“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” ― Frank Herbert, Dune
The above quote from the book and the film, Dune, resonates with me because it points to a simple fact: what we fear is not necessarily stronger than we are. If we commit to the change process, incorporate certain skills and supports we will hopefully discover that what we were afraid of is no more powerful than a speck of dust that we can wipe away.
On my Instagram page I posted two vocabulary words:
Eleutherophobia – the fear of freedom
Cherophobia – the fear of happiness
There are many degrees to fear. Fear can actually be healthy, such as when we heed warnings to not play with fire or cuddle a mama bear’s cub in the wild. That type of fear is more in the realm of respect and generally is not considered debilitating. We are able to go about our lives with a healthy fear of things that could maim or kill us.
The kind of fears that sucks, however, are those fears that stop us from experiencing the best that life has to offer. Eleutherophobia and cherophobia in particular encapsulate a range of fears that keep us in a bondage that is likely to lead to more severe experiences of depression, anxiety, and numerous other mental health disorders.
Some years I was reading a US history book regarding the emancipation of Blacks from slavery. I had previously assumed that everyone with the exception of slave owners was happy at the announcement of emancipation. I assumed that the atmosphere for Blacks and whoever else was enslaved in the United States was charged with the excitement of finally be free and able to determine their day-to-days lives. I was wrong. While there were definitely celebrations among the newly liberated African Americans, there were those in the group who were incredibly despondent at the news of their freedom.
So why the different responses? I can only assume that the different responses were based upon the perspectives or lenses the newly freed people saw through. If your view to the world was that change is scary or that you are ultimately incapable of overcoming the upcoming hardships, you are not likely to view emancipation as good. Conversely, if you view the world from a place of confidence you are likely pleased that the path towards your dream has been made a bit easier.
Of course there are a multitude of other factors that play a role in this discussion (we’ll have to talk about internalized oppression or identifying with the aggressor at some point), but at its base eleutherophobia involves the fear of being incapable of handling the challenges and changes freedom brings even if those changes are only positive. This brings us to the realization that sometimes our bondages and chains make us feel safe. Sometimes we don’t want to put our chains down and sometimes we heap more upon ourselves with the purpose of maintaining a dystopic lifestyle or mindset. One person told me that in her mind it’s like being in a cage with no door and not wanting the door.
Cherophobia is the fear of being happy. Seems odd doesn’t it? Who would shun happiness?
Cherophobia is not just about being a grouchy person. It’s a lot more complicated and not something anyone would merely choose. I think that it is more of a defense system one develops to protect one’s self from things such as rejection or abuse. Similar to eleutherophobia, it involves a skewed perspective that causes the one afflicted to see themselves as a “less than.”
When people are afraid of happiness, I have found that they typically express feelings of shame and unworthiness. There is a sense of not belonging and that if they try to belong they will only be rejected. Some may even say that because of their past or current failures they don’t deserve to be happy. They will impose a sentence of misery upon themselves because they believe this is all they deserve. Additionally, there can be an expectation of something terrible coming if one allows their self to feel happy. It is as if being happy is a bad omen that indicates something catastrophic is on its way.
To be clear, I don’t think that we should seek to be happy. Huh? Yup! In this blog on the fear of happiness I am actually suggesting that seeking it should not be a priority. I’ve had new clients tell me that one of their treatment goals is to be happy and I always respond by saying that I can’t help them achieve that. My reason for this is because I have found that when people are seeking to be happy, that’s usually synonymous with their not want to feel pain. What I’d rather help people work on is realizing their ability to deal with whatever life throws their way, be that something positive or negative.
You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look at fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, "I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along." You must do the thing you think you cannot do. – Eleanor Roosevelt
The good news about cherophobia and eleutherophobia is that we can overcome them. The bad news (but it’s not really bad) is that you have to face and deal with whatever is causing your fears. From a treatment perspective we would look at cognition and behaviors. What are you thinking and believing and doing that strengthen your fears? What we think and what we do are interwoven. It’s system or cycle where one is constantly impacting the other. If we think we will fail, we tend to engage in behaviors such overeating that will guarantee weight gain even if we are working out. We’ll tend harshly judge ourselves for the failure, which usually leads to other self-defeating behaviors and more negative thinking about ourselves and the world.
Regardless of the therapy model used in treatment, beliefs (thinking patterns) have to be challenged and behaviors changed or improved upon. Changing behaviors will often involve incorporating healthier coping skills. Usually, the focus is on incorporating positive behaviors rather than just looking at stopping unhealthy behaviors. It’s been noticed that the more we focus on incorporating positive and healthy things into our lives we find that the unhealthy no longer fits. After a while of doing something positive and feeling proud of your achievement it is likely that you’ll find the negative behaviors you were once reliant upon no longer necessary or functional.
You may fall but you can always get up again.
***Please note the posts or videos here cannot substitute for finding your own clinical provider or life coach.
This week the docuseries relating to allegations of sexual abuse and sexual assault was released regarding R. Kelly. Consequentially, people expressed their strong opinions for or against Mr. Kelly. Additionally, Mr. Kelly’s daughter, Buku Abi, also came forward offering an apology for taking so long to address this issue and share her experiences. Miss Abi coming forward is why I have decided to address my concerns around how we handle allegations of sexual assault and sexual abuse.
In the interest of full disclosure, I want it to be known that I am not nor ever have I been a fan of Mr. Kelly. Additionally, I have not seen the docuseries and do not plan to see it.
Also, in the interest of full disclosure, I entered mental health to help children in need. The first 15 years of my almost 30 year career had been in child welfare. This is perhaps why Miss Abi's revelation resonates with me.
Now, I find myself reflecting on why I chose mental health and what else I can do to help in this field. I find that it is still about helping vulnerable populations. What’s happening now related to #MeToo, R. Kelly, and all of the other high and low profile sexual assault and rape cases that have occurred in the last two years has only served to remind me that my passion to help will only be best served by continuing to help those who seek my services and to perhaps educate others on various facets associated with sex crimes against children, adults, males, females, and the LGBTQ community.
In the video attached, I want to address the following:
RAINN, (Rape, Incest & Abuse National Network): https://www.rainn.org/
Child Abuse Hotline: 800-25ABUSE
Purpose of post:
I hope that you are having a great first week of 2019!
If you’re like a lot of us, you may have made a list of things that you want to accomplish in this New Year. And, if you’re like a lot of us, you may have already broken some of those promises you’ve made to yourself. But, don’t despair! We’re only a few days in and my belief is that as long as there is breath in your body you can still have opportunities to make a better life for yourself. Don’t give up!
To be quite honest, I stopped making New Year’s resolutions a long time ago. I figured I wouldn’t keep them so what’s the point? In my not so humble opinion, making a new year’s resolution was simply another way to beat myself up and I am so over that! I mean really, we humans are rather good at finding ways to hate on ourselves and we can (and do), in turn, teach these self-deprecating behaviors to our children.
I like this quote about self-deprecation by Ashley Michelle:
“Self-deprecation is like a cancer that starts with one thought and soon infects every thought thereafter. It is defined as belittling and tending to undervalue oneself and one's abilities.”https://www.elitedaily.com/life/motivation/7-keys-purging-self-deprecation-steps-biggest-cheerleader/677854
Often, when we fail to follow-through on something we think we should be doing, we tend to label ourselves as failures. Too often this leads to other sabotaging behaviors. We say things like “Well, there goes my weight loss plan. I didn’t to the gym and I’ve had one brownie, may as well eat the rest. I’m such a slob.” What we believe about ourselves leads to behaviors, which in turn affect (for better or worse) what we believe about ourselves. (The belief/behavior cycle.)
I believe that we come by the tendency to berate or undervalue ourselves honestly. It’s been going on for centuries. We seem to be a people prone to being punitive. Spare the rod, spoil the child after all. I don’t want to get into a debate about corporal punishment, but I will say that somehow we have intertwined concepts of discipline with punishment. We think that if we are hard on ourselves or our children that it will somehow lead to improved behaviors. It rarely does, however. Being punitive tends to lend to loss of trust and respect at one end to self-hating behaviors such as cutting or addiction at the other.
Discipline is about setting healthy boundaries and guidance as well as understanding that behaviors have consequences. The core of discipline is to teach. Punishment on the other hand rarely teaches and if does teach, it’s about how not to get caught next time. It can also tear down respect or self-respect. Think about in this way: we have laws about speeding, but while many of us may not go at ridiculously high speeds (100 in a 25 mph zone for instance), we don’t typically stick to (respect) the posted speed limit either. And, this we do despite knowing or experiencing the penalties for speeding.
So, what does this have to do with New Year’s resolutions? Simply this: When we set resolutions, we can discourage ourselves when we fail to live up to them. We then become punitive or punishing towards ourselves and this hits against our self-esteem and can lead to other self-sabotaging behaviors. In other words, we lose respect for ourselves.
If we do keep our resolutions it can still have the devastating effect of causing us to believe that our worth is based upon what we do. If that becomes the case, there’s the possibility that trying to maintain the new behaviors will not last long. My argument is that if we are task oriented, when we fail to live up to that task or standard we lose heart. The reality is that hiccups and farts happen in life. Heck, sometimes its outright diarrhea (simply everything goes wrong). Breaking resolutions tend to reinforce negative beliefs we hold about ourselves, which makes it difficult to maintain healthy behaviors for the long term.
Values Based Living
So, am I saying to not set goals? Absolutely NOT!!! No, we need to set goals and make plans. The old saying is that those who fail to plan, plan to fail after all. Planning and goal setting are aspects of a disciplined life. However, planning, resolving to do something or setting goals need to be a part of something greater. That something is your Values.
Once of the principles taught in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is to know what your values are. Russ Harris writes:
“Deep in your heart, what do you want your life to be about?...What truly matters to you in the big picture?” (ACT Made Simple, 2009)
Harris points out that living based upon our values is about shaping our lives around what we believe is important and critical to living. For instance, if you value connection to family and friends you probably already live in such a way that indicates this by spending time with those you care about. If you value honesty, you probably are not a habitual liar and you tell the truth (in love) even if it might create a conflict.
Values-based living takes us away from being punitive, because it allows us to focus on what we consider important, not the little behaviors we think we should be doing to achieve our goals. When we focus on the little details we miss the greater picture. Think of it in this way: if we get very close to a painting all we may see are the brush strokes and possible scratches in the work. But, if we stand back and take the painting in full we will see a great work of art. You are a great work of art. You are not merely worth the sum of your parts nor is your worth based upon whether or not you complete tasks on your to do list. You are imperfect, but still perfect.
We when focus our attention on our values we shape our lives around those things. When we realize that we are shaping our lives around our values despite our mistakes, we tend to feel rather good about ourselves. When we feel good about ourselves, we tend to engage in behaviors that make us feel better about ourselves. And, when we do that we most likely end up treating others with the same graciousness.
Some suggestions for living a values-based life:
Keep in mind that life is fluid and changes all of the time. Once you determine what your values are, you can reassess and determine if that really is a value you hold. I think that people usually discover that their core values never change, but that their values can still be enhanced as they mature.
I pray peace and blessings to you in this New Year and that if you resolve to do anything that it will be to assess your values and be gentle with yourself as you move to shape your life thusly.