The ‘Misery-holic’ and Health

November 14th, 2016




“Listen, someone is screaming in agony. Fortunately I speak it fluently.”


Spike Milligan

What is a misery-holic?


(c) Church of Misery

(c) Church of Misery



We probably all know a misery-holic or two – or at least have come in contact with one on our travels through life. Perhaps we are even one ourselves. Despite our best efforts to be positive, we keep falling down into a hole of negativity and anguish.



Notice that is not a reference to clinical depression. Misery-holics usually function perfectly well in day to day life. It is more a case of never being able to truly relax and enjoy the moment without reminding themselves and everyone else that, even in life’s best moments, danger, suffering and sadness are ever hovering on the perimeter.



Not exactly the life of the party then. But what is a misery-holic and why are some people more susceptible to this psychological trap than others? I first heard the term misery-holic from a friend who was remarking on the behaviour patterns of an acquaintance. She described how this person always managed to find the cloud in the silver lining of anything that happened in their life.



Any positive occurrence was treated with guarded caution that would inevitably find a way to be positioned negatively. This person seemed to almost revel in their misery – that in some perverse way, it gave meaning and focus to their life.



As we shall see, she wasn’t far from the truth.

Conscious vs. unconscious creations

To understand the misery-holic we first need to revisit one of the cornerstone principles of Conscious Health: The creative nature of consciousness. This includes both that which we are conscious of as well as the creative ways our unconscious mind tries to sneak up behind us and grab our attention.







Like the endless waves of the sea breaking on the shore, our unconscious mind is constantly trying to break into our conscious awareness. It can be quite creative and devious in how it goes about achieving this. In fact, before we become aware of what it is trying to do, we usually experience the creations of our unconscious mind as suffering, discomfort or inconvenience – those ”Why does this always happen to me?” moments.



It is not trying to hurt us however. On the contrary, the unconscious mind only uses suffering when more subtle cues to pay attention to its internal memos are ignored. Where a tap on the shoulder fails, maybe a baseball bat is in order. It makes the ultimatum of a mafia villain in a gangster movie: ”We can can do this the easy way or the hard way…”.







With that in, err, mind, let us look at why our own mind may be making us miserable – in a well meaning attempt to enlighten us. Hey, what are friends for, right?




The mechanism of misery



“Necessity is the mother of invention.” as the saying goes. The first thing we need to understand is that the misery-holic needs to be miserable. Of course they would deny that and (their conscious mind at least) would be telling the truth.



For the misery-holic however, being miserable is the lesser of two evils. It is a choice between misery or meaningless and non-existence – a much more terrifying prospect. That is:



The misery-holic finds meaning in suffering and therefore defines their very existence through it.







While they do not love to suffer, (even though one may sometimes get that impression) to remove suffering from their life fills them with the nameless terror of non-existence – sometimes also referred to as ‘ego death’.




The devil we know



While the Conscious mind of the misery-holic longs for happiness, love and joy, their unconscious mind cannot accept it as valid. It entails a loss of their identity. It is not ‘real’ so they reject it. However much the misery-holic longs for it, happiness for them cannot come at the cost of losing their identity as sufferers.



The ego sees any change to the status quo as a threat and sabotages it. Its logic is: “Don’t risk it. Its better to be safe in the familiarity of misery that risk death for something I don’t really trust as even being real or attainable. False hopes will only be crushed and it may be more than I could bear. Better to suffer at the level I am familiar with. At least I already know how to do that.”






This twisted logic is summed up in the saying “The devil we know is better than the devil we don’t.” Scandinavian culture has a similar, evolution-killing saying: “One knows what one has (now) but not what one may get (if one risks changing their situation or attitude).”



Change, as always, is determined not by what we want or long for but by what we already possess within ourselves and are prepared to let go.1 That is why merely wanting to be happy is not enough to create change in our life. We have to first be aware that we are actively holding on to misery – that we are defining our very Self through it.



We have to be prepared to accept a feeling that threatens us we will ‘die’ if or when we make the decision to leave misery behind in our life. After all, it has defined us for so long, who are we without it?




Attention deficit disorder…



Of course, another function of always having a new, dramatic problem to talk about is the attention it gives. The mechanisms of the ego are constantly seeking for external confirmation to justify the necessity of its existence.
It is like the old joke: “I used to think the brain was the most important organ in the body. Then I thought, ‘Where did that idea come from?…”



This need for attention is not mere vanity – although it may include that. Attention for the misery-holic is confirmation that they exist. It reinforces their unconscious connection between suffering and existential meaning.



spike-milligan  i-told-you-i-was-ill



The misery-holic also wants confirmation and reinforcement of this world view from others around them. Well meaning friends that try and convince them otherwise are dismissed as lacking the depth of their insight or lacking compassion and understanding. They may be quick to use emotional blackmail to bend others to their will. In their mind they cannot afford to ‘lose’ an argument. For their unconscious mind at least, it is life and death. And of course, like comedian Spike Milligan who famously wanted “I told you I was ill!” as his epitaph, they will be right. Well, sort of.



In any case, feeling misunderstood or unkindly treated just reinforces their convictions. They are truly the type of person who will not take ’yes’ for an answer…



Self help



So perhaps the first question to ask and visualization to make is this: “Who would I be and what would my life look like if I wasn’t miserable/anxious/righteously angry/dramatically sad most of the time? What would my everyday existence feel like without it being defined by suffering?”



After doing this exercise for a while, make a note of the ego’s resistance. Observe how it criticizes this way of being as trivial, shallow, superficial, meaningless or naive and self-deluding – because misery is the meaningful ‘truth’ of a person with insight and wisdom, right?



Feel that uneasiness and mistrust – that we will only be fooled and later feel even more foolish and humiliated when our joy and hopes are dashed even further as a result. Better not risk it eh? Yes, that would be the balanced, sensible option…



The first step of any change however is admitting that it is us that has the problem or issue.




Let it bleed



The second step is to read/listen on next week when we look at masochism within our personality and how it too is a well meaning but dysfunctional contributor to our mental and physical health – or lack thereof…






Till another Monday isn’t Monday until it really hurts,




For a more detailed discussion on dealing with change and how it affects our health click here 



© Jeremy Halpin all rights reserved. All images are the author’s own unless otherwise indicated or if the original source is unknown at the time of writing. You can subscribe to this blog by clicking the button in the bottom right hand corner of the page – or share it on the social media of your choice. If you have any wishes or questions regarding subjects to be discussed on this blog use the contact information below. Jeremy is also available for seminars, lectures and personal consultation:

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