Pathological Pleasantness

Jubilant woman, smiling and holding her arms up in a winning gesture.

Are you delightful during all hours of every day? Just a stream of kindness, love, compassion, and cheerfulness? Do you have seven gratitude journals next to your bed? Are you compulsively helpful to everyone? Is happiness your default emotion?

Ok, Adam, you just described Mary Poppins. What’s the problem here?

Well, first of all, she’s not real. Secondly, not experiencing a full range of emotions and being “great” all the time is some delusional, dissociated, self-abandonment type stuff (i.e. a trauma response).

Were feelings not allowed in your childhood home? Maybe you were rewarded for being happy all the time? Were you punished for having feelings or expressing them?

Don’t feel that way. Stop crying. You don’t really mean that.

Were you gaslit, invalidated, and denied your reality?

In childhood trauma, of which there are innumerable forms, “We learn to fear our feelings instead of feel our feelings because to feel them would be far more dangerous,” as Dr. Gabor Maté put it.

Feelings are the body’s biofeedback system that tells us about the quality of our self-care and any unmet needs we may have. It’s our check-engine light.

When we’re disconnected from our feelings, we can’t accurately discern what our needs are or get those needs satisfied in healthy ways.

However, needs must be satisfied (that’s why they’re called needs).

And in the absence of our awareness, we’ll grab whatever maladaptive coping strategy we can get our hands on in an attempt to meet our needs. Addiction, codependency, perfectionism, busyness, control, promiscuity, variously self-destructive behaviors, and yes — compulsive pleasantness.

The biggest problem with being a flowery, jubilant beam of fucking sunshine all the time is that you can easily convince yourself that you’re amazing and build up a sense of pride around your charmingly splendid trauma response.

It can work itself deeply into your identity (as trauma tends to do) and become astonishingly difficult to resolve.

The second biggest problem is that repressing negative emotions over time leads to actual medical diagnoses — cancer, ALS, MS, rheumatoid arthritis, various autoimmune diseases, etc. See Dr. Maté’s book When The Body Says No for facts and figures.

There is nothing wrong with being joyful, obviously.

But rejecting your other feelings could literally be killing you.

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Published by Adam

Mentor, coach, speaker and educator for over 12 years. I have recovered from and triumphed over many obstacles and afflictions. It brings me tremendous joy to help others overcome similar circumstances so they can live their best lives.

6 thoughts on “Pathological Pleasantness

  1. No longer me thank goodness. Just wish I had understood this earlier in my life or my RA might not exist today. You’re the best! I shared this article with my friends.

    1. Oh yeah, that’s often why a lot of people exude pleasantness – because they want (expect) the same treatment in return. And when others don’t reciprocate, they get resentful and indignant. “After all I’ve done for you???” When someone feels “ripped off,” you can be sure it’s codependency 😉.

  2. Yup. My mom too. She was always “fine” and expected everyone around her to be fine too. Took an enormous toll on me – and my 6 siblings. They are still trapped in their miserable life of denial, pretending that we’re a great family (and all anxious/depressed messes addicted to food and/or alcohol). I was able to escape via a fairly significant breakdown. It sucked at the time, but I’m so grateful for it now. I too wish I’d figured this stuff out when I was younger. My hypertension is a direct result of the stress of pretending all those years. I hope I can get it under control as I heal.

    1. Mmm hmmm. Gabor Maté wrote a whole ass book about this called When The Body Says No. The physiological stresses of emotional suppression are not sustainable (and it’s not all that cute either). Good on you for making it out!

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