It may not be what you think.
Everyone has heard of gratitude. But how many of us have taken the time to consider both its meaning and purpose in our lives?
As a therapist, I often hear clients say things like, “I mean, I’m grateful for [fill in the blank], but...” And after hearing this time and again, I began to see the ways in which our “gratitude diet” has become yet another self recrimination for our own humanness.
When we truly experience gratitude, there is no ‘but’. With that said, it is also very okay to not be in gratitude with something yet. Gratitude often results from suffering. And, when we are suffering, we need to name it, to give it voice, so we can heal and experience true gratitude.
“An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behavior.” ~Viktor Frankl
So, let’s look at some of the ways we can misuse gratitude and, thereby, deny ourselves healing.
1. When we deny our negative feelings, they do not simply disappear. So when someone says, “I’m grateful for my health, but I still hate my body”, they are really saying “I’m not grateful, I’m still suffering.” This is where I step in and remind everyone that this is okay. You are allowed to not “be there yet”. Gratitude is an ongoing process.
2. When we say “I’m grateful for this, but...” we create unnecessary guilt for a normal emotional response to our struggle. Being a child of the 80s, I remember hearing things like “you better eat that, there are starving children in other countries”. And, being the child I was, I immediately wondered why we weren’t sending some of our food to them. Regardless, this is an example of gratitude founded in guilt and it never works. It simply causes us to feel guilty.
If you’re struggling to overcome guilt, click here.
3. Lastly, the misuse of gratitude often denies other perspectives. And life, with its duality, has both good and bad, positive and negative. We cannot experience one without the other.
“Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word ‘happy’ would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness.” ~ Carl Jung
So let’s talk about honoring our processes and the path toward living a more grateful life:
1. Acknowledge your struggles and negative feelings. When we force ourselves into positive feelings without first acknowledging the negative feelings, we starve one part of ourselves to feed the other. This type of imbalance will continue to show up in our lives.
2. Validate your humanness. See your shortcomings as you see your strengths. As part of your unique expression of self.
3. Move at your own pace toward gratitude. Consider your experience of suffering and what it has taught you. Seek out the silver lining. 😉
You can lather, rinse, and repeat as necessary as you are challenged to be present and grateful throughout your life. Never hesitate to seek out professional help when you need it. There’s no shame in talking through your latest existential crisis with a knowledgeable professional. That’s why we’re here, to help you through.
Maritza Barrera, LMFT, CCH, QS
Maritza is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist, and Qualified supervisor. If you enjoy her post, please like, share, comment, or whatever form of digital gratitude you prefer.