To actually fear things that are going well in your life seems sort of counterintuitive, doesn't it? You have every resource to succeed and feel your best, and yet, something's stopping you. Whether you're avoiding exciting opportunities when they present themselves, or feeling constantly held back by self-doubt, you may have wondered once or twice why you seem to be afraid of happiness. Well, don't fret if this rings true, because trust me, you are definitely not alone in feeling this way.
Maybe you feel like you've sabotaged your chance at your dream job after chickening out when you saw the recruiter at a networking event, or perhaps you've been avoiding putting in that application for your coveted grad school, even though you have some killer recommendations, simply because the sheer thought of it all overwhelms you. Girl, I hear you.
The fact is, pretty much everyone has felt anxiety, to some degree, about facing the idea of going after what they want and achieving true happiness. Yes, even if it the outcome of what you hope for is potentially wonderful, there can be a lot of stress attached to the whole #LivingMyBestLife thing. But it's not a fear that has to paralyze you, or stand in the way between you and your ability to be happy.
So where does this fear of being happy actually come from, and how can you tell if it's affecting you?
According to Ashleigh Edelstein, LMFTA, a Texas-based therapist who works with teens, couples, and young adults, fear, in and of itself, can actually be a useful tool, because it's an instinctual feeling that keeps you safe in life.
"But, in certain contexts," she tells me in an interview with Elite Daily, "[fear] becomes burdensome and unhelpful. Going for things that make us happy requires risk, and we are built to avoid risk and lean toward safety."
Being happy means you have something to lose, she says, and your fear might stem from a subconscious need to protect yourself from that loss. Moreover, Edelstein explains, you may worry about living up to other people's expectations in your quest for happiness. Either way, she says, it's normal to want to stick with things that feel familiar, rather than put yourself out there and take a risk — even if, in the process, you're holding yourself back from true happiness and contentment.
To figure out whether or not this might be something you struggle with, Edelstein suggests thinking about what, in life, would make you happy, and why it would make you happy.
"Picture yourself having achieved your happiness goals, whether it's getting married, having a successful career, or something else," she says. "Then ask yourself, do you feel a sense of anxiety or panic? What's that little voice in your head telling you every time you set out to do something?"
The fear of being happy might show up as you imagine all the ways in which these things could go wrong, she tells Elite Daily. Now, to be clear, there is a difference between objectively weighing the pros and cons of a decision, and obsessing over all the ways it could be a disaster. If it's all doom and gloom, Edelstein says, it's pretty likely you may have a fear of being happy or going after your goals.
But hey, before you freak out about freakin' out (been there so, so many times, BTW), there are plenty of things you can do and habits you can practice that'll counteract this self-sabotaging pattern.
The first step to overcoming your fear of happiness, Edelstein says, is self-reflection, and being mindful of what your anxiety is trying to tell you.
"Focus in on those anxious feelings, and ask yourself, 'What am I afraid will happen if I fail? If I succeed?' Be honest with yourself," she says. "Do you feel like you don't deserve to be happy?"
If you come to find that, deep down, you really do feel you don't deserve to be happy, Edelstein recommends considering some things that might help you develop more compassion for yourself and what you're going through. An easy way to do that, she says, is to start with how you talk to yourself.
"Remind yourself that taking risks is scary and requires bravery, which is not always easy to muster," Edelstein tells Elite Daily.
Heidi McBain, LMFT, LPC, RPT, a Texas professional counselor for women, agrees with Edelstein, saying the first step here is noticing this pattern in yourself. However, she tells me in an interview with Elite Daily, taking those steps to change the way you think about happiness can be extremely difficult to do on your own, so she strongly suggests therapy as a helpful, safe place to learn how to overcome this fear, and discover new, healthier ways to truly be happy.
When you're figuring out those new ways to be happier, though, certified counselor and relationship expert, David Bennett, says it's important to stick to what you want, not what someone else wants.
"To be happy often requires risk, assertiveness, and the resilience to forge your own path, regardless of what others think," Bennett tells me in an interview with Elite Daily. "This leads to a lot of fear."
For example, Bennett says, maybe you've gone your whole life thinking money and traveling will lead you to happiness — but in reality, you're awful with money, and you hate being in new places all the time.
"Maybe you'd be happier with a nice little house, working a low-paying job you like," Bennett explains. "After you figure out what really makes you happy, then you have to focus on assessing the risks involved in achieving happiness."
And yes, that may mean confronting certain fears and assumptions you have about how you "should" act when it comes to achieving happiness, Bennett says. It might also mean you have to be willing to do what you need to do for you, regardless of how people react to your choices.
But it's probably worth the work in the end, don't you think?