Your Joy is Good for the World!

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I have spent the last few years contemplating the concepts of shame, fear, joy and self-compassion/self-care. Brene Brown has started a global conversation around these topics and I see again and again these themes show up in my work and my life. So currently I’m working through her online course that digs a little deeper into these issues, and as such I would like to share some thoughts and experiences with you. When people come to therapy, generally they are looking for some variance on experiencing more joy in their life. Sometimes we call this happiness, contentment, or maybe it only feels safe to say I just don’t want to be in pain anymore. But really it’s about changing that crappy feeling that creeps in, and this feeling can sometimes set up camp for a long time. So we as humans want to do what ever it takes to move towards a deeper sense of enjoyment in life. We all seek joy. However, we also all block ourselves from this experience in different ways. Saying that we block ourselves from joy can imply that there’s a quick easy fix in unblocking ourselves. This is not at all what I am communicating. Moving towards joy is more about changing our way of being, than our way of doing, which is far more complex and involved. But for the sake of simplicity I’m going to explore just one of the ways that we block our own experience of joy.

In my work I’ve discovered that there is one key belief system that seems to get people really hung up, that keeps them from leaning into the joyous moments as it were. That belief is… ready for it? ‘If I start making choices for my own joy, I’m being selfish”. That belief can also translate to; “I can’t choose me because then I’m depriving someone else of my care” or “someone else will suffer, because I am feeling good”. Brene Brown also explores this belief system in her book ‘Daring Greatly’, where she goes into detail about societies fear of narcissism (a personality disorder that involves complete focus on oneself), and how often the conclusion people make is that ‘those people’ need to be put in their place, mostly through judgement and shaming tactics. “What almost no one understands is how every level of severity of this diagnosis is underpinned by shame, which means we don’t “fix it” by cutting people down to size and reminding folks of their inadequacies and smallness. Shame is more likely to be the cause of these behaviors, not the cure.” She then goes into detail around the ‘cure’ to shame being empathy, and self-compassion, which in my view can start with self-care.

Let me just say, there is good reason why we humans get hung up on these beliefs; we are designed for relationship, and as such, for love and care of others. Of course we don’t want others to suffer because we are experiencing joy. Of course we want our loved ones to feel connected and cared for by us.

But the problem is that when we buy into this belief around selfishness, or, put differently, that others are more worthy of care from us, than we ourselves are, we are essentially living from a place of shame or unworthiness which will continue to do a great job at keeping us from joy. In fact, if I deprive myself of joy I am depriving the world, and those around me, of joy.

Consider this: A woman has a lovely slow morning that she carves out for herself with a nice cup of coffee and a mindful breakfast and then she goes to work. She takes a deep breath as she walks through those familiar doors and allows a smile to spread across her face. How do you think others around her are experiencing her? How capable do you think she is of seeing, really seeing others around her? She has taken the time to connect with enjoyment in life and thus she is now living and seeing from that place.

Consider the opposite: She does not think she is worthy of time for her because somewhere along the way, spoken or unspoken she learned that choosing herself is selfish. So she rushes around all morning trying to complete all the “shoulds” on her list, gulps down coffee and breakfast as she balances it on her lap on the way to work. How are you experiencing someone like her as she walks by? Frazzled, to say the least with hardly any energy to notice you.

We have a little saying in our home that is the cue for mama to find a way back to her joy and centeredness. The saying is “oxygen mask”. When you enter an airplane and go through the protocol of safety you are instructed to place your oxygen mask on before helping someone else. It can be tough to choose you first when others clearly have a need, but I tell you, it’s a great little mantra for permission for self-care and self-compassion. Sometimes “oxygen mask” in our house can even look like me starting my dinner 10 minutes before I bring the family to the table. Because lets face it, 5pm is a hard time for everyone and food in my belly goes a long way for patience and compassion through dinner.  And from this place our whole family has the opportunity to experience more joy at a very trying time of day because children will follow the lead of their parents behavior and emotional energy, but that’s for another post…

So here it is; we all want more joy for ourselves and others. The fear of selfishness and thus shame and unworthiness keeps us from joy.   Self-compassion and self-care serve to move through shame to a place of worthiness, and thus gives you and others an opportunity to experience more moments of joy.

So again I say – the world NEEDS YOUR JOY. And joy, my friends, starts with self-care. Which probably requires looking that old judgment of “being selfish” square in the face, and asking… ‘What is the cost for others if I don’t choose me and self care right now?’. ‘What am I depriving the world of if I do not do what I need to do to move towards joy?’ Whatever that means for you? As simple or complex a choice that may be, it does not change the truth, that the world NEEDS YOUR JOY. And you need it too!

Danielle Braun-Kauffman MC, RCC

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