During an appearance on Oprah, Dr. Brene Brown, a renowned public speaker and research professor, speaks about ‘dress rehearsing tragedy.’
To be more specific, she explains that – “Dress rehearsing tragedy is imagining something bad is going to happen when in reality, nothing is wrong.”
I’m accustomed to calling this coping mechanism, ‘waiting for the other shoe to drop.’
Regardless of what you want to call it, I feel like this is a mindset that most of us are familiar with. Those constant, nagging feelings of anxiety that weave doubts into our thoughts, distracting us from the positive, and coaxing us into always preparing for the negative.
Never able to trust the calm, because the next storm is surely on its way.
This mindset is exhausting, mentally and physically, and it’s as unhealthy as it is unproductive. It’s also a way to self-protect, which is why it’s a prominent habit of mine. I am ALL about self-protection.
In part, I feel like this comes naturally, as the result of multiple losses, traumas, life upheavals, and so forth. I’ve developed an inherent ability to anticipate the next battle, and the illusion is believing that I’m simply being practical.
Acknowledging these experiences, and honoring the impact they’ve had on my life – on shaping who I am – is not the problem. The problem is, that somewhere along the way – I subconsciously decided to hide behind them.
Further along in her interview, Dr. Brown says, “Joy is the most vulnerable emotion we experience, and if you cannot tolerate joy, what you do is you start dress rehearsing tragedy.”
To say this resonated with me would be a spectacular understatement.
Am I really unable to tolerate joy?
The frightening truth I’m realizing, is that – yes – I think I am.
This shouldn’t suggest that I never feel joy. Of course I do – periods of joy, moments – sometimes even days of joy.
But I never trust it to last.
I’m constantly agonizing over what catastrophic life event is going to knock my world off balance, what fresh heartbreak is sure to follow an innocent attraction to someone new and unexpected, or what – what in God’s name, WHAT – is going to be the unknown disaster that finally breaks my spirit beyond repair.
Could this be why I self-protect, often to my own detriment? There are SO many things that I’ve kept myself from experiencing – some of the greatest joys that life has to offer are still unknown to me.
I hate being vulnerable. Feeling joy is vulnerability at its most powerful. Why have I never made this connection until now?
Thank you, Brene Brown. I’ve just realized that I’m 33 years old, and I’m afraid to be happy.
Pardon my profanity, but talk about a fucking light bulb moment.
On the surface, it sounds like a simple question. Why would anyone (anyone in their right mind, at least) be afraid to be happy?
I can’t speak for everyone, but in my case – I believe I’m afraid to be happy because I’m anticipating how painful it’s going to be when the happiness disappears.
Instead of living in the moment, and practicing gratitude for the joy I experience, I perceive it as a warning – an indicator that danger is imminent. I become anxious, and I obsess over things that haven’t happened yet.
I wait for the other shoe to drop… I dress rehearse for tragedy.
And in doing so, I miss out on living.
I want more joy. I need more joy, even if it’s fleeting and the aftermath is painful – isn’t that also a part of life? I’d love to believe that joy isn’t always followed by heartache, and I’d love to trust my inner strength enough to let my armor down for the things I want.
If I take a moment, catch my breath, and open my eyes to the world around me, I see joy everywhere. I see the lasting joy of true friendships, the joy of connecting with family members, the joy of bonding with a pet, the joy of seeing a beautiful sunset or hearing the rain outside as you fall asleep at night.
The joy in that first sip of coffee in the mornings, the joy of traveling and meeting new people who make you smile. Laughter… laughter is one of my favorite joys.
So. How do I change the pattern of self-preservation that I so easily fall into? Instead of snapping into survival mode, how do I dismiss the fear, and become receptive to the joy?
I don’t think there’s a magic answer to this question – I think it’s as simple as making a different choice. Instead of making the comfortable choice of dress rehearsing for tragedy, I want to choose the unfamiliar challenge of expanding my capacity for pure, unbridled JOY.
Passion. Desire. Allowing someone to love me. Sharing my darkest, messiest pieces with someone whom I trust not to walk away – but to face the storm. I want to experience the awakening that comes with opening myself up to that world. I want it all, and preferably before I’m too old to enjoy the process.
I want to let go of my fear and embrace – not only those unknown joys – but the vulnerability that comes along with them. I want to believe, wholeheartedly, that my vulnerability is one of my greatest strengths.
I wish this were as simple as it should be. I’ve said it many times – life is messy, and hard; and we’re all fighting battles that are exhausting and have moments when we truly feel like taking another breath is impossible.
In all honestly, I feel that way right now. But I want to stop using that as an excuse to keep hiding from life’s greatest pleasures. I don’t want the years to keep passing me by, as I wonder to myself, “Am I ever going to experience that? Am I even ready? Am I worthy?”
Time to move forward. Time for another personal change. Time to quit the dress rehearsal, and proudly take center stage as the leading lady of my life.
- Credits: Dr. Brene Brown: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/18/brene-brown-joy-numbing-oprah_n_4116520.html