Are You Afraid of Being Happy? Why You Self-Sabotage and How to Stop
You’ve finally gotten the promotion you’ve been waiting for — the one you’ve deserved for months — and you couldn’t be happier.
You feel on top of the world, invincible, and light — for about five minutes. Then negative thoughts start rushing in.
- You swear your boss has been looking at you funny for a few days in a row ever since you got promoted
- You start to worry about how you’ll handle your new responsibility. What if you fail?
- Then you end up having one too many glasses of wine at the company happy hour.
“So much for having my life together”, you think to yourself.
This is the Upper Limit Problem in action: subconscious self-sabotage that happens when we get a taste of something great, be it a career achievement, smooth-sailing relationship, hitting a fitness goal, or any other measure of success. At the core is a self-defeating belief that we’re not deserving of happiness.
Psychologist and author Gay Hendricks, who first introduced this idea, describes an “inner thermostat setting” that determines the amount of good feelings we allow ourselves to enjoy.
If we experience an increased level of joy, success or abundance and approach our upper limit, we subconsciously generate negative thoughts to bring ourselves back down to the level of happiness we’re most comfortable with.
Has this ever been you?
Have you ever been celebrating a personal success, thinking to yourself or telling a friend about just how darn good things are right now, when all of a sudden negativity enters the picture (“I know presenting in front of the CEO is an awesome opportunity, but what would my colleagues think of me being chosen for this instead of them? Who am I to have the spotlight?”)?
In a moment, the feelings of happiness have been replaced with anxiety, mistrust, and that general bad feeling in the pit of your stomach. This in turn manifests itself externally, and before you know it, you’re a jittery mess.
Understanding what the Upper Limit Problem is, why it happens, and how to get over it is essential to preventing its negative effects from interfering with your life.
In order to eliminate the feelings of discomfort and associated self-sabotage that come with success and happiness, we must learn to overcome the Upper Limit Problem.
Here are three steps to take:
1. Get to know your “happiness comfort zone.”
Now that you know what the Upper Limit Problem is and some signs that you may be experiencing it, think back to some times in your life when you experienced this type of discomfort as a result of success.
This can give you a sense of how you perceive your self-worth and the threshold at which you’re putting a cap on your happiness. So when you’re flying high about an exciting new opportunity, you’ll be aware of limiting beliefs cropping up to sabotage you.
2. Practice pushing the envelope on your limits.
Lean into the feelings of happiness and try to enjoy them free of judgment or analysis. Catch yourself as you begin to conjure up images of the worst case scenario, and instead return to experiencing the feeling of joy.
Another way to lean in is to share your successes and positive experiences on social media. When compliments or congratulations begin to roll in, practice reading each one and responding with a simple and gracious, “Thank you. I worked really hard and I’m glad to see it paying off.” Resist the urge to shrug off a compliment by chalking it up to luck, good timing, or some other external factor.
3. Re-frame your discomfort.
Now that you’re able to bust through that happiness set point, make it easier on yourself in the future by working to change the way you feel about success and happiness.
Upper Limit Problems happen because our brains are naturally wired to avoid risk.
So when your lizard brain takes over, triggering panic as you’re celebrating a “risky” success, take a step back and do a reality check. Acknowledge this feeling of discomfort as a positive sign that all the hard work and risk you’ve taken is paying off. You’re on the right track, and all you’re at risk of is achieving success you’ve never believed possible.
By recognizing and acknowledging the feelings that come along with the Upper Limit Problem, but not allowing them to take over, you can begin to shake it off. This will enable you to truly work up to your fullest potential, and share your unique gifts with those around you.