When You Enjoy Being Unhappy

man with head in hands

“The unhappy person resents it when you try to cheer him up, because that means he has to stop dwelling on himself and start paying attention to the universe. Unhappiness is the ultimate form of self-indulgence. When you’re unhappy, you get to pay a lot of attention to yourself. You get to take yourself oh so very seriously.” 
― Tom Robbins

There is a little spoken of, but widely known issue in the mental health community. As we know from the studies, only you can truly make you better. All the doctors, psychiatrists, therapists, and coaches in the world cannot make someone decide to do the hard work to become better and happier. It is one of the great frustrations of working in the mental health field. There are quite a few people who enjoy being unhappy and the attention it brings.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that they are always consciously doing this. But, in many cases, it is the comfort of the discomfort that they are enjoying. It is also the continual low self-worth and self-esteem talk in their mind that keeps them going each day. Yes, this seems counterintuitive, but it is a defense mechanism that has now become a habit for many suffering with mental health issues.

How does this happen and why do people choose unhappiness and fight getting better when help is all around? Much of it ties back to our childhoods. If we were bullied, abused, or ignored as a child, we developed traits that protected us. We might have become introverted and kept to ourselves. We might have rebelled against the perceived things holding us back and thought the opposite actions were the correct ones. We might have developed self-help or soothing behaviors. The problem is that, what worked as a child to build protection around us, becomes problems and destructive habits as adults. The longer these habits go, the more we cling to them. This is how we now know that there are long-term effects to bullying and child abuse.

So, when a client comes to see me as a coach or see other mental health practitioners, they come with the baggage of their childhood and the defensive walls that they have spent years building up. The truth is, these are very tough walls to break and some may never break because it is only able to be broken from the inside…from the client. There is little a practitioner can say or do if your answer is always going to contain “can’t”, “shouldn’t”, “not”, “won’t, or “don’t want to”.

This can be due to years of built-up anxiety, fear, and just your now natural thinking pattern. Imagine telling an animal like a deer not to run when a predator approaches it to kill and eat it. Imagine taking that instinct and trying to change it and convincing the deer that what they see isn’t a predator. Would you, as the deer, want to listen to me? You don’t have to answer, because I know that I wouldn’t want to listen to me. But this is the problem. The predator is now perceived or assumed and isn’t really there. You have habitually developed seeing it, but your mind and eyes can be great liars.

At this point, you don’t want to get better and staying on high alert (anxious) and unhappy (safe) keeps the predator at bay. Insecurity and aloneness have become your friends and ones you don’t want to give up. I get that and totally understand. Changing these things will seem too tough and, in your mind, they have worked for you for a long time. But how important is getting better for you? That is always for you to decide. Again, there is no professional mental health expert to tell you to get better. You have to want that.

So, as you continue on your journey and for those of us that have gotten better, we see the others…the ones who have chosen to stay in the unhappy place. It is often a sad state to not be able to help someone until they help themselves. But, I will not give up on anyone. Just ask yourself if you have given up on you. If you have and you want to get better, then you will need to decide that you will not give up on you and that, as the Borg say in Star Trek, “resistance is futile”. It is all in you.

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

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About Alan Eisenberg

Alan Eisenberg is a Certified Life Coach, Bullying Recovery activist and author of "A Ladder In The Dark: My journey from bullying to self-acceptance" and "Crossing the Line". He has been writing and speaking to various audiences about the issue of C-PTSD and Bullying Recovery. Mr. Eisenberg has been featured on several print, radio shows and podcasts on this issue, including NPR and in the Boston Globe. He is currently working toward his Master's Degree in Mental Health Counseling.
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  1. Interesting read.

    I assume or believe there are many views onparts within this topic.

    I respect your professionalism.

    I am not a professional but I do not think the past is the core of the way victims relate to bullies.

    Depending on the bullying,type, duration, amount of people etc, I think all people are like the Deer. And the Deer (person) probably sees others as perpetrators because not enough people go up to the victim with emathy, care and support.

    I hope us victims do show empathy, care and compassion when we see someone alone.

    If you do maintain your self esteem, the courts, police and opposing solicitors certainly do their utmost to take the remaining self esteem away from you if you have any left.

    Good article, but I do not thing we have to go to the depth of ones life. If you are car jacked and suffer trauma, it is obvious the trauma started then.

    This is my view.

    Tom Robbins. He lost me in Shallow Hal. Using the spell in the lift to assist highlighting Jack Black to what others see, instead of the compassion Jack Black had

    • There is never an “all” to any study or data. But it is an unfortunate effect of youth damage that we may bring with us the results of our change of behavior into our adult years. This is really the heart of the article.

      It does not necessarily make people bad, just in need of help and support to get past these trauma. Of course, each individual is built differently and handles items differently, so this may or may not be concepts that you are dealing with. But certainly many youth abuse survivors are.

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