One night Alison had some friends over for dinner. As usual, she pulled out all the stops.

She set a beautiful table, with antique linen, candlesticks and, of course, wine. Everyone raved about her cuisine. She was a superb hostess, she was a success, she was happy. After the company left, she drank all the wine left in the bottles. She blacked out.

In counseling, I asked,”What was going on in your mind after everyone left?”

Alison: “I was happy. It wasn’t enough.”

Therapist: “What does that mean, ‘not enough?’ Does it mean ‘not enough happiness?'”

Alison: “No. It wasn’t that. It just wasn’t enough of something.”

Therapist: “Well, if it isn’t a shortage of happiness, maybe you were experiencing a lack of its polar opposite, suffering.”

Alison: “Yes, suffering. There wasn’t enough suffering. I was too happy. I’m not used to so much happiness.”

Therapist: “You are happier than your parents, aren’t you.? Your life deviates from their script. You start feeling guilty, unworthy, for being happy without ‘earning’ it. When your happy, you feel exposed as a fraud, vulnerable and alone.”

Alison: “That sounds right.”

Therapist: “There is a conflict between your happiness in the present and your unworthiness to enjoy the happiness. That’s a cognitive dissonance. It is painful. The pain has to be relieved. The balance must be restored.”

Alison: “What balance?”

Therapist: “When you suffer your happiness feels earned. There is too much happiness and not enough suffering in your life. You are experiencing a ‘suffering deficiency.’ It’s like an iron deficiency. You have to find a way to restore the minimum daily requirement.”

Alison: “That’s what I did. I did myself in and sabotaged my happiness.”

Therapist: “You were not making this choice consciously. You did something you didn’t want to do because you were operating out of echoes from your childhood. You felt unworthy of happiness and you behaved accordingly.”

Alison: “That sounds so absurd, a ‘Suffering Deficiency.'”

Therapist: “It is absurd. Seeing the absurdity will help you to stop taking it so seriously the next time this voice kicks in. You are not worthless or unlovable. You are a worthwhile human being in spite of your human faults and imperfections. You don’t have to feel guilty when you are happier than your unhappy parents. You don’t have to bring yourself down in order to restore the old balance. Can you believe that? You deserve the pleasure and happiness of life without the pain and suffering”

Alison: “It’s hard to believe after all these years.”

Therapist: “What has to happen before you can believe it?”

Alison: “I have to stop drinking?”

Therapist: ” The answer is that you must stop playing roles from childhood and replace them with a mature identity as a worthwhile human being. In other words, before you can believe anything good about yourself, you must find out who you are. You have to know who it is that is experiencing the happiness and success. A role cannot experience happiness in the present, it can only act out a scenario related to someone elses standards.”

Alison: “How can I find out who I am?”

Therapist: “How do you feel after you push your comfort zone and make extra efforts? When you want something and make sacrifices to get it? Do you feel like a shadow on the wall or do you feel proud for having done something hard on your own?”

Alison: “So I have to make it happen. I am in control of my choices, no one else.”

Therapist: “Do you feel guilty?”

Alison: “No. I earned it. I thought my happiness was not equally important and had to be balanced out by suffering. It isn’t that way at all. I can relax and enjoy my happiness just like everyone else.”