You Deserve To Be Happy
Like Stockholm syndrome of the ego, we can grow to depend on and even cherish parts of ourselves which are crippling, harmful, and even self-destructive. Subservient for so long, we forget we can live differently. It isn’t that we don’t want to be happy, a part of us certainly does, but a more powerful part of us cannot let go of what is making us unhappy. In a way, it is not a lack of will power, but rather a lack of imagination that keeps us tied to what harms us.
For those of us who are chronically depressed, anxious, angry, or avoidant, it is not that we fail to see happiness as something worthwhile, or that we do not think leaving our depressed or anxious minds behind is a worthy goal. Rather, we are unable to because (with always different reasons why) so much of our agency and self-identity is tied up with being depressed, anxious, angry or avoidant that we feel we cannot lose them without losing ourselves in the process.
After so long, being unhappy comes to be seen as natural, normal, as ‘the way things are’. Deviating from this state would be scary. We cannot imagine a life outside of the cage. It is reminiscent of slaves given the opportunity of freedom, would not run away. Never knowing a life outside of slavery, they failed to see their slavery as such and therefore, saw no reason to escape. When we become enslaved to our depression, anxiety, or fears for so long, we begin to forget there was once a life without them.
Making matters worse, both slave and slaver are within us. We are punished and also see ourselves as worthy of punishment. In such states, it becomes appropriate and entirely reasonable to tell ourselves that we do not deserve to be happy. Someone as pathetic and wrong as us should not be allowed to traverse the lofty summits of joy. We must remain in the murky depths of despair where we belong.
For all the pain, misery, and conflict that come from defining ourselves in such a way, when we define ourselves as unhappy or anxious, or depressed or avoidant human beings, we are doing something very powerful. We are making statements about who we are as people. What we then tell ourselves is that despite how lowly and miserable we might be, at least we are something! It might be a depressed or anxious or avoidant person, but being something terrible is at least better than being nothing.
For those of us who are chronically depressed, anxious, angry or avoidant (or any other type of miserable condition we are afflicted with), the call to be happy can be utterly frightening. While we can intellectually understand that happiness is worthwhile, it doesn’t feel that way. It feels unsettling, even terrifying. It is something we have never done before and we have a tendency to prefer a problem that we know to a solution that is unknown. What will happen to us if we allow ourselves to be happy? We will no longer wall ourselves up, enclose ourselves, and put barriers between ourselves and others. The bars of our cell are seen as protecting us from danger rather than what they are: bars keeping us trapped within ourselves.
It takes incredible courage to unlock the cell (because you have had the keys all along), walk beyond the bars and allow yourself to be happy. It is easy to be depressed or anxious or avoidant, especially if this is all you have ever known. The courageous first step out of the cell can be daunting and especially frightening and it helps to have a dear friend you can trust, or even a psychologist, to walk with you and to remind you when you forget or try to crawl back into the familiar cage of self-punishment that you indeed, truly deserve to be happy.