“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.