During this time of introspection and discovery, each of you has your own life filled with different hobbies, interests, and pursuits. Are you able to be happy and extract joy out of life? Are you able to find an escape from life through your joys? Are you able feel an entire range of emotion while digging deep into the dynamics of your life and relationship(s)? These questions are a segue to an email I received from a reader which I have given a great deal of thought over the last couple of months. She states that this search for answers and the truth (introspection, therapy, this blog) are only part of the equation. She says that other half of the equation is joy.
So first of all, what is joy? One of the keys to finding happiness in tough times is "simply being aware of what is happening right now, without wishing it were different," says James Baraz, a meditation instructor and founding teacher of Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, California. That may require a little less multitasking and worrying and more stopping to smell the roses, says Lori Hilt, an anxiety specialist at the University of Wisconsin. "When we get caught up in cycles of brooding and worrying, our minds are stuck in the past or the future," she says. "Get out of the cycle by focusing on the present, noticing the cool breeze on your skin, the taste and texture of a bite of food."
In regard to this blog, the writings are centered on my life with BPD and NPD parents. And yes, I focus on introspection, discovery, understanding, and moving forward. Along with finding answers, my goal with my blog is to allow others to find comfort knowing there are others who are experiencing or have experienced the same / similar circumstances. My goal is also to enlighten and create an understanding to a confusing and abusive past which can result in greater joy in life. Introspection and joy are not separate on the scale in a balancing act, yet an intertwined and dynamic pair combined with a host of other emotions.
I am not a psychiatrist or psychologist or therapist. My journey with my blog has been as therapeutic (or more so) for me as for my readers. I don’t share about my joys in life such as running, photojournalism, web design or how others should find their joys. The focus is not on attaining happiness through joy but through understanding. The point of my blog is Cluster B Personality Disorders such as BPD and NPD as well as surrounding circumstances such as guilt, shame, PAS, and more.
Now before I proceed, the following is the email from my reader:
Martin Seligman maintains that therapy, introspection, and all the wonderful things but you're doing are only half the story. That finding out what went wrong is half the story. The other half is discovering your own joy. It sounds like you enjoy photography and web-design which feeds that joy and honors your inner truth.
Because Seligman says that in his studies on happiness, none of them involved people trying to find it in their past. That "therapy" just stops us from getting sicker but ,very important , doesn't nourish us. In an ideal world, we should be doing both. Do what brings you joy, strengthens your heart, and of course, makes you look into the past, too, to make sure ingrained patterns don't hamper your life.
But the idea is that no matter how back we go, technically, our parents also had parents who screwed them up, and we might have to go all the way back to Adam and Eve. And then realize, that we didn't spend any time on our joys. Imagine a concert cellist: when she's with her cello, mom and dad don't matter. I'm that way with my art & design and literature group.
And Seligman says that the "happy" people are the ones who do a balanced job of looking into their past and attaining self-awareness but at the same time feeding their inner joy: activities that make them happy and are purely related to them, not their past or future but the essence of who they truly are. I'm sure you feel that when you're with you camera or design work.
Do make sure you're jumping on the 2nd train as many times as you get on the 1st train. Our culture, overwhelmingly encourages people to stay on the 1st train, and Seligman's proposal of a two track approach to life was one of the most intelligent insights into human behavior that I've recently come across.
In the US, "therapy" has taken the place of the positives . For example, instead of being a tool for understanding track 1 (our broken heritage) and then making sure you have a track 2 to aspire to (our joy), "therapy" offers itself as track 2 and people spend decades with it.
With friends, I always encourage them to find and feed their joys, and from that place of strength, they'd be better equipped to deal with the brokenesses we have in track 1, our broken heritage. But American culture by way of being focused on greed, fame, and success doesn't allow for enough of the real joys of track 2 to become attainable. I think the Arts are all being canceled out of schools even.
We live in a broken culture, where we can't easily access the track 2 of our lives. Cultures like, say, Italy where the Arts are paramount, you feel joy in every street corner. And it helps to be in that environment because then your soul source of joy isn't the broken family and all your track 1 problems. When society itself doesn't have healthy aspirations then people just get stuck in a spiral of running from therapist to therapist never able to just cross the river bank and go to the other side to track 2.”
During my life, I have always found joy in life and I think that’s part of the reason why I was able to survive and prosper during my childhood unlike my brother. I have a very optimistic personality where I have found happiness and adventure around every corner, a friendship in a stranger, and a bright and beautiful tomorrow. However, I also have come from a rather confusing and complicated past. My joy didn’t lead to the a-ha moments with my parents. Nor did my joy lead to greater joy in life—introspection, discovery, research, soul searching, reading, and relating to others did. Further, my search for answers about my past were even more important in order to protect the joy in my life—I was not about to allow either of them to affect my husband or child (my joys) like they did to my brother and me.
I spent decades attempting to sort out and come to terms with my past at the same time I was completely having the time of my life. Eventually, I found the answers I was seeking about my past but I never lost my zest and excitement for life during my times of introspection. Being grounded in myself and able clearly assess my past stems from my joy in life but I don’t think life is as simple as half joy and half introspection as the reader described. Certainly the scale tips in different directions and even beyond these two elements during life’s cycles, events, and trials-and-tribulations.
Yes, I agree that you are better able to deal with life’s challenges and lessons if you are filled with joy. But joy is not the answer to discovering what happened to you through your abusive past, nor is burying your head in the sand doing what makes you joyful in order to not think about what’s going on around you. The reader refers to the ability to enjoy joy as a different *train* than introspection. I believe you are on the same ride, simultaneously enjoying the joys of life while understanding who you are. One cannot travel through life without having a solid idea of who they are, and the past is part of who you are.
Certainly we should be consumed with or immersed in the past, but in order to move forward, unsettled situations need to be put to rest. That joy you are feeling may even gain you MORE introspection and clarity rather than as the reader said, “Imagine a concert cellist: when she's with her cello, mom and dad don't matter.” For example, when you experience the immense joy of a hard-earned achievement (degree from university) or the birth of your child, a profound sense of acceptance, appreciation, and understanding result. So with that joy you are not saying the surrounding negative circumstances don’t matter—quite the contrary. The joy deeply defines the negative circumstances in a new light and environment of discovery. The joy helps you to see more clearly, like a beacon in the fog.
Another point is that the reader stated, “But the idea is that no matter how back we go, technically, our parents also had parents who screwed them up, and we might have to go all the way back to Adam and Eve” implying that the everyone has parents who abused, confused, or screwed up in some way so we shouldn’t try to figure out what happened but instead delve into what gives us joy. True, that we should enjoy life. But false, that we shouldn’t try to piece together what happened to us as abused children and try to stop the cycle from continuing. My brother finds joy in music and seeing live bands. He would neglect the rest of his life for music and seeing live bands. This joy has not given him a ounce of what he needs to manage his life, raise his children, understand his past, or come to terms with his parents. He doesn’t have balance, like the reader said; however, the joy is counterproductive and actually misguided. Joy shouldn’t be used a drug to self-medicate or ignore reality.
While the reader commented that "therapy" just stops us from getting sicker but ,very important , doesn't nourish us,” I think that therapy is nourishing and completely essential for some people and not necessary for others. Take my brother and me for examples. My brother desperately needs professional help, both long term and intense. He has needed this help from childhood. He didn’t get the nourishment (substance for healthy growth) from my parents, and I believe that a source such as therapy would have made a significant impact with him. I, on the other hand, find what I am seeking through friends, family, books, introspection, and enlightened witnesses.
Therapy, self discovery, healing… there’s no one size fits all method to these things. Sure, joy is part and parcel of being happy and being able to enjoy life. But in regard to the tangled web that a dysfunctional or abusive past has left, more intense and / or alternative methods need to be engaged to see the light and let it go. And that method may be long term therapy.
Now, don’t get me wrong—going to therapy in order to shift responsibility to the therapist is not what therapy is intended. And in regard to my brother, he knows how to work the system and to con the professionals, so therapy is as fruitless and desperately needed in his case. Further, going to the therapist in order to have the doctor figure it all out for you is not how therapy is supposed to be utilized. As the reader pointed out, many use therapy as a replacement for the positives. Also, going through the motions by seeing a therapist but not putting much thought and / or effort into the experience is not going to get you anywhere.
While I appreciate the simplicity of the “two trains” (joy versus discovery), I don’t think the model for a happy life is that simple. A time and place is needed for deep introspection, therapy, research, and discovery that tips the scales way off balance (riding that train more and not getting off). There is also a time for delving into sheer joy, tipping the balance the other way (now riding that train more). But other trains are riding on that track, each of which is vital for a well-rounded, happy, and fulfilled life: angry, frustrated, euphoric, or content—not just joy.
Rather than categorizing happiness into a balance of discovery (introspection, therapy, research) and joy, be kind to yourself and allow yourself to feel the entire range of emotions and feelings by finding balance. Be appreciative and grateful for simply being alive, try to understand and be at peace with your part in this life, and make decisions that are healthy for yourself and your loved ones. And if that takes reading self help books or blogs, going to therapists, heading out for a long run, talking to other survivors of BPD parents, or more, do what it takes to create the life that you deserve to have.