woman Europe sunglasses

Photo credit Kinga Cichewicz via Unsplash

Instead of assuming problems and hard times are inevitable and enduring, what if we extended our ability to tolerate things going well?

What if we sabotage our joy by not creating enough space to feel and appreciate the positive things in our lives?

What if we are limiting our good times by consistently but subconsciously returning to a familiar level of uneasiness?

I’ve done a lot of research on how to build resilience and endure discomfort longer. I’ve used the knowledge to teach introverted and highly sensitive clients, readers and their loved ones how to get through the tough times and challenges of life and relationships.

I recently came across another angle that may lead to just as much joy and peace as learning how to handle the obstacles in endeavors and love.

Don’t get too happy

I can’t take credit for this reverse way of thinking. Gay Hendricks, author of more than twenty books including, The Big Leap: Conquer Your Hidden Fear and Take Life to the Next Level, calls the inability to tolerate contentment, our Upper Limit Problem. 

Photo credit Clem Onojeghuo via Unsplash

Quite often when we experience a period of positive feelings, we unconsciously create unpleasant thoughts to return us to a state we are more accustomed to, namely one with more negative or challenging feelings. We hit our upper limit of joy and start looking for ways to settle back into our regular level of anxiety or minimized happiness.

Why we curtail contentment

According to Dr. Hendricks, we have four main fears or beliefs that hold us back from experiencing life satisfaction and our full potential. The key thing to know is that these fears and barriers are not true. We unconsciously believe them and they keep us small.

The fears are based on programming we received long ago. Here is a brief breakdown of each barrier:

1. We have a fundamental flaw. We believe there is something wrong or bad about ourselves and therefore we should not be financially, creatively or relationally successful.

I see many sensitive people with this belief. We see our sensitivity as a flaw and let it keep us limited by subconsciously telling ourselves we can’t handle too much happiness or too many happenings. We’ll get overwhelmed or people won’t like us once they discover how sensitive we are.

2.  Disloyalty or abandonment of important people in our lives is wrong. We believe we can’t get too happy or successful because then we would not be abiding by a family code or we would be leaving important people behind. We feel guilty for doing things our own way or not including our closest people in our endeavors. 

I have struggled with this one for years. I felt tremendous guilt for creating space2live and not spending more time with my children or ex-husband. Some people unconsciously temper their career potential because they are the only one in their family who went to college or has a high paying job. They don’t want to get too uppity for their roots.

3. We are a burden.  We grew up thinking our existence is taxing on someone. Even if we do well we don’t want someone else to have to deal with our output or our big living. If we just keep ourselves small and don’t take risks we won’t bother anyone. 

Dr. Hendricks gives the example of himself being raised by a single mother. His existence burdened her and she even downplayed his work (books written, speaking tours). It took him years to realize he does not have to think of himself as a burden.

4. Outshining others is bad.  If I do too well I will show up so and so and they will feel or look bad. Perhaps we had a younger sibling who struggled in school and we noticed when we got all As our father encouraged us to downplay them around that sibling. 

I’ve had clients say they dumbed themselves down to keep harmony in a relationship.

What we do to curtail our joy

Whenever we get close to our threshold of success in love or work, we do something to temper it. See if you recognize any of these methods of holding ourselves back.

Worrying. Worrying is the easiest way to stifle positive energy flow. We do it subconsciously. We can be reflecting on what a great weekend we had one moment and the next, start to worry about a family member’s health or having enough money to pay an upcoming bill.

Criticizing and blame. We can be enjoying a sweet night of intimacy with our spouse and then suddenly we throw out a criticism. This robs us of deep connection and stops the flow of good feelings.

DeflectingWhen something good happens to us we chalk it up to luck or we downplay our part in it. We minimize a compliment from someone instead of basking in the positive light. 

Starting a fight. Nothing brings joy to a halt like conflict. Notice when arguments arise with your loved ones or co-workers. Is it often after a period of harmony or happiness? It is strange how there is a drive to break the streak of getting along,

Getting sick or hurt. Things are going smoothly for a while and all of a sudden you start getting migraines or back pain. It is as if we have to push ourselves back down to a level of discomfort. We have to punish ourselves for being too content.

Shining a light on limiting, dissolves it

couple looking at meadow

Photo credit Pablo Heimplatz via Unsplash

The good news is awareness is instrumental in helping us resolve our upper limit problem. By simply noticing when we start putting on the brakes of positive feelings and energy, we can build our tolerance for contentment. We can foster sustained joy instead of curtailing it. We can not only push ourselves to tolerate some discomfort and anxiety in our lives but we can also train ourselves to allow for extended periods of good feelings.

Where do you limit your satisfaction? Do any of the barriers to contentment resonate with you? Do you deflect joy? Start arguments when things are going well? 

If you’d like guidance in how to sustain contentment in your work and relationships, please contact me. I’d love to help you expand your tolerance for love and success.


My book, The Quiet Rise of Introverts: 8 Practices for Living and Loving in a Noisy World is now available in an audio version! You can listen to it while you commute or exercise or anytime you want someone to read to you.:)