mean if they allow more of it into their life.
Is that you too? Are you honest about your pain, your hurt and your disappointment, at least with yourself if with no one else? Or are you keeping those feelings buried or compartmentalised for fear of being overwhelmed or of hurting someone you care about if you let them out?
The thing about ‘negative’ or heavy emotions, is that they can build up and sit on top of our joy. The joy doesn’t go away, but it becomes harder to access because there is so much stuff to wade through. And if you’re afraid to feel altogether and have numbed yourself so that you can manage the pain, like this 20-year-old did, then nothing is getting in and nothing is getting out, joy included.
If that’s where you’re at, it’s OK. You’ve done the best you can and managed the way you knew how. The next step, when you’re ready, is to explore how to manage your emotions in a different way, that allows them to be released in a safe, gentle way – like releasing the pressure from a valve so it doesn’t blow and everything can start flowing more easily.
Here’s a little process you might want to try if you’re ready to start to feel again, or if you want to open to even more feeling (joy too!). Think of it like you’re having this conversation with yourself:
- Acknowledge your reality (kind of like being your own witness)
Put your hand on your heart and say something like, “I’m sorry for your pain, hurt and disappointment. Life can really suck sometimes and you’ve had your fair share of tough breaks. I feel your pain and I’m sorry.”
- Accept the truth of the matter
“I know you’re afraid to feel, but we can’t pick and choose our emotions. So if we want more joy we have to choose to allow all emotions, not just the one’s we want. We don’t have to do it now, but when we’re ready.”
- Share the light at the end of the tunnel
“With practise, this feeling emotions thing will become easier, less scary, faster, and we will start to feel all those good things too and not walk around feeling numb and disconnected like zombies.”
- Create a feeling of inner safety
We all want to feel like someone’s got our back, that when things get wobbly there is someone to support us, and it’s a sense that we can provide for ourselves. So whatever words work for you, but something like this works for me: “I’ve got you. It’s safe to feel and you’re not alone in this. I’m supporting you 100%.”
Now, have you guessed who that 20-year-old is? Yep, she’s me.
Just like you, I have varying blocks to allowing more joy in my life too, and it’s an ongoing adventure to discover how I get in my own way. But it’s great as when I find tools that work, I share them with you, and my latest tool is having conversations with younger versions of myself to see what they have to say on the matter – and it’s been enlightening! (I’ll share what my teenager had to say next time, mate she’s got some interesting opinions!)
Use this little process to start opening yourself to the idea of allowing in more feeling, and then the next step is learning how to manage your emotions in a new and different way, how to safely let them out, and also what your unique blocks to joy are.
As it happens ;), these are all topics that are covered in Joy School, my six-week group online programme that starts again next week on June 1. Head over here to learn how the programme will help you cultivate more joy in your life and to snag your place if you’re interested. (NB. Early bird discount ends this Saturday May 28.)
I’m also running a FREE webinar this Thursday night May 26 at 7.30pm, specifically on the 5 Myths That Block Joy and Keep You Unhappy, which you can register for here.
Have a beautiful week.