GUEST BLOG : Finding Joy by Julie McGrath, author, Joy-Worthy: A Mother’s Guide to More Joy, Less Stress and No Guilt

You see them every day in the schoolyard or local parks, at PTO meetings or volunteering at every school event. They hang out in clusters, avoid direct eye contact and talk behind their hands. You know they are talking about you…or fear they are, but you never can quite tell.  They have judgment and opinion oozing from them and when you do have to engage with them in conversation, you walk away with a scowl and a need for a ritual cleansing to get rid of the negative cloud.

They are the women who sabotage joy.

You know these women…the ones who reply ‘oh that must be nice’ when you say you can’t help at a school event because you have a pedicure (or some sort of activity that is for YOU) booked. Joyless, jealous people who want you to be as miserable as they are. The crabby, complaining, rarely smiling mothers in the schoolyard who gripe about everything.

I have discovered that these women fall into three categories: Martyrs, Not-Worthy Women and Joy Suckers.

Martyrs are women who:

  • Do everything for everybody
  • Are driven by guilt
  • Expect you to be just like them (devoting all their time to everyone else)
  • Cancel their own plans so they can attend everything they are invited to

When the Martyrs say, “it must be nice,” it’s coming from a place of resentment and frustration. Why can you take time for yourself while they are running around pleasing everyone? Who allowed you to do that?

I have watched Martyrs and studied them in the midst of gatherings, so I know how they work. They arrive early, give up their free time to help, and they lack substance because they spend very little time nourishing themselves. They are focused on how they can be the “savior” for someone else. They live in a state of denial, not spending time on what makes them happy, because they are too busy trying to please others. These Martyrs are clever women. They stay to clean up, noticing who has left the party and keep a mental note of it to throw it back in your face at a later date. They are slick, all right.

The other woman you may hear “it must be nice” or “how could you say no?” from is the Not-Worthy Woman. You can recognize the Not-Worthy Women because they:

  • Have low self-esteem
  • Feel not worthy of taking enjoyable time for themselves
  • Believe they are not deserving of good things

 When they say, “it must be nice,” it’s coming from a sad, worn-out place. For whatever reason, they were never able to gain a sense of worth and self-esteem. Unlike the feeling of pure annoyance I get when I meet Martyrs, I feel a great sense of sadness when I meet the Not-Worthy Women. I watch how they walk and interact with people, their heads down and their posture introverted. They live in the grind day after day, surrounding themselves with other women who are guilt-ridden and who have little pleasure.

Our last category are the women who just take the energy and fun out of everything. Here’s how to recognize these Joy Suckers:

  • You feel depleted and annoyed after spending time with them
  • They are negative and go out of their way to make you feel negative and miserable, too

You know these people…the Negative Nellies who walk around with a dark cloud over them. I am not talking about people who are going through a tough time. We all have our ups and downs in life, but some folks just stay down. The Joy Suckers demonstrate constant negativity.

Does this sound familiar? You are excited about something, happy and glowing. Because the Joy Sucker sees life through misery-colored glasses (as opposed to rose- colored ones), they can’t wait to tell you how and why it won’t work out for you, why you shouldn’t do this or that, and try to instill fear in you.

So stop right now and take stock of the women in your life. Those you encounter in the schoolyard, in your family or workplace. What about your friends and social circle?

Do you know any Joy Suckers? What about Martyrs and No-Worthys?

Well, no worries, if you have these women in your life, there are things you can do about it!

 1. Recognize and be aware of the company you keep. Some women I speak to in my coaching sessions have said they get guilt placed on them from so many different directions it makes their head spin (and ache!). They didn’t know what was going on until they had time to process the not-so-good feelings they were experiencing. Take note of your feelings after you spend time with certain people- don’t take on what isn’t yours.

2. Empower yourself! Remember you have the choice to spend time with these women! You can decide if you want to volunteer on that day with Mrs. Martyr, or if you’d rather do it another time. You can walk away. You have the power so use it. (Side note: I realize this might not always be possible, especially if the Joy Sucker is your boss or mother-in-law. So if you MUST be with these women, really work on the next steps to strengthen yourself.)

3. Surround yourself with people who are like the person you want to be. When we are in the company of inspiring people, we in turn become inspired. Confidence is contagious. Does your social network contain negative people who always grumble and complain or want advice about change, but never take it? If you are surrounded with friends like these, find new friends! Ones who say yes, you deserve that vacation. Yes! You are so in need of time to yourself, good for you for getting a sitter. Yes! You are deserving of the good life!

4. Stop defending yourself. When people say to you, “it must be nice,” you almost feel like you need to explain why you are doing good things for yourself. At that point we start to second-guess ourselves. “Oh, should I not be doing this?” Do not waver! Do not question whether you deserve to be joyful! Stand tall…when someone says, ‘Oh it must be nice,’ look her right in the eye and say, “YES IT IS!”

5. And finally, make the decision every day to love your life. If you decide to enjoy each moment, and do things out of love for your children or enjoyment of the activity, then you will glow! And trust me, the biggest defense against the darkness of a Joy Sucker is a joyful life well lived!

Note: This is a book excerpt from Joy-Worthy: A Mother’s Guide to More Joy, Less Stress and No Guilt , published here with permission from the author and publisher. 

A licensed social worker, Julie McGrath founded The Joy Source LLC to encourage and empower women to rediscover themselves, find their joy and passion, and then live it. Through The Joy Source, Julie leads groups and getaway weekends for women, offers individual joy coaching in person or by phone, and publishes a free, online magazine, The Joy Ride. Joy-Worthy: A Mother’s Guide to More Joy, Less Stress and No Guilt is her first book. More information can be found at