Are you open to receiving joy?
Rejecting joy is a specific form of self-sabotage. It is messy and crosses over many self-sabotaging behaviour and self-limiting beliefs, such as “I am not worthy of pleasure/love/success” and “I cannot trust others” and even, “I do not deserve success/I am not as good as I am pretending to be”. Spoiler: You are worthy, exactly as you are now – with all you perceived flaws and problems. You can trust others – trust comes from within. You do deserve success. You do not have to be perfect to deserve success and to embrace joy.
Being open to joy is not as simple as it sounds. Our brains are not wired to be open to joy. Our brains are wired to be attuned to fear. When we talk about 'having our guard up', 'not wanting to get hurt', or when we bury our feelings of fear and pain we are often stopping ourselves from receiving joy.
Fear can hold us back from being open to even the hint of joy, of success, or love. A small voice tells us that if we allow ourselves to feel joy then it will be taken away. Sometimes the fear is so overwhelming that you shut down the possibility of fully feeling the joy because you fear the consequence of losing that joy will be misery. So, we plod along, not asking for much, not expecting much, because it is “safer”. And yet the fear remains telling us that still we are asking too much and we will get hurt.
The thing about fear is that it exists... niggling away... even when you are asking for nothing. The fear is there even when you hide from joy - so if denying joy doesn't work then we may as well embrace the joy. I don’t say that flippantly; breaking down this fear mindset is huge. The fear mindset exists because of very real pain that you experienced and it may take small steps to start dismantling that fear so that you can slowly start to embrace joy, and eventually feel joy fully, without feeling overwhelmed by fear.
The other, more insidious thing about fear and joy-denial, is that joy is healing. Embracing joy acts as a preventative cushion, softening hurts, and also as a reserve that helps us to bounce forward after hurt. Joy is interconnected to our healing, so denying it to prevent hurt not only hurts you further, but also makes healing harder.
What does it mean to be open to receiving joy?
It means something different to each person. In order to know what it means for you I would ask what are you scared of? Pleasure. Trust. Love. Success? What would it look like to let go of that fear and embrace pleasure? Embrace love? Embrace trust? Embrace success? What would it look like to let go of fear of failure, fear of pain? To know that yes you have been hurt before, but you have got to this moment right now and you are ready now to let go of that pain, let go of the fear to receive more joy in your life? Maybe it feels terrifying. Maybe the possibility feels a little lighter? No, probably just terrifying... but,
The truth is that you are always receiving something in life: you receive what you allow in.
When we live in fear of pleasure, we receive little pleasure. When we are in fear of love, we receive unloving relationships that hurt us further and again fulfil our prophecy that love is unattainable, unfulfilling or painful. When we are in fear of success, we receive little of it – we don’t seek success and instead we live in the shadows. When we live in fear, we receive fear. If your self-belief and self-worth have convinced you that you are not worthy of receiving, then you will allow yourself to receive less than you deserve because you believe it is all you are worthy of, and this is likely to show up in many areas of your life and relationships.
You do not exist in silo. You exist in a system, and in that system you are always receiving - even when you try to avoid it. It is simply a matter of what you allow in. What you allow yourself to receive. It is about reclaiming your worth and knowing that you are worthy of joy, of pleasure, of trusting, loving relationships and of success. When you love yourself and value your own worth, what you allow looks different.
So what are you allowing in? What are you receiving? What are you attracted to? What are you denying yourself? Does wanting more for yourself make you feel uncomfortable? Probably – and this is where the choice between joy and fear lies.
Moving past the pain
We are moulded by the experiences we had, the hurt we had, the wounds we carry, the identity we have formed around these. Feelings are valid but they are also temporary. It is the story we tell ourselves that becomes an identity that stays around us, projected onto us by others, and upheld by ourselves. That story, that belief, does not have to stay. We can experience new feelings, new stories, new identities, but only if we allow ourselves to.
It takes conscious thought and intention to decide we want to embrace joy over fear.
Sometimes we struggle to see how fear is playing out in our behaviour patterns and thoughts so it can be helpful to have someone to help reflect these back to you. It takes self-boundaries to learn our new selves and allow ourselves to be that version of yourself that receives joy. This is the biggest shift. You will not wake up one day and be a different person. Receiving joy is a journey and you will stumble back into fear and that is OK, it is normal, it is also about recognising it, taking a breath and resetting those intentions. It also takes boundaries with others to not fall into the same relational patterns and cycles so that they can allow us the room to grow, to change.
How do you cultivate joy, even in pain?
We hear a lot about mindfulness and practicing gratitude - to the point where it can trigger feelings of annoyance. There is rarely just one way to achieve something, so if you don't like it, don't do it. I would however suggest that these tools are free, easy to practice and that actually working through those feelings and frustrations can help you to start working through the fear-based resistance that might be blocking your joy.
If those practices aren't for you, that's fine - the key is to find small moments that feel good and focus on those. Build them into your day and allow yourself to enjoy them. Small moments that rejuvenate and nurture you are a key starting point. Allowing yourself to enjoy them is the harder part - it takes fighting your normal habits and routines, intentionally making space for yourself and seeing what thoughts and behaviours come up for you that get in the way of you embracing that joy. Then doing it anyway, on repeat.
For example, if you just want to have a cup of tea in peace: what you might currently be doing is making the tea in between a lot of other things, then whilst you are preoccupied, the tea gets cold so you never really enjoy that moment to yourself. Do you honestly not have five minutes in your day when you can make and appreciate a cup of tea? Or is this just a habit that has formed and resulted in a reaffirmed belief. You may actually need support from others - to give you this time. Remember you do not exist in silo and you can lean on others to help you make changes. Whatever your pattern is, take a few minutes each day to challenge it and carve out time for the things that bring you joy. Play your favourite song. Smell your favourite smell. Eat your favourite food. If guilt comes up, remind yourself that you are retraining yourself to be open to joy. You may also need to update your record - maybe it has been so long since you have taken a few moments for yourself that you wouldn't know what to do with them - that's OK too, take some time to find out.
These moments may seem temporary, and like all moments they are, but the more we allow ourselves to receive joy, the longer and the deeper it lingers. It is through joy that ultimately leads you back to yourself, no matter how imbalanced things have been.