My trauma led me to understand emotions in a one-dimensional way: “bad”.  They do come in two forms of “bad” though.  There are emotions that are a bit uncomfortable, but tolerable.  I can power through them and still function even if I am exhausted at the end of the day.  This has been my norm for many years.  And there are emotions that are debilitating.  These are my controller’s worst nightmare.  They make productivity impossible.  They leave me stuck in bed or writing like crazy for some kind of release.  Nothing else gets done or at least not well.  Dinner is going to be pizza delivery on those days.

So when I consider that emotions can be “good”, it is hard to comprehend.  To me, feeling “good” means feeling successfully numb.  This has always been my goal in life.  If I feel nothing, I feel good.  This is my controller state and I have come to be very comfortable in this place.  That is why it is so hard for survivors to feel.  We live in numb.  And numb feels safe.  The idea that there can be joy is utterly ridiculous to many of us.  If we “feel” joy, it is very often a mask because we have to behave a certain way for a particular event.  If we feel real joy, it is often a fleeting experience that can’t be sustained.  So the idea of being joyful can elicit a roll of the eyes.

But what if joy is a real thing for everyone?  What if it can even exist for those of us with the worst trauma?  But let’s take it further.  What if it already does?  What if joy isn’t an emotion so much as it is the essence of who we are?  I have to admit, I think a lot.  I am always considering possibilities.  But I can’t let go of the idea that we understand joy wrong.  We search for it.  We make a “decision” to feel it.  We put on a mask to pretend we have it.  But what if our search for joy is our search for self.  Maybe joy isn’t missing.  Maybe it is the self.  There is good news and bad news with this idea.  This means joy exists for every person.  And it means we can get back to it.  But it also means it won’t be an easy journey.  Coming back to self is our very reason for existence.  It is going to be a complicated journey.

Contrary to popular belief, we should not be looking for joy.  We need to be looking for what resists the joy within us.  We need to track down the blocks to the joy.  They sit in the way of our truest expression of self like a dam in a river.  As we honor and express from the resistance, our ability to hold our joy will increase.  Here are some of the most common resistance points to our joy.

The controller says joy is dangerous.  The controller has developed survival skills in the midst of their traumatic experiences.  And those survival skills include hypervigilance.  When we are truly embodying our joy and true self, we cannot maintain hypervigilance and a manic mind.  We can be present OR we can be hypervigilant.  So joy feel dangerous.  If we are feeling joy, we cannot be prepared for the dangers the world will throw at us.  And this is a huge problem for the controller.  Try writing from: “I cannot let my guard down.”

The karma kid says we are not worthy of joy.  We have grown up in a world where our own needs, desires and preferences have been denied.  We learned that we didn’t matter.  And if we ever did consider what we wanted, it might have been labeled as selfish.  So the karma kid will tell us we must uphold our role of supporting others to avoid punishment.  We must understand our worthiness.  There are things others can have and we can’t.  Happiness is not for people like us.  This is one of the most significant blocks to joy.  Try writing from: “I am not worthy of feeling joy.”

The freedom fighters say it is impossible to reach.  The freedom fighters have been trying for a lifetime to bring you closer to the authentic self.  They want to experience joy, but along the way, they were thwarted in every possible way.  They were stopped by society and their standards.  They were thwarted by jealous family members.  They were blocked by organizations developed to push fearful perspectives about the world.  And as we grow up, the internalized beliefs from these sources continue to block the freedom fighters.  And they feel hopeless about continuing this journey.  Try writing from: “It is pointless to keep trying because of others.”

As you continue to express from your resistance and the evidence your parts carry, you will start to see small openings to that true self.  You will have snippets of joy showing up in your life.  It won’t happen when you think it will.  It won’t happen when you are doing something new and amazing.  Those are the moments when the resistance can be intense.  Those are the moments when fear is high.  It will be in moments which seem irrelevant.  You will be sitting in a park or taking a shower or walking the dog and you will feel it for a fleeting moment.  It will catch you off guard and motivate you at the same time.  And that will build.  One day, you might hear from your inner children as they ask if it is really possible to feel joy.  Tell them yes.  The answer is yes.

Come join us in Survivor’s Guide for February as we discuss reignite joy.