“Don’t take away my problem!”
“I don’t think she is able or even wants to be happy…”
“And what would you do if someone suddenly stood in front of you who was authentically loving and appreciative of you? Who admires you and expresses it?”
These are all sentences that I have come across the last weeks and have reminded me of the phenomenon of the “upper limit of happiness”.
Sometimes we get stuck at certain points in our lives, things don’t get better, because we sabotage ourselves. This usually happens subconsciously – we’re just facing the results and are wondering why we have ended up in the same place again.
What we believe and consider possible is shaped by our socialisation and our experiences. It starts when we grow up and continues in the job and in society.
Here is one of my favourite metaphors relating to that phenomenon:
The circus bear
Once upon a time there was a circus bear. His home consisted of a small cage. He had already been born in such a cage and spent his free time taking ten steps forward in this cage and ten steps back again.
At some point, the director decided to give up the circus. He drove the bear into the forest, put the cage down and opened the door before leaving. The bear stuck its nose out of the open cage door. Now the world was open to him for a life as a free bear. He jumped out of the cage. He stomped one step forward, four, six, eight, nine… But after the tenth step, the bear went backwards again ten steps….
From the bear back to us:
The upper limit of happiness is the self-made barrier that prevents the “eleventh step.” That can’t be, that mustn’t be, that doesn’t exist … (as children, by the way, we don’t have that yet).
On the topics of joy, money and relationships, several examples come to mind here:
Is it allowed/can one earn a lot of money with joy and few hours of work?
Is it allowed /can something be easy – or do you have to work for everything first? Affection, income… No pain no gain?
Am I allowed to be happy at all? What happens when I am able to authentically answer “I’m doing great!” to the question of how I’m doing. What do we talk about then, when there is nothing left to complain about? 😉 (here we go with “Don’t take away my problem.”).
Self-sabotage can come in different shapes. The good news is that once recognised, it can be resolved. It’s not always easy – but it’s worth it, especially if you want to explore the world outside your self-made cage.
Shape 1: “The safe dream”
We wish for something – but honestly don’t really believe that it exists. E.g. Earning more money with fewer working hours and having fun at work.
Sabotage: We keep on dreaming, watch the wish like a movie in order to get a better feeling in the short term, while being able to remain sitting on the couch (comfort zone).
Solution: Be honest with yourself, listen to yourself – what do you really think about the subject? Do you really believe it exists? And if you don’t believe it, are you ready to act and see if you can find examples or maybe even create new ones? (Attention, exhausting! ;-))
Shape 2: “Program not found”
What we wish for is in front of us – but we don’t recognise it (never seen or experienced it). Imagine you have never seen a car your whole life. You have always been on foot or on a bicycle. Sometimes you think about how you could get to your destination faster. You think about the distance, about a faster gear, about something you could change on the bike. And when you pass a parked car for the first time, you would never think that this could be the solution!
Sabotage: Lack of knowledge.
Solution: Find people who have already lived, experienced or seen what you want. Let them show you from different perspectives what it looks like, what it feels like, etc. This will give you a first picture of what you want. This will give you a first picture.
Shape 3: “Free Falling”
What we want is in front of us – and we get scared. In this case, we recognise it, but suddenly feel helpless, afraid, distrustful – because we have never learned to deal with it.
Sabotage: Thoughts like “Is she really nice to me or is there a catch?” or “This is too good to be true.” are the starting point. We even sometimes prefer to stay in problematic but familiar situations (even if it’s stupid, but what we know is predictable and gives us a feeling of control) – instead of boldly plunging into new territory and learning new steps (to stay with the bear image).
Solution: Stand the unpleasant or strange feelings that may come up when you are faced with a new situation. Notice them and be happy – they are a sure sign that you have reached the end of your comfort zone and can now make history and learn! And then dare to take the eleventh step.
Shape 4: “The flipside of the coin”
We wish for something but secretly carry negative beliefs about it. An well known example is having a lot of money in the bank account.
Sabotage: Beliefs like “Money destroys character.” “You can’t legally get a lot of money quickly.” …
Solution: Check your beliefs. And then question them. Is that really true? What evidence do you know to the contrary? In our example: What does a “good character” mean to you and what could you do with the money to live it?
Where is your upper limit of happiness and in what shap does it appear?
Bear in mind you’re not a circus bear! Take the eleventh step and explore the world!