Ever get some news that seems like it might be fantastic? Maybe the prospect of a new relationship, a career opportunity or a new home arises? Or you discover a way to accomplish something that you have been working on for what seems like forever? Or you catch an insight that for the first time helps you (nearly) make sense of a mystery?
This all seems like news we would be enthusiastic about! Expressions like “Wow!” And “Awesome!” Come to mind. But somehow these words don’t usually leave the mind and roll off our tongues since we are busy harnessing our “hope” before we get “carried away.” Instead of jumping at the chance to proclaim good news, instead we tell ourselves it might be “too good to be true.”
This is a dynamic, I have come to refer to as the “withhold.” It’s how we think we are protecting ourselves from future disappointment when we try to minimize our response to something “good.” It’s also been called “foreboding Joy” by Brene’ Brown and others.
When bad news arrives, we are all pretty comfortable complaining. “Darn traffic!” Or “Terrible medical diagnosis!” For some reason, we have no issue in acknowledging, and even getting passionate about how negative something is. We might tell someone right away “OMG, can you believe this happened to me?” Or, “Just when I thought the day couldn’t get worse I learned ‘fill in the blank.” There is no “withhold.” In other words, we jump on board quickly when there is a disappointment, or something we perceive as “negative” in our ethos.
But when good news arises, we are a little, and sometimes, very uncomfortable allowing a positive response (or excitement even) to mount. Consider a new employment offer. When we talk about this in our inner circles, we say “It’s not done until it’s done though, so I don’t want to jinx it.” Or “This is not public knowledge yet so please keep this confidential until you hear otherwise.”
Consider learning that a baby is on the way. Potential parents generally don’t tell many people, for fear the pregnancy may end in miscarriage. The expectant parents may even attempt to resist getting attached to the little flicker of the life light for fear it’s not real.
Why are we so willing to jump into the misery pool, but unwilling to shout our good news from the rooftops? Why do we feel comfortable sharing our misfortunes, but uncomfortable “proclaiming” good news? Why, when the proverbial stuff hits the fan, do we express ourselves without hesitation, but try to “control” our responses when a miracle shows up?
This withholding dynamic is a protective mechanism. We use it to “save face” in public and to “protect ourselves” privately. As if somehow we can shield our hearts from breaking by planning for the worst.
If this doesn’t sound familiar, and you are able to chime into life’s ups and downs with equal measure, great for you! For the rest of us, I will share, that in my experience no matter how much we try to shield ourselves mentally by not getting “excited” or “hopeful” it is a futile effort.
First, the withhold doesn’t work.
And second, and more importantly, if the good news does end in disappointment, there is always plenty of time to lament the loss. Why waste the time we have to celebrate, for however long it lasts?