Picture of a woman by a climbing wall, rubbing chalk onto her hands, thinking.

Reframing to Overcome Your Resistance

Reframing is a tool used in therapy and coaching, to help us see things in a different light. It can loosen the grip a difficult situation has on us, allowing us more scope to see in different lights.

In this article, I am going to talk about reframing specifically as a way of helping us with our own resistance. 

This could be resistance to change, effort, moving forward – anything we know is good for us and genuine, but something is holding us back. It can also be important to look more deeply at why we are scared to move forwards, but right now we will only be looking at managing our own resistance. 

Let’s start with an example. I want to start working out at the gym. I put it on my schedule, pick out my clothes, even the music perhaps. Yet there always seems to be a plausible reason not to go. 

I used my willpower to get everything ready to go, so why wasn’t that enough to get me through those gym doors? 

Well, there may be self-worth or other issues from the past going on, but right now, I just want to start working out. So how can I push through? Do I just try to force myself?

No. Instead, I’ll use reframing to help with my resistance. 

I can think one or two of these things:

  • Thank goodness I have the resources, free time and support I need to be able to work out
  • I don’t have to enjoy the first 20 minutes, that’s OK, I know I’ll start to feel good at some point
  • My goal right now is not to work out, it is just to walk through the gym doors. Whatever I do after that is fine. 
  • I deserve to be healthy and strong and to enjoy the relaxation that goes with that. 

When I think of a phrase that works for me, I feel a shift. I put my shoes on and even though I still feel a nervousness and a hesitation, I put my hand on the gym door and push. 

And just like that, I have defused my resistance and got one step closer to being as good as I want and deserve to be. 

Reframing for Your Resistance

The phrases you use will look different depending on who you are and how you feel about your goal. Mostly because the reason you feel resistance will be specific to you. 

But although it is helpful to understand why you are resisting something, so you can come up with a specific new viewpoint, it’s not vital. As in the example above, you can choose the phrase that sparks something within you, that makes you feel freer to act. 

And this is not just about working out, of course. It could be starting a new class, learning a new skill, meeting new people, going to a party, applying for a job, going to a fancy bar, asking someone out, basically any situation where you’d have to push yourself, grow, see yourself in a new light or leave your comfort zone in any way. 

Can you think of something you want to do, but you’re resistant to taking that first step or committing?


  1. OK. Call to mind that thing you’re resistant to. 
  2. Now imagine yourself taking the first step. Notice the details: your clothes, your posture, how you feel, the weather, how the thing, place or people look. 
  3. Now wonder with an open mind, what attitude/ thought would make me feel OK doing this?
  4. Notice what comes up, jot it down if you like. It may be something unexpected, that’s OK. As long as it feels positive for you. 
  5. If it is not already a phrase, make it into one. For example, if the attitude is feeling confident, the phrase may be: “I am a strong, confident person who belongs here.”
  6. Now hold that phrase or thought in your mind, embodying it as fully as possible.
  7. OK, imagine taking that first step again. How does it look and feel?

That visualization can not only help get you your reframing phrase, it can give you a little insight into the reason you feel resistant. Maybe the first time you imagined the situation you felt a little insecure, underqualified, out-of-place or unworthy? That is part of your resistance. 

You could definitely explore that in therapy or your own self-reflection. But learning through doing is also an important part of self-development work, because we learn more about who we are when we try new things and enter new situations, pushing through personal frontiers. 

The Mechanics of Resistance and Reframing

When we have resistance inside us, it can be hard to push directly back against it and win, because it is coming from us. It has the same strength we have, so it can be as effective as arm-wrestling ourselves. 

But if we approach it from a different direction, mindset, instead of fighting against it – we recruit some of the resources creating it, to use for our own goal. 

There is energy in resistance and there is energy in emotion. And there is emotion in resistance too. Basically, there is a lot of energy. 

And when there is energy in a place, it is much more efficient to recruit it and/ or redirect it, than to try and make it disappear or fight against it. This applies to the energy of resistance too. 

It’s not only made of energy, it’s made of us. When we want to do something hard or new, the more of us we can get on our side the better. 

Our resistance is usually created by underlying limiting beliefs. “I’m not good enough,” “I’m not good-looking enough,” “I don’t know enough,” I’m not popular enough.” The things we all think sometimes, but so strong it ties our shoe laces together. 

By using reframing we can shift the centre of our viewpoint, from within that limiting belief to outside it. We don’t completely blast it to smithereens, but just step outside it and make it not the focus. 

Fighting against a limiting belief can do the opposite of what you want. It’s like fighting with a narcissist – you make it about them and they use that energy. So fighting against a negative belief can give it more power. Instead, shift your attention away from it, towards a more useful and positive thought. Then you will use the energy in your attention to help that positive thought to grow. 

Final thoughts about reframing

For such a simple tool, this is also extremely powerful. I want to leave you with a few final points to make sure you get the most out of it:

The best reframing statements feel right, but there may be some resistance (more resistance??) to believing them completely. That resistance doesn’t mean the statement is not true, just that you’re not completely there yet in terms of being able to accept it fully. 

Excessively positive or grandiose statements are not helpful. For example, not “I will be the best and beat everybody,” but “I have a right to be there and take part.” If your statements are really over-the-top positive, you may be trying to counter very low self-worth or very negative beliefs about yourself. The best way to work with that is kindness, patience, being gentle and changing incrementally instead of leaping ahead. 

If you have a limiting belief that continues to undermine you, you might be better off addressing it in therapy. If you feel like therapy is right for you, but you have resistance to going – try reframing that. “Thank goodness I have the resources to go for therapy,” “it is great I can find affordable resources to support me,” “I deserve to feel good inside,” “I am a brave person,” for example. 

When you know your limiting belief, do not allow it to dictate your reframing statement by making something that is the direct opposite. In a way, that keeps it about the limiting belief. Instead, let a genuine, positive phrase come to mind, or try a few out. i.e. the opposite of “I am not worthy,” is “I am worthy,” but a more genuine thought for you may be, “I love all the messy parts of myself that make me bold and beautiful.” In this way you don’t allow the limited parts of yourself to set the parameters for your perspective, you allow your inner potential and light to do that instead. 

And you have a lot of it! 

I hope you enjoyed this look at reframing and get to use it soon, today even! 

And as always, take care!! 

basketball team stacking hands together

Using Meaning to Motivate

A common issue I see in clients trying to achieve a goal, is trying to use mainly discipline as motivation, only to have that run out and either only make intermittent progress or give up entirely. 

The issue with using discipline to move forward is that it is mainly designed as a short term engine, not a long term one. It is like being in first gear (for you manual/ stick drivers!) – great to get moving, but not very easy to keep moving or accelerate.


The fact that we need to use discipline to start with, means we are doing something we’re resistant to. Over time, the resistance often outlasts our discipline. 

This may not be true for areas where the habit or action can become pleasurable over time – but in this case, we’re not continually using discipline. We only used it to get started.

So, if discipline is mainly good for getting us off the sofa, what do we use to motivate ourselves and others for the long term? 


I kind of gave it away in the title, didn’t I!

I have been thinking recently about how when we strive for happiness, we often end up unhappy. But when we strive for meaning, we generally feel more satisfied and content. 

When you use discipline, underneath is the message that you are working hard to push against something within yourself – laziness, an addiction, or inaction. And working against ourselves (even small parts) is usually tiring. 

When we work towards meaning, we usually aren’t working against anything (OK, it could be against injustice, but we usually aren’t working against major parts of ourselves), we are working for things. 

Let use the analogy of a worker being told to do something “just because” and being told to do something, plus the reason behind it. In which scenario are they more enthusiastic and engaged?

In which scenario do they have to use will power to begin, and in which can they use a sense of purpose instead? 

We all want to feel useful, effective and that we are making an impact on the world. 

So the next time you need to motivate yourself, or someone else, consider:

How will this add meaning or value to my life, or the lives of others?

Let me give you some examples, to really anchor this point: 

Working out at the gym 3 times a week because you feel you should (discipline), or because you know being strong is something that makes you feel more at ease in yourself (meaning, authenticity). 

Getting a report done because it is due (discipline), or because you know it will help your team (meaning, showing up for others, positive self-regard)

Tolerating your difficult relative because you feel duty-bound to (discipline) or because this is an aspect of being the person you want to be (meaning, integrity, forebearance). 

Can you see how easily meaning combines with other intrinsic values? Discipline can co-exist with them, but it is largely it’s own thing. It says “I’m pushing through, don’t disturb me”, while meaning says “I’m working towards something” and sometimes “can we do more together?”. 

And I satisfy some of my own need for meaning by writing this blog, because sharing information is a key value of mine. I feel that if we all share our expertise, we’ll shape a better world together. What is the meaning you work towards?

I hope this look at meaning vs discipline helped! 

Take care, 


PS In the future I will most likely look at practical ways of finding the core meaning to help you achieve your goals, or to help team members find theirs, so stay tuned. You can also access my guide on setting powerful goals here.

woman showing paper with prohibition sign

Dealing With Very Difficult People While They are Triggering You

Little Intro

In this eclectic article I’m going to talk about dealing with people who are very difficult and at the same time pushing on our sore spots emotionally. I don’t mean the people who accidentally step on our toes (once again emotionally speaking!), but the people who seem intent on getting a rise out of us, or staying entangled in some kind of weird dynamic, or power struggle with us. You can absolutely use some of the following exercises for people who are essentially benign and are just tripping over our triggers now and then by accident.

But if you have someone who is being an absolute nightmare right now, perpetuating a situation or conflict that absolutely does not need to be as difficult as it is, I hope that this will help. Because your situation is exactly what I had in mind while writing. OK, here we go!

Dealing With Difficult People When it Hurts

This is very not fun. You got hurt in the past and now, almost as if the world is poking the wound, it has come back around with a new version of exactly the same thing. 

‘What did I do to deserve this?’ Is a common reaction.

It makes sense. It’s not fair that we can go through life trying to do good, but bad things and people with bad motivations still pop up out of nowhere. 

But we need to shift the paradigm. 

What if the world isn’t trying to hurt or diminish us at all?

What if it keeps coming back with opportunities for us to revisit our wound and heal ourselves stronger? To know ourselves better? To finally move on.

I am currently dealing with a situation like this, so for me it is the perfect time to write about it. In fact, I usually try to write about issues when I am in the midst of them, because then I can truly empathise with you and everyone going through it, in a way that is embodied. A lived experience, rather than just something I know about. 

A quick note from me

Firstly I want to remind you, as always, do get help from a trained professional such as a therapist if you are suffering or affected by these issues. 

And secondly (but not less importantly), I want to say that I’m sorry you’re experiencing this. 

Adding Injury to Injury: A Rare Opportunity?

To have been wounded in the first place, perhaps when you were even quite young, is hard and it’s painful. To have that wound circle back over and over again like some kind of hungry shark can feel even worse sometimes. Like its personal.

And I think it is personal. But not in a malicious way. I believe if the universe thinks you’re strong enough and that you deserve better, it will keep offering you opportunities to step up into a more powerful and real expression of yourself and out of the lingering pain of that wound. 

So, a difficult situation with someone who is triggering you can be an amazing opportunity, even though it is also so hard. 

It’s important to note that even though we may carry a wound, we don’t need to accept any responsibility for other people’s bad behaviour. We can use it to our own advantage, however, to grow as a person and to heal.

Designer Brands Of Pain

It’s also useful to think about the fact that while other people may act badly, their behaviour may roll off our backs and we may either barely notice it or recover very quickly, if we don’t have the wound that matches it.

While those people who are acting out and looking (unconsciously) to tap into our specific brand of pain, can do things that feel exquisitely painful to us.

If you are a match then they will tend to linger in your life until you have healed that wound enough to stop accepting that kind of pain. At that point, they typically no longer get any release or satisfaction from the dynamic and may even let go of their own accord.  

Pointers, Perspectives and Exercises

The difficult thing with these situations is the amount of stuff going on behind the scenes. The invisible stuff that makes a dynamic – most of it unspoken and unconscious. 

So I want to talk about a few pointers you can use to get some perspective on a difficult situation like this, as well as some tips for dealing with it. 

  1. Try and Identify the Wound 

If someone’s actions or words are hurting, although it could just be about the current situation, if it feels very strong then they may be triggering an old wound. Bear in mind you may need to get support from a therapist as you work with this, because it may be very sensitive and/ or be affecting a much younger part of you.

The phrase “if it’s hysterical, it’s historical” is kind of useful and catchy enough to remember, if patronising – I don’t think you’re hysterical! But, if your reactions are stronger than seems warranted for the behaviour, that’s a strong sign you have an existing sore spot they may be pressing on. 


  1. Try to remember the first time you felt the way this person/ situation is making you feel. Try writing down all of your feelings about that old situation or emotion, and how it made you feel about yourself. Be kind to yourself as you do this, take time out if needed, and practice self-compassion. Self-blame has no place in this exercise. 
  2. Now write down your feelings about the current situation and how it is making you feel about yourself.
  3. OK, now you have those two lists, find the similarities common to both.
  4. You can draw this out as a Venn diagram if it helps, one circle being your feelings from the past (from #1), the second circle being the recent situation (#2) and the overlapping section containing the similarities (#3). These can include similar dynamics, feelings, actions, gestures, responses from you, even vocabulary used by the other person or yourself.

2. Take a moment to Breathe

It’s important to be kind to yourself when you uncover these deeper emotions. So take a moment with the following exercise. 


Put your hands on your heart and say these phrases in your mind or aloud in your own time: 

“I am safe and I am loved.

I am worthy of love and respect.

I am not to blame for others’ actions.

My worth remains high, no matter how I am treated

I am whole and worthy of love.”

3. Imagine What a Mentor Would Do

This does not have to be someone you know in real life, or even a real person. Just pick someone you look up to. Like Judi Dench, the Black Panther, Marlon Brando – whoever you feel a strong respect for. OK, now you have your person in mind, try this quick exercise:


Imagine your ideal mentor in this exact situation. With an open mind and taking your time on each question, wonder:

  1. How would they respond? 
  2. What would they say? 
  3. And how do you think they would feel? 

This is a very useful exercise because it tells you not only how you want to be in the situation: it tells you more about who you actually are deep down. If there is a strength you admire in your mentor you may not have fully embodied or owned it yet, but it’s in there. Congratulations!

4. Identify What the Difficult Person is Trying to Get/ Get Rid Of (and What is Hurting You)

Our weak spot is our wound, the ‘difficult person’s’ MO is whatever emotion they are trying to put on us or get from us. For example, if someone can’t deal with their own anger they may be impossible to work with until we feel that anger and express it for them. Or if, as very commonly happens, they are in pain and can’t bear to feel it, they will act in a way that hurts us, putting their pain on us instead.

I had a realisation of another key aspect of this dynamic, while reading an amazing book called Group by Christie Tate. In it her therapist says that when you keep a secret for someone else, you’re agreeing to hold their shame. I realised this may be crucial to the kind of poor behaviour we might experience from others, beyond an unconscious channelling of their pain into us or trying to elicit specific emotional responses. Because shame is a very specific, sticky, uncomfortable emotion – difficult to hold and difficult to let go of. Even if the difficult person is not asking you to keep a secret, they may be trying to alleviate their own feelings of shame.

So there are a wide range of things the other person may be asking us (unconsciously) to hold or to supply, from emotions such as anger or joy, to… forces (? there may be a better term for these) such as love, attention or pain. It is great to be open-minded while considering what the relevant one(s) in your situation might be.

(And the ‘difficult person’ most likely has their own wound they are trying to distract from or satisfy. But that is none of our business, because that is their issue to deal with, not ours to try to fix (a common way we might try to avoid addressing our own discomfort, or avoid acknowledging our value).) 

I believe symptoms of holding others’ pain may include: agitation, confusion, excessive problem-solving about the situation, self-blame and thinking about that person too much. And symptoms of holding others’ shame may include all of those and also: feeling like the connection between you is “icky”, you feel bogged-down or ‘gross’, and that the issue is starting to affect how you feel about yourself, for example: lowering your self-esteem or ability to listen to your instincts. 

So, try this short exercise:


  1.  Wonder with an open mind, what the main emotion or specific dynamic behind the scenes is.
  2. When you have one or a couple, say to yourself:
    • “This [the specific emotion or dynamic] is not mine to hold. It has nothing to do with me.”
  3. Picture it leaving your body, and also your, and the other person’s, emotions separating. 
  4. Take a deep breath and let your shoulders drop a couple of times. 
  5. Then pick out a pleasurable and healthy thing to do to nurture yourself today. A walk, a smoothie, massaging your shoulders – whatever it is, try to enjoy shifting your focus back to yourself and your life in an empowered and embodied way.

5. Get the Care You Need

Although this situation has been a great prompt, it is powerful to keep your attention on yourself, your healing. In fact, shifting your focus back from the other person to yourself is the ultimate success. Because, although you may never get the apology or vindication or even just clarity you want, the point is always you and how you feel about yourself.

So, try this open-ended exercise for considering your healthiest next steps. 

  1. Call to mind the nature of the hurt you are carrying, with a gentle and open mind set (avoid getting into specifics or the “story”)
  2. With a curious and open mind, wonder – what is the best way forward for myself? Is it therapy, massage, more socialising, speaking more openly to my friends, setting up healthier boundaries, or other? This next step could be anything as long as it is healthy and feels right for you. 


I hope you enjoyed this simultaneously long and way-too-short-to-cover-everything article. It occurs to me we have not covered the practical aspect of dealing with difficult people, so I may revisit this topic with a second part next week. And if you’re struggling with a situation like this, you may also benefit from reading Part One and Part Two of my article on dealing with narcissists. 

I hope you’re doing OK with everything, feeling healthy, happy and whole. 

As always, take care! 


PS If you want to check it out, this is the Group book (it’s an affiliate link btw).

hugging unrecognizable group of people in spacious arena

Integration: Bringing Our Whole Self Together

Integration means the ‘unification of parts into a totality’ (APA dictionary of psychology). In this context, I am using it to mean both: 

  1. integrating new information into our whole selves and 
  2. the integration of parts of our Self that have been disconnected to some degree, into the rest of our whole Self. 

And it’s a big topic. Huge in fact. 

Before we start, I need to give this disclaimer: that you should work with a trained therapist if you need to. Also, I mention different kinds of therapy in this article, if you try them please note I can’t take responsibility for the quality or practice of any other therapist or practitioner, so please do your due diligence and involve your therapist and/or doctor in your choice. 

OK, with that said, let’s begin. 

We all have many different working parts that make us, us. Our body and physicality, our emotions, our thoughts and mind, our energy, spirit and soul, our desires, our habits, our way of being. And a lot more. 

All of our parts are connected and interrelated. When one changes, others are affected. But these changes don’t always naturally spread throughout our whole Self and this can cause us to get stuck. 

So when we learn something new, or experience growth in an aspect of our self, how do we cement that by connecting it to the rest of us? AKA – how do we integrate the changes? 

In this article, we’ll explore a few different ways of assisting integration, starting with my favourite: using activities and practices. 

  1. Activities for Integration

Let’s begin with an example. 

Sandy has made a lot of progress in changing some old limiting beliefs and finds many opportunities are opening up to her, but there is always a sticking point. She can only get so far before she finds herself lapsing into old behaviours and thought patterns, even though she knows and understands what she “should” be doing.

So she decides to explore different ways of staying open. She tries an art class, she travels a little, she starts to dance and she also goes for energy work.  

In their own ways, each of these things helps her to connect aspects of herself to her new understanding of how she wants to live and be in the world. She couldn’t just tell them to change, though, she had to involve them more actively. 

If you want to try this method, I wouldn’t normally recommend trying a whole bunch of things at once, like she did, but one at a time, or maybe a couple, so you know what they’re doing for you. 

You also want to try to be in the moment instead of being too fixed on bringing that new learning into the experience. So you wouldn’t want to go to a dance class and constantly be thinking, am I doing this right? Am I avoiding having limiting beliefs right now? Rather, you would want to go and immerse yourself in the experience, whether that means having fun or being creative or being peaceful, or other.

But perhaps once or twice wonder if there is a difference, or a way of allowing yourself to feel or act differently to your norm. In the example of dance, you might wonder if you are moving the way that feels right for you, now that you have fewer limiting beliefs. 

It’s also helpful to pay attention to how you feel afterwards and even journal. But when you’re doing an activity, try to be in the moment. Analysing it can just be a way of keeping ourselves safe and at a distance so we don’t really change. 

I would also recommend doing the thing you are most drawn to first. Unless–and this is important–it is one of your default ways of doing things. For example, if you are great at over-thinking, don’t try to use that method to integrate things – you are almost guaranteed to already have used your default method enough. But if you have a strange urge to try drawing or train spotting, or other, listen to that impulse as it may be your deeper intuition speaking to you. 

Interestingly, almost any activity can be a tool for integration, including simply living our lives. But trying new things can really be helpful, and having an open and grounded attitude helps a lot too. 

Self-development through doing and being is very powerful. So often we try to explain or think our way forwards. But through doing, we get an immediate experience of who we are in that different context, and we directly engage many or all parts of ourselves (some more than others usually). And this engagement really helps with integration. 

Journaling/ Keeping A Diary

A tried-and-true method, this doesn’t really get your body involved that much, but it is a wonderful way of acknowledging what you have learned, how you want to change, or how you have already changed. 

This is useful for integration because sometimes we don’t really know what we know, or what we’re feeling. By freeing ourselves to write whatever comes out, we can discover what’s on our minds and how we really feel. This method of integration is also good at telling us what the darker corners of our minds are thinking. 

Journaling is even better if you write by hand, but typing is also good. 

In theory, if you wanted to bring physicality into it, you could try a video blog instead and say “today I feel” and make a movement with your body and a sound. Most people stick with the conventional writing method, though. I know some people post on social media in a way that almost feels like journaling. I don’t recommend this, because you will always edit yourself a bit for how other people are going to perceive you, and it’s better to get raw, unfiltered “you”. 

Different Kinds of Therapies and Tools

There are so many out there, I am going to start by saying maybe just try one or several and see what works for you. But don’t try too many new ones at the same time or you won’t know what’s working.

To help with physical integration, you can try bodywork, like massage or getting stretched, or a movement-based discipline, such as Feldenkrais, stretching, yoga or other. The effect in terms of integration can be different depending on whether you need to feel nurtured and receptive, or if you need to create new physical patterns and experiences more actively through movement. They are both great in their own ways, with their own strengths.  

For your mind and thoughts there’s obviously a wide variety of talking therapies, which will help you to explore your emotions and understand what’s going on and build a relationship with your Self. In addition, you can also try meditation, which also has myriad formats. Reading can also be great, but sometimes taking in additional new information doesn’t help with integrating something you’ve recently learned. That is, unless it specifically allows you to unlock a different aspect of that learning, or connect to it in a different way. 

Emotions also benefit from talk therapy of course, but you can also try other types of sessions such as breathwork (of course you could put that in the physical category too – we’re holistic beings so none of these divisions (mind, body etc) are absolute. They just help us to think about things). Or you could also try something like play therapy, art therapy or mask work. 

In terms of shifting your energy, a simple healing session can be very useful. Energy healing comes in a wide variety of flavours, including reiki, shamanism and other disciplines. I usually recommend choosing both the method and practitioner you are drawn to. There are some self-guided practices you can also do in most disciplines if you prefer not to work with a practitioner. 

And if you are already benefitting from one type of therapy, it’s often useful to have another quite different one that complements it. For example, if you’re having talking therapy, I recommend getting body work because that will ground you down into your body, helping you to work with that aspect of the emotions that are coming up. It will likely also help you to feel safer and stronger in yourself. 

Energy work can be useful, but sometimes it’s unhelpful if you tend towards intellectual bypass, which is only a hop, skip and a jump from spiritual bypass. But it is really great for shifting things when you feel like you’ve already done the work and you can’t figure out why your new learning still doesn’t feel settled or easy to embody. 

If you do have two different types of therapy at once, have them on different days if possible, as it takes time for the changes from one to settle in. It’s also easier to see what each is doing for you if you leave at least a full day between them. 

So, this has been a quick review of some things I believe may help you integrate parts of yourself or a learning across all parts of yourself. 

When we’re integrated new information becomes a natural part of us, making it much easier to act in a way that incorporates it. As well as other huge benefits, integration can also help us to think more clearly and be more connected with our desires and inner truth. 

Like I said, integration is a huge topic, so this article may just be the beginning for you, depending how deep you want to go. But I hope it has given you some ideas you can use to feel more at ease in yourself and, well, integrated.

As always, take care! 

woman in white and red floral dress standing on green grass field

Fear of Happiness and Joy

Trigger warning: brief mention of adverse childhood experiences.

Joyophobia it’s called.

Just kidding – cherophobia is the actual term for a fear of happiness.

Does it sound like the most bizarre thing you’ve heard today?

Well -it’s not that strange really. We may think we’re constantly trying to move away from being unhappy and that we desire happiness above all else. But often our conscious mind is saying one thing, while our actions, feelings and underlying thoughts have a very different idea.

It might be good, before exploring this further, to start by exploring when feeling happy all the time became the ultimate goal.

It certainly wasn’t for the Victorian English, who celebrated hard work and more rigid values over aspiring toward an emotion (ptui!), especially such a messy and self-centred one. And many other cultures and groups have their own desired goals, of which happiness is not the main aim.

So why did we choose happiness?

An article in The Harvard Business Review by Peter Stearns says the whole thing started in the age of Enlightenment, maybe they decided to enlighten things up a little bit? And he mentions that among many of factors, improved dentistry made smiling more desirable and generally less scary.

And, OK, yes that was before the Victorians. They just seem a little uptight to me, but it turns out that was my mistake as one study found they were happier than we were! Isn’t that kind of insulting, like when you realise someone is much better at you at something you love, but they don’t even care?

We are definitely locked-in on it now as a goal though, ranking the happiness of different countries (oh to be Finnish!) and using happy colours and filters in our depiction of our lives (I do it all the time). I think it’s a great goal to have, as long as we can ride through all the other emotions we experience naturally, because happiness feels good and it can help us to live longer (I popped a link to an article below).

So why be scared of it?

OK, here’s my short take on this complex topic. It won’t be exhaustive and if you’re dealing with this, you may want to explore it with a therapist.

Here we go.

1. Being happy a lot of the time would be a change. Change is hard.

Let’s say your body, thoughts, emotions and general way of being, are all pretty calm and content. When you’re feeling somewhere between content and slightly grumpy, that is, because that’s what they’re used to.

But you actually want to be a more positive and happier person. So you try to make choices that will get you closer to that goal.

However, when you finally get there, instead of enjoying it you feel off-balance or unsettled. Maybe you’re not used to the feeling in your body, or you have to change the way you speak, or just be OK experiencing yourself in a different way. Perhaps it’s all of the above.

If you don’t really enjoy the change in you that happiness creates, you may find yourself using partsof yourself to pull back from it. You could slouch with your body or cross your arms, use more negative or critical language, have your mind figure out things that are wrong or that could go wrong. All to avoid having to feel different.

2. Happiness Can Be a Much More Vulnerable Emotion Than People Realise

How can happiness feel vulnerable?

It is an emotion that opens us up – to other people, new experiences, and even to new parts of ourselves. When we’re trundling along in normal life, dealing with the ups and downs and generally doing our best, we usually have a fixed sense of who we are, what we like and what we’re capable of.

Sometimes happiness can blow that wide open.

And that’s scary!

When you get a lot of comfort from feeling like the boundaries of your Self and your life are pretty solid, to have them expand and change unexpectedly may cause fear and uncertainty.

  1. We Might Feel Guilty Being Happy When Others Aren’t, Or Are Gone

I don’t know a lot about survivor’s guilt, but I do know it can make it very hard to feel like you have permission to feel happy. Or even just to get on with your life. At its core, happiness is life. It’s an abundance of life force. Just the thing your departed loved one doesn’t have. So why should you get to feel it if they can’t?

Or if your friend or partner is suffering, sick or even dying, it can feel almost impossible to let yourself have even short experiences of joy, as if it’s disloyal.

I would say this empathy makes you human and that sometimes not feeling happy is appropriate. But you can also ask yourself what they would want. Because leaving behind the legacy of people who are more able to be happy because they knew you is a great thing for a person. And if you have a friend who is suffering or even about to die, opening yourself up to all the genuine emotions allows them a fuller experience of life and of you. It allows for more honesty and intimacy. If you’re going through this, I hope you’re getting the support you need.

  1. Fear of the Jealousy of Others

Ooh, this is a tricky one! Have you ever had a moment of success and wanted to celebrate with those closest to you, but they aren’t all happy for you? Seeing someone else do well, especially in an area you hope to do well also, can be triggering for people.

But some people are just triggered by happiness in general. Grumpy-pants! (That is not a technical coaching term). I just mean the people who feel hurt and confronted by seeing happiness in others. Not your ideal support system.

If you find yourself unable to celebrate your successes with others for fear of hurting them, they may not be able to stay with you for your whole journey, because the better you do, the worse they will feel. And we also have to master our own envy and learn to celebrate the success of our peers too. The world is hard enough without having to minimise ourselves to makes others comfortable, or minimise others to keep liking ourselves and our lives.

  1. Worrying that It Will End

Waiting for the other shoe to drop is a common issue, especially in those who have experienced trauma. And this is not only when experiencing happiness, but it definitely plays a part in worrying that our current state of happiness is going to end.

The good news is that happiness always ends – at least for a bit. Bad drivers, bad news, arguments – the stuff of day-to-day life, as well as the occasional catastrophe. They always eventually pop up and our mood shifts (as it should).

Why is that good news?

Well, you don’t need to worry happiness will end – it definitely will. But it doesn’t have to end because of something terrible. It, like all emotions, flows in and out. So you don’t need to anxiously grasp at happiness when you finally feel it, you get to just try and enjoy it while it lasts.

But, I completely understand that for many of us that takes practice, especially if we have not been accustomed to stable situations and relationships.

5 is a good number and place to stop for now. There are many reasons we might feel fearful of or resistant to happiness.

I find that as individuals we all need practice feeling and holding certain emotions that are challenging for us. It could be happiness, or anger or any feeling. It can even be the ability to feel and receive love (that’s a topic for another article!).

All of this work can bring up strong emotions, sometimes from the very moment we had to make a split-second decision that a certain feeling wasn’t safe. So you may need to work with a therapist on that. And be careful with yourself, take your time, journal, practice self-care. You only have one of you after all!

And as always,

Take care!


Articles and studies I mentioned:

The History of Happiness (hbr.org)

Victorians were “happier” than we are now, finds CAGE research (warwick.ac.uk)

If you are happy and you know it… you may live longer – Harvard Health

Bonus for all the people who read to the bottom!

#2 Feeling Our Feelings (How to do it)

(an abridged excerpt from the book)

Ughh feelings – always changing, often confusing and often out of reach of our conscious minds; getting to grips with them can be hard!

But being able to know how we are feeling is an essential life skill. I’m not even talking about knowing what to do with them –  just to know what they are, and this is already above average for the general population. Really we should learn this in school, rather than in the therapist’s office for a select few.

In this brief overview we are going to look at 3 of the reasons that feeling your feelings is important, 3 reasons we may have stopped and  a couple of ways to get in touch with them.

Reasons to feel our feelings

  1. Not being aware of our feelings can make us ill (sick) – it has been linked to higher mortality, chronic health conditions and physical pain.
  2. In order to deepen relationships we need to be emotionally intelligent; this has a big effect on our success at work and in our personal lives
  3. We cannot know ourselves and have a meaningful life without being able to get in touch with our feelings.

Reasons we may have stopped feeling our feelings

  1. It can hurt and if we push feelings down then things stay “manageable”
  2. We want to avoid conflict – better to ignore our own anger (and needs and desires) than to rock the boat
  3. This can keep us stuck and out of touch with ourselves

Ways to get in touch with our feelings

  1. Sense Your Body

When doing the exercise below try to stay as open-minded as possible and not get “into your head” too much. The goal is to connect with the feeling itself, not let our mind tell us what it is.

a) Sit somewhere quiet and comfortable, breathe and relax your body.

b) Notice if there are any sensations in your body that are more in the foreground, more obvious.

c) What is that feeling like, is it; warm, cool, light, heavy, a ball, spread out, tense, relaxed, does it have a shape, or a colour?

d) When you feel it quite clearly, say “hello” to it in your mind, and ask it if it wants anything/ has anything it wants to say. Wait with an open mind for its answer.

e) You can converse with this feeling, find a way to give it what it needs (in real life or through visualization, as relevant).

This is the abridged version of the exercise, but a really good starting point for getting in touch with your feelings. If you get stuck you can revisit this later, if it is new work for you it takes a little while to get used to.

2. Know the Words

One of the main problems my clients have when talking about their feelings is that they do not know the right word for what they are experiencing. If we are not brought up in a very emotionally-aware environment it is likely our vocabulary will be limited to very simple feelings; good, bad, stressed, sad etc.

If you are wondering what you are feeling, why not have a look at Gloria Willcox’s “Feeling Wheel” below which represents many of the common emotions, and try and find yours.

Once you have found it, accept it and acknowledge it within yourself.

Beyond the exercises above it is important to try and cultivate and open mind and an ability to accept what you are feeling. If we have made a judgment that certain feelings are unacceptable they go straight on the reject pile and play havoc under the radar, instead of just speaking to us like they are meant to.

I just want to leave you with the thought that emotions are the things that bring the world into colour. They can be subtle, nuanced and surprising. They make us human and life worth living. What are you doing to make space in your life for your feelings?

Emotions, in my experience, aren’t covered by single words. I don’t believe in “sadness,” “joy,” or “regret.” Maybe the best proof that the language is patriarchal is that it oversimplifies feeling. I’d like to have at my disposal complicated hybrid emotions, Germanic train-car constructions like, say, “the happiness that attends disaster.” Or: “the disappointment of sleeping with one’s fantasy.” I’d like to show how “intimations of mortality brought on by aging family members” connects with “the hatred of mirrors that begins in middle age.” I’d like to have a word for “the sadness inspired by failing restaurants” as well as for “the excitement of getting a room with a minibar.” I’ve never had the right words to describe my life, and now that I’ve entered my story, I need them more than ever.

― Jeffrey EugenidesMiddlesex