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You can only be conscious of a few things at any one time. But there are many thoughts and feelings that live beneath the surface. The important ones will attempt to surface, especially the negative and painful ones. Chances are, you’re not excited about allowing them to surface. That’s why you might choose fake happiness instead of genuine joy.
To explain the problems with this situation, I like to use the analogy of a child and a parent. The child wants to express the pain and be comforted. The rational-focused parent says, “not now, I’m busy.” There is definitely a need for the rational parent, because most of the time, it’s not practical or healthy to let a complaining child have full control.
However, “not now” can easily become “never.” It’s easy to procrastinate when uncomfortable feelings are pushing their way to the surface. A balance is needed. The head (the parent) should remain in control, but the head should provide the needed time for the heart (the child) to share its concerns.
Without time to express feelings, a person will become more and more compartmentalized. A small to moderate amount of compartmentalization is helpful when it’s time to be a responsible adult. But the deeper a memory is buried with passing time, the easier it becomes to believe the memory isn’t a part of the real you. And, that’s a dangerous position to be in.
Your personal history shouldn’t be erased because doing so will increase the likelihood of repeating your mistakes. If you can’t remember what you already tried, including how it turned out, you may be doomed to repeat history. Instead, there is another option: transform your personal history through healing and forgiveness.
Everything that happens to you provides an opportunity for you to identify and understand who you are. If you attempt to ignore your memories, you will lose a part of yourself in the process. Every time this happens, you become a little less authentic. That is because buried negative experiences continue to leak lies into your self-image. They poison your self-worth. To heal you must bring the truth in contact with your experiences.
If your primary goal is to be happy, then you might choose to ignore unhappy thoughts and feelings. But this will only lead to the need to invest increased amounts of energy to keep up the appearance of being happy. You’ll have to fake it, and, unless something else changes, there’s no way to “fake it until you make it.” You can’t fake your way into genuine joy.
When you fake your happiness around other people, you’ll likely suffer greater depression when you are once again alone. The size of your problem hasn’t necessarily grown. But you will experience it as more painful because you haven’t been able to share your true feelings with another person.
Happiness will endure so long as your circumstances are positive. The minute you experience a setback, your negative feelings will attempt to surface. However, when you learn how to work through difficult feelings, you learn how to maintain joy regardless of your circumstances.
Compartmentalization is an avoidance technique. It produces an immediate strength to get you through the moment, but left in place, it results in permanent weakness. It’s similar to accepting a numbing agent when you have surgery or dental work. You miss out on the sharp pain while you correct the problem. But it would be dangerous to your health to remain numb forever. Likewise, if fixing the problem is too easy, you might let yourself fall into the same trap again.
As you feel pain in life, try to remain aware of it. Include God in your awareness. You can bring the “child” to the “parent” for true healing. In order to grow stronger and healthier, you must give God access to the weakest, most vulnerable parts of yourself.
If you want to become joyful, make time to be completely honest about how you feel about what has happened in your life. Ask God to help you see the truth.
Matt Pavlik is a licensed professional clinical counselor who wants to see each individual restored to their true identity. He has more than 20 years of experience counseling individuals and couples at his Christian counseling practice, New Reflections Counseling. Matt and Georgette have been married since 1999 and live with their four children in Centerville, Ohio.