Why Am I Afraid To Be Happy?

Do you ever wonder why life satisfaction feels hard for you? Or do you find that when things are going great you are waiting for something bad to happen? Expecting the worst? Worrying about what’s next on the horizon?

It might seem strange but many people think this way, not realising that there is an unconscious desire to feel safe in not being at ease with life.

Imagine this experience: in childhood, your parents moved around a lot, or you were parented by abusive parents, be it psychologically or physically. Life for you was unstable, and you were probably programmed to believe that nothing good ever lasts. You may find a new home and environment, make wonderful friends, and have your parents move you on to the next place. You may be smiling and feeling happy about something you just did or something you were proud of or watching a parent feel this way, and then it suddenly changes when one parent abuses you or abuses your other parent, and you witness that contentment and good feelings change quickly due to outer life experiences or events.

Living consistently on the edge of trauma or change can leave us never trusting life. We don’t trust what is labelled happiness or contentment; to us, that experience can be taken away rapidly by something else, but so often in adulthood, we unconsciously take the experience away by not allowing ourselves to fully relax into the moments of life joys, pleasures, and life satisfaction.

For me, I always had this feeling of being interrupted. Whenever I found myself relaxing, something in me would never allow myself to relax fully, to let go, and to trust the moment. I worked out during a therapy session that I was scared to be happy and scared to relax because I was taught that being happy meant I wasn’t loved or accepted; if I was unhappy, I was acceptable and not resented. I learned early on that being sad, hurt, or in pain meant I got attention and the ‘appearance’ of love from my mother. If I was content, proud of myself, and felt good, I felt in my gut her disapproval and bitterness. So, as a matter of survival, I learned to make sure I didn’t relax too much. I saw that love came from the hard stuff of life, struggle and suffering, it didn’t come with the happiness or contentment of life. And as a small child, you rely on your parents, so you tend to do what feels most safe at that time.

This translates into adulthood by setting ourselves up for failure, walking in directions we will be blocked from moving forward, moving towards partners or potential partners who are emotionally or physically unavailable, and choosing work that causes distress or trauma because we just don’t trust the good stuff of life.

We may also walk down the path of addiction, further fueling the pain cycle and attachment to struggle, or we don’t take care of our health in other ways, thus becoming ill, or our body does not cope with what we do to it. We are basically protecting ourselves from being unloved; our inner children are still living in that childhood pattern of needing to survive through whatever means possible.

We Never Got To Be Children

Our inner children may not have had a lot of experience being innocent, playful, and joyful children. We may have had to always be on guard or be made to grow up too soon. My best friend Michael for example, who passed away in 2023, was taught to be a grownup from the age of 5. He would tell me stories of using a little step to wash the dishes and do the cooking because his hypochondriac mother used her ‘poor me’ victim role to manipulate him as a young boy into doing everything for her. She even blamed his birth for her poor health, and his father blamed him for having to work longer hours. He lived his life waiting for the slipper, the belt, or being beaten into submission while his mother and father psychologically abused him. He never got to feel safe as a child, being that innocent boy who got to play. Instead, a lifetime of abuse and also sexual abuse at a school he attended (he was the youngest there due to his high IQ) meant he never got to experience happiness, not from the child perspective anyway.

So many of us have had similar experiences or some kind of programming early on that affects how we view what we can or cannot have in life. Many, like Michael, have such intense abuse that they just accept that is the life they are meant to experience, and for Michael, he used Chinese philosophy to mentally get through the triggers and PTSD of his childhood, yet some of us can move through this and start to allow happiness, or rather, life contentment, to be happy and finally start to feel safe to relax.

How do we do this?

  • If you are able to, get help. A good trauma-based therapist can be a godsend, but find one that does really good inner child work; if they don’t, it’s just talk therapy. And sometimes we need to find a way to give permission for our inner children to be children, but we need to work through the ‘old stuff’ first.

  • Shadow work is essential, but if you have experienced extreme trauma, do this again with the support of an expert. If you feel able to do this yourself, I recommend reading The Completion Process by Teal Swan, a teacher who experienced ritual abuse and found ways to work through those challenges via shadow work, which involves validating feelings and reconnecting to those lost child selves that need our love and attention.

  • Knock-knock meditation. My own therapist taught me this, a simple process of working on issues as they arise. For example, if you feel a lot of resentment one day, you sit with your eyes closed and imagine a knock at the door. In walks ‘resentment’ you look at what resentment looks like, what is the colour, is it solid? Does it have sharp edges? What does it feel like? And once you have become aware of this, you then move through the object and beyond it to see what inner child is within the feeling. From this place, you begin to discover how old the child is. What is happening to the child? Is the child protecting you from something it perceives as harmful via resentment? You may or may not hug or support the child if the child allows you to, but you are very gentle with the child, only connecting if it wants this. This is an awareness exercise, and if the child is ready and you are able to say you are ready to care for the child now, the child may then come back with you into your adult life, but you must promise to care for the child if you do this.

As a side note, working with the shadow does not create more shadow; in fact, the opposite is true. The more you shine a light on those shadows, the more love, peace, and joy can come back into your life and world. It doesn’t mean a never-ending supply of shadow-work; with each inner child embraced the more whole and complete you feel again.

The Benefits of Facing Our Fear of Happiness

After some time working with my inner children, I had a day where I was feeling really sad and worried about the future. I was shown early on to worry about everything. Even when things were going well, I would worry because I witnessed this in my mother and father, and I have no doubt my mother witnessed it in her mother and my father witnessed it in his mother. My grandparents both experienced struggle. One from a child with severe mental health issues and one who had lost her husband at a young age and had to raise three boys when she had little money and they didn’t have a lot to eat. Looking at photos of my father as a teenager, his ribs were sticking out. So both parents witnessed and would have felt worried and fear from their own parents, and so the cycle continues through the generations.

So one day, when I was feeling a lot of worry about my future, I started doing EFT (emotional freedom technique) on the acupressure points on ‘I’m really scared, I can’t have what I want’. I tapped repeatedly on ‘I can’t have what I want’, and as I was doing this, I was crying my heart out. After a short while I heard a voice inside me say, ‘I can have what I want?’ but it was framed as a question. It was like a sudden realisation of an inner child thinking it was safe to have what it wanted, and I cried more, but not a scared cry but a recognition of my own value and worth. It was so profound this experience that the little inner me went on to say, ‘I can have what I want? Are you sure? Really?’ The astonishment in the voice flipped me over backwards inside; it was like a switch being switched on for the first time ever in my life.

Obviously, like most people, I have wants and desires, but there was always this deep feeling of unworthiness. I didn’t know back then that this was because I was deliberately holding myself back for my own safety and wellbeing as a child.

Working with the shadow, the unconscious, and the inner child can bring up a lot of feelings, and a big part of this work is validating our feelings. If we feel sad, we validate the sadness; we don’t try to transform the sadness into happiness. The same goes for feelings like anger, resentment, and bitterness; we validate every single feeling. This in itself gives us permission to be human, to be authentic, and to allow our inner children to begin to trust us. As this happens, we trust ourselves, believe in ourselves, and life naturally changes into a life we are meant to be living, not one based on struggle or suffering but on a life unfolding gracefully and where peace, joy, and love can then reenter our world.

Are you ready?

And what is working for you as you journey inward?

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Kelly Martin
Kelly Martin

Kelly Martin, author of ‘When Everyone Shines But You’ is a dedicated writer and blogger who fearlessly explores life’s deepest questions. Faced with a decade of profound anxiety and grief following the loss of her father and her best friend Michael, Kelly embarked on a transformative journey guided by mindfulness, and she hasn’t looked back since. Through her insightful writing, engaging podcasts, and inspiring You Tube channel Kelly empowers others to unearth the hidden treasures within their pain, embracing the profound truth that they are ‘enough’ exactly as they are.

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