Joy Stealers — is there one in Your Life?

Ever feel really proud and happy and want to share your joy only to have it squashed? Is the person you pick to tell about your current elation a joy-stealer? What's wrong with them? What's wrong with you for allowing this person to harm you...again? Sounds suspiciously like going to a dried up water hole when you are thirsty: nothing to be gained.

Of the two kinds of people it takes to create the above scenario, which one are you? Joy-stealer or squashed prey? It takes both people working together to participate in this dysfunctional and hurtful pact.

Killers of joy are unable to celebrate another's success because they have such minimal sense of self. They can only feel okay about themselves by putting others down, and the method they use requires participation from their victim.

Children who grow up without anyone convincing them that they are perfect little human beings, are loved for simply being alive and bring joy and pride to the family, spend their lives attempting to acquire this acceptance and love. As adults, they may escape the pain of self hatred by becoming addicts or workaholics, filling the void with a variety of substances and processes. (See Fill the Void with Spirituality). Another escape may be to go through life trying to be "something" because they do not feel like "someone." Class presidents, captains of the team, and adults who excel as professionals, CEO's, billionaires, top doctors, lawyers and Indian Chiefs are often in this category. They remain dissatisfied with themselves, no matter how much they accomplish or how much they have.

Some become joy stealers. This is the "friend" who finds your vulnerability, probably unconsciously, and inflicts her requirement for perfection on you, triggering your OWN old messages of, "not good enough." A subtle arrangement, you two "friends" (or spouses, coworkers, etc.) fit together like puzzle pieces.

The joy thief often looks like this: she grew up in a household which did not adequately acknowledge her. Through no fault of her own or of the adults in her life, she never got the message that she was good enough simply for existing. The family structure varies, but is often missing one or both parents, either through illness, death, divorce, work, addiction, or something else that takes them away physically or emotionally. NOTE: this is not to blame, just to explain. Whatever the scenario, the consequence is that the child develops a very limited sense of self, never feeling able to "measure up" because she is never able to gain the attention and approval of the primary adults in her life.

Her world view becomes: "Perfection is the only goal, not only for me (to gain parental love), but for everyone. Neither I nor you will be happy unless both of us are perfect." Since no human being can be perfect, the belief that nobody can ever measure up is regularly fulfilled. This leads to hatred, of self and of others, followed closely by expressing the hatred by demanding perfectionism from others. Backhanded compliments with the message that what you do is never good enough is a typical result.

Exchanges overheard:

You: "I just got a job promotion. I am so happy and excited!"
Thief: "It's about time. You've been there forever. Is it a good enough promotion?"
    OR
You: "I just lost that last 10 pounds!"
Thief: "Hmmm. I didn't notice. Oh well, you know you'll gain it back next week."
    OR
You: "My race went really well! I'm exhausted, but did my best and am really glad to be finished".
Thief: "You had perfect weather and such an easy race course. Are you really happy with your time?"

You then tap into your own fragile sense of self and wonder if you should have gotten a better promotion, if you can keep the weight off, or if you could have had a better race. See how the perpetrator preys on you because of her own pathology and need for perfection? She is sure you will not be happy with yourself, as you have failed to attain perfection. Don't allow this thief into your life! Boot her out now!

Dr. Dawn Obrecht is the only MD addiction medicine specialist on the western slope of Colorado. She is a Fellow of the American Society of Addiction Medicine and her office is in Steamboat Springs. She teaches a communication course to medical students at the University Of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver info@docdawn.com.


 

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