We all have our soft underbelly; the one we avoid confrontation with whenever possible. We’ve been there before, and we know how much it hurts.
Whether we call it someone stabbing us in the back, stepping on our toes or driving nails through our hearts, we get the feeling, and we’ve dealt with the many side-effects.
Joy, like life itself, is a fragile thing. And it seems we’re all blessed (or cursed) with at least one person in our lives who is hellbent on making sure that they steal ours. Whenever things are going well, or even when we’re in an unsettled state but we’re cooping well and still finding joy in our lives, in comes that person to steal our joy and make us miserable.
Maybe the thief isn’t getting enough attention. Maybe s/he’s secretly unhappy and can’t stand the sight of anyone else being joyful in their imperfect life. Maybe s/he thrives on upset. Or feels that tearing others down builds them up. It could be the thief is a control freak and feels threatened by you, so s/he makes it his or her business to not let you be too happy to keep you humble. Or the thief could just not give a damn. So what if you’re hurt? It’s not his or her fault if what s/he wants negatively impacts you. Or–and this is the worst possible case, of course–the thief takes joy in deliberately hurting you and stealing your joy.
Yes, sad as it is to say, there really are people who thrive and blossom and find happiness in making other people miserable. Particularly people, who for one reason or the other, don’t like them.
When someone steals your joy once, you’re inclined to be forgiving and consider it an accident. But what if the thief does this over and again? Always at significant moments, or over events that are significant and meaningful to you? What do you do then? How do you cope?
OBJECTIVE ASSESSMENT. When you’re on the receiving end of joy stealing, being objective is all but impossible. Still, we have to do our best or remain a victim.
Try to determine why the thief is stealing your joy. Only when you grasp their motivation can you deal with the problem constructively.
UNDERSTAND THE STAKES. In these type situations, most often there’s something at risk. Something that puts you between the rock and the hard place. Whether it’s your job, your reputation, or someone you love. And you have to understand that cause-and-effect, action-and-reaction is hard at work.
So think through scenarios. If the thief does this, you do that, where does that leave you?
What do you have at stake and are you willing to lose it?
Sometimes being the victim doesn’t enable you to avoid the penalty. You’re caught in an emotional blackmail or hostage-type situation. When the thief does this, anything you do results in the loss of x. So before you do anything, you need to understand and accept that you well might lose. Are you willing to live with that loss?
CONFRONTATION. We typically hate it. Some of us are better at it, more diplomatic, less emotional than others, but normal, healthy and stable people don’t relish confrontation or conflict or the upset both carry along with it.
Yet when our joy is being stolen, we have little choice. We can step up and deal with the confrontation or allow ourselves to be victims and robbed of joy.
One or the other. We must choose. And we must live with our choices.
They’re never easy ones because of what is at stake and the risks of what we can lose. More often than not, it means a great deal to us or the thief wouldn’t be trying to steal it. So we must weigh the situation carefully and then choose.
CONSEQUENCES. As unpleasant as confrontation and conflict is, if we’re able to work through it and come out a better place, it’s worth the effort. Whether or not we’re able to get to that better place isn’t just our choice. The thief gets a vote, too. And when s/he weighs in, that vote can take many forms. Anger, denial, outrage, justification, the false attribution of motives that are supposedly yours that are alien to you–any or all of those reactions are as apt to arise as a peaceful, imperfect solution to the problem or even a resolution with which you can be at peace.
The consequences could be alienation, distance, separation or divorce. The loss of the job. The loss of a loved one.
Steep consequences are possible. Very possible because reason and logic are skewed by emotions in these situations and because our perspectives are a complex network of experiences and events–some of which are related to our interactions with the joy stealer and some that go beyond that relationship and into other areas of our lives. Things that happened with other people, back when we were kids. Professional things. Personal things.
The sum of all our experiences shape our perspective and the lens through which we see the thief and the joy s/he steals.
CONTROL. The bottom line is that we can’t control others’ actions. We can only control our reactions to their actions.
We can choose to confront or withdraw. To accept or distance ourselves from the thief. To try–often for the umpteenth time–to be blunt and honest with the thief, about the pain they’re inflicting in the hope that they will choose not to deliberately hurt us again. Or we can accept that the thief, regardless of motivation, is going to continue to hurt us and steal our joy and walk away.
In the end, we choose how much control and power over us we give the thief.
It is rarely an easy choice. Rarely simple or free from many shades of gray.
It is seldom a choice we look forward to making or one we wanted to be placed in the position of having to make. Yet if we do not, then doing nothing–willingly being the victim–does nothing to resolve the joy-stealing, only adds baggage to it.
So we assess the situation, no matter how much we wish we didn’t have to do it.
We understand the stakes, no matter how much we wish we never had to put things this dear to us at stake.
We endure the confrontation, even if it makes us sick for days or weeks afterward and our hearts yearn for peace.
We steel ourselves and accept the consequences for the course of action we’ve chosen to take, even if enacting it brings certain grief and mourning.
We control ourselves, our actions, making hard choices because we know that while avoiding them would be easier, living with avoiding them would not.
And we endure this, suffer through the upsets and losses we incur stopping the thief because when we look at life, its fragility and brevity–we are here but a moment–we know this truth:
If we are living without joy, we are already dead.
And that penalty is far too costly to pay. ❧