“I feel like I don’t deserve to be happy.”
So often, I get clients who feel the same.
Could be a survivor feeling guilty for enduring a tragedy that killed others. Or a lover who cheated on an ex.
Whether you know your reason for feeling so or not, the outcome is similar — you fear being happy. And this is wrecking your life.
So without wasting time, let’s discuss why you feel the way you feel, what to do about it, and more!
Let’s dive right into it.
Does Everyone Deserve to Be Happy?
Everyone deserves to be happy. “But some are too bad to deserve happiness!” You might say. Yet we’re not the ones to judge who deserves to be happy and who doesn’t. Otherwise, many, including you and me might be excluded.
Let me explain further.
The bad things people do stem from many issues other than choice. Mainly, they come from a combination of ignorance (lack of knowledge of how to do any better), being hurt, and circumstances.
So even if they’re narcissists or anything called “bad,” they deserve to be happy. Hurt people hurt people and no matter how painful dealing with a “bad” person feels, they too need love to realize how to be happy. But if you can’t forgive or help them, it’s best to distance yourself from them.
Why Do We Think We Don’t Deserve Happiness?
“So if everyone deserves to be happy, why do I feel I don’t deserve to be happy?”
It could be because of some of these reasons:
Past mistakes haunt you
Maybe you’ve hurt someone before and you’ve been carrying guilt and regret ever since.
So whenever you experience happy emotions, you ask yourself, “Why am I feeling happy having done X?” You punish yourself by believing you don’t deserve to be happy, thinking being unhappy is a way of justifying yourself.
You got or are getting bullied into thinking you don’t deserve anything good
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Whether it’s all in the past or still ongoing, bullying from others can make you feel you don’t deserve to be happy. The bully could be a family member — a narcissistic partner for instance.
If someone consistently tells you you’re a bad person, you’re useless or blames you for causing bad things in life, you’ll likely start feeling you don’t deserve to be happy.
You generally think you’re a bad person
When you focus on your negative thoughts and deeds while comparing them to other people’s goodness, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking, “I don’t deserve to be happy.”
The negative self-image is developed out of an illusion that other people are morally upright than you are at all times.
You have a negative body image
You may think you don’t deserve happiness because of how you look. You see people in relationships as loved because they’re attractive.
Even worse, someone might have told you no one can love you because you’re ugly. If you internalized that belief, you’ll probably feel undeserving of happiness.
Someone close to you died
It’s natural to feel sad for losing a loved one. But you may have taken it too far by believing staying depressed means you loved them.
This lie might be reinforced by the people around you and even stories of someone who was never the same after a person they loved dearly died.
You’re experiencing survivor’s guilt
Perhaps you were in the same situation with others but they died and you lived. So you feel guilty for surviving and therefore, think you don’t deserve to be happy.
For example, many veterans live their lives feeling guilty surviving war while their friends died.
You have a highly critical self-image
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This is especially likely if you’re raised by critical caregivers who often found fault in almost everything you do.
So you grow basing your happiness on how perfectly you do things. But of course, you’ll sometimes fail. And this constantly makes you feel you don’t deserve to be happy.
You experienced trauma
Whether based on physical or emotional abuse, trauma can leave you blaming yourself, holding a distorted view of yourself, and a perpetually negative view of the world.
For instance, many people sexual abuse victims think they caused it plus are dirty because of it. This leads them to think they are undeserving of happiness.
Perhaps you’re a parent and for some reason, one of your children is unhappy, disabled, or sick. So you might feel it’s unfair to be happy.
Even when a happy mood tries comes, you remind yourself you can’t afford to be happy which settles you into depression.
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What Is It Called When You Don’t Want to Be Happy?
The fear of being happy in the guise of not wanting to be happy is called cherophobia. Many who constantly feel they don’t deserve to be happy, therefore, escape happy moods and any activities that would bring them.
Those who fear being happy may think:
- Being happy makes me a bad person
- Showing others I’m happy will lead to hurt
- Striving to be happy is not worth the effort
How to Change When You Feel You Don’t Deserve to Be Happy
It’s time to change the belief “I don’t deserve to be happy” to “Everyone deserves to be happy, I included.” And the following are strategies you can use to gradually believe you deserve to be happy.
1. Define what happiness means to you
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Psychologists and other behavioral experts generally describe happiness as the experience of contentment, fulfillment, and joy. But to each individual, it’s a personal thing characterized by specific parts of life.
One big mistake many people make is that they strive to achieve happiness on the standards of others and fail because ultimately, they can never feel happy if their definition of happiness is different.
So we start here, what does happiness mean to you? Is it:
- A sense of purpose
- Physical and mental health
- Romantic relationships
Generally, you’ll feel “I don’t deserve to be happy” because of mistakes, trauma, and other issues we described earlier in the area that most brings happiness to you.
So sit and ask yourself patiently, what really makes me happy?
2. Discover what makes you feel undeserving of happiness
We talked earlier about the possible reasons why you think “I don’t deserve to be happy.”
I’ll formulate them into questions to make it easy to discover yours:
- Do you still regret your past mistakes?
- Did someone manipulate you to think you don’t deserve to be happy?
- Do you constantly think you’re a bad person?
- Do you think you’re un-worthy of happiness because you’re unattractive?
- Do you think you must be sad because someone close to you died?
- Are you guilty that you survived a tragedy and someone else didn’t?
- Do you often criticize yourself?
- Have you ever experienced trauma?
- Do you feel you have to be sad for your child?
If you understand your definition of happiness and the reason you think, “I don’t deserve to be happy,” it’ll be easier to become happy with the following strategies.
3. Understand and accept your decisions
All human beings make mistakes.
While some forgive themselves, others harbor regrets. They say “I wish I knew,” carrying weights for years.
The reality is, you couldn’t have known better. You know better now that’s why you realize how you didn’t do things best some time ago. You have to understand that you did your best with the information you had at the time.
Read this again until you truly understand. And then you’d be able to accept your past decisions and move on to perform the next strategy.
4. Make amends
Happy people separate their deeds from their character. So to make amends, you must understand that doing something bad doesn’t mean you’re a bad person because there is no such thing as a bad or good person — just good and bad deeds and people becoming better.
That said, here are ways you can make amends:
- Apologizing sincerely
- Listening to the other side of the story
- Asking how you can make things right
- Doing a constructive activity such as repaying debts
Furthermore, even when you try to make amends and people don’t forgive, that’s okay. You’ve done your part, give them time and space to heal. They might never forgive you and that’s okay. You still deserve to be happy. Just move on to live your life for the good.
5. Get some closure
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To let go of guilt and shame, you sometimes have to get some closure. Perhaps you never truly grieved for something you lost, now is the time to do it.
You can arrange to meet your ex-colleague, friend — whoever you hurt or hurt you. Then communicate your emotions and let them tell you their perspective as well. Whatever apologies to be made, take responsibility for the situation.
If a person hurt you and isn’t willing to say sorry, forgive them anyway.
Closure can also be about something you do to close a chapter of the past. So write a letter (even if you won’t send it) or do anything that symbolizes your letting go of the emotional baggage.
6. Realize it couldn’t be your fault
Sometimes we blame ourselves for things we couldn’t control.
Perhaps you survived and others didn’t. Or you blame yourself for your parents’ divorce. Whatever faults you took as your own, you know them.
But look at the situation objectively. Go back into the unpleasant situations in your childhood/past and experience them all over again. It’s uncomfortable but that’s the only way to heal. After all, that’s what you pay for in therapy.
As a younger, less knowledgeable version of yourself, you could have viewed things negatively and carried them your whole life. But often when you go back wiser, you find out that you’ve been wrong all along. And with that understanding, a great relief comes to you — “It wasn’t my fault.”
7. Choose to learn from (not worry about) mistakes
We all make mistakes. But these mistakes aren’t meant to make us unhappy all our life. They are to be reflected on that one may learn from them.
In this case, everything that makes you feel “I don’t deserve to be happy” has to be reflected upon. You might need days, months, or even years to do this depending on the depth of the issue.
Schedule a specific time and space for dealing with your mental health. During those sessions, go back to the bad experiences keeping you unhappy with the attitude of understanding the lessons they have.
8. Get out of manipulating situations
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If you have someone in your life manipulating you to think you don’t deserve to be happy, it’s tough to learn that you do.
This is especially common in relationships with narcissists.
You might have tried to be happy but keep failing due to the toxic environment you’re in. If that’s the case, the best thing is to get out of such a situation.
You might find subtle ways of getting out like occasional timeouts and escapes but if they’re not enough, get out completely.
9. Rebuild your self-esteem
A combination of many experiences of degradation may have hugely impacted your self-worth to the extent that recounting one traumatic scenario can’t heal you.
10. Tackle trauma
Trauma is one of the most complex components of our psychology that may dictate our course of life to a great extent.
But commonly, people hide their traumatic experiences out of shame and guilt without knowing that this fundamentally affects their life. However, dealing with trauma is crucial, the sooner the better.
You can process trauma on your own with the strategies we’ve talked about but even better, involving a behavioral expert could be more effective. This gets me to the next point.
11. Work with a professional
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If you’re feeling you don’t deserve to be happy, it might be best to talk to a coach or therapist, whether online or offline.
This is especially crucial if you think you’re going nowhere with your reflections.
You can search for a life coach that specializes in the specific situation troubling you or one who deals with your intersecting life aspects in general.
From “I Don’t Deserve to Be Happy” to Deserving Happiness
Changing “I don’t deserve to be happy” is a matter of knowing why you feel the way you feel, understanding why everyone deserves to be happy, and following the principal strategies for unlocking happiness.
Back to you: why do you think you don’t deserve to be happy? How are you going to change it? Comment below and don’t forget to share this article to change lives!