Low Tolerance for GOOD?

Prior to a few years ago, I equated tolerance with how much a person could drink before they appeared drunk.

Why on earth would anyone need to work on building their tolerance for good?!!! Most people want good in their lives, right? When asked what most people want for themselves and others, many say, “to be happy”. Being happy is natural and normal, everyone knows how and can tolerate good stuff and happiness, right?

Why is it often so hard to actually be happy? Like genuine joy, contentment and gratitude. The kind of happiness that you experience in your heart and soul that is long-lasting, not fleeting feelings of pleasure. Happiness is supposed to be easy and natural, isn’t it? No one would resist happiness, would they?

To my surprise, a few years ago, I became aware that I actually didn’t have much tolerance for prolonged positive experiences. I had always wondered why my excitement about things would generally be replaced by uncomfortable anxiety and “ruin” or at least dampen many experiences. Why couldn’t I just be happy and excited like other people?

I also realized how much I sabotaged positive things in my life in order to revert back to the more familiar chaos, dysfunction and crisis modes that I had much more experience living in. Also, if I sabotaged things, I didn’t have to “wait for the other shoe to drop” because I had control over when and how the fall-out happened.

Of course, it took a lot of time before I was even aware of all of this. Prior to the awareness, it was all sub and unconscious. From there, I started to notice after the discomfort and sabotage occurred. Then I moved into awareness when I was in the middle of it all. Today, I am mostly aware of the old thoughts and feelings inside and can bring my loving, healthier self into the scene to intercept the self-abandonment. It’s definitely an art, not a science, it doesn’t work out perfectly. Sometimes I hem and haw over things for a long time and realize the old stuff is holding me back.

I am experiencing a lot of amazing things in my life right now. I have made some big decisions, am involved in new adventures, feeling parts of me awakened and alive (some for the first time), I am learning about giving and receiving love in ways I never thought imaginable, I am trusting myself, God and others in ways that I have never been able before. IT’S ALL GOOD!

But why do I feel panicked and terrified about all of this goodness sometimes?

Why do I feel like I want to run away and hide sometimes?

Why do I feel guilty sometimes?

Why do I feel like I am abandoning some of my people sometimes?

Why are people criticizing and disapproving of my choices?

Why is there conflict and discomfort and changing relationships?

I thought good was supposed to be good, ALL good.

Except the thing is that nothing is ALL anything. I remember years ago someone holding out a rain stick in front of me and telling me that one end was joy and asked me what I thought the other end was. I was blank. My wise mentor told me the other end was pain. They said you can’t have the joy without the pain and if you cut off the pain, you cut off the joy. This felt revelatory at the time. I had been trying to suppress pain for so long and get to the good stuff. Who knew I had to acknowledge, feel and wade through the pain in order to get to the joy? That felt totally backward to me at the time. It has completely challenged my binary thinking. I had no context for gray area or multi-dimensions. Things were black or white, good or bad, happy or sad, etc.



The first time my therapist talked to me about “living in the gray”, I have a feeling a looked at her like she had something growing out of her forehead.

Today, I experience things differently. I usually have MANY thoughts and feelings about a particular thing, and they are often “conflicting”. I very seldom use the words “good” and “bad”. Honestly, I don’t like those words AT ALL. They feel too absolute and confining. I tend to bristle a bit upon hearing them. I don’t believe that anyone or anything is ALL good or ALL bad. Everything is nuanced.

OK, so back to the discussion about increasing tolerance for prolonged positive experiences and genuine joy.

I didn’t have much context nor experience for these types of things. Of course there were some scattered marks of true joy, like when my children were born. However, even those euphoric moments passed me by quickly due to internal conditioning and external circumstances. When I think back on it, I feel a lot of grief. Grief for all the different aged Shannon’s of the past who didn’t understand or have the capacity to live differently.

But that’s also what allows me to better recognize the magnificence of today.

It has taken several years for me to get to a place of giving myself permission to fully receiving various things. I had to embrace the fact that I deserved certain things in my life. This all took a while to wake up to. Honestly, I didn’t realize that I believed I was unworthy or too damaged in order to experience certain things. I had myself in a different category than I had many others – other people could and would experience ease, comfort, security, autonomy, respect, true love and partnership, health, mutually giving relationships, peace, true joy, purpose and fulfillment, BUT NOT ME. As I reflect on it now, it feels very shocking and unrealistic – these engrained, unquestioned beliefs that I was resigned to about all the things I could and would never have.

Feelings of unworthiness, guilt and shame are poison. I had no idea that I was housing and perpetuating lethal levels of these toxins. They have caged me and tarnished so many areas of my life. Brene Brown says that if you don’t work your shit out, it will control you and you will work it out on others. I agree 100%. The insidiousness of it all is that we don’t know about our internal shit until we know. And until then, it is running the show in some shape or form, and we have absolutely no clue. Throw in a healthy dose of denial (which we all have to some degree) and it’s a complete recipe for disaster.

It’s so interesting and a little funny to me that there were certain affirmative things that people told me all throughout my life that literally took me 3-4 decades to even see a little bit and be able to acknowledge. In one sense, no one knows us like we know ourselves and at the same time, we all have blind spots that no matter how hard we try, we truly can’t see. While others can sometimes see them with very little effort, they just pop out. But then we have this whole defensive and resistance thing that can make our natural human reaction to deny, justify and rationalize that other people have no clue what they are talking about.

I just sent a text to my closest friends from college telling them, “All around I finally feel like I’m truly living my own authentic life.”

Last summer, I spontaneously told a friend “I like my life” and then immediately did a double take, seriously wondering if that actually came out of my mouth and very surprised that I actually meant it. To my surprise, I did say it and I genuinely meant it. That was the first time that I can remember truly liking my life and feeling it deep in my core.

Right now, my life is better than it’s ever been. I am intentionally creating an authentic, autonomous life with God and my closest people. My tolerance for the good continues to grow.