I’ve had a touch and go relationship with gratitude over the years. Growing up in a Christian community, we practised gratitude mostly through prayer and giving to those who needed money or connection. As I’ve shifted to becoming less religious and more spiritual, the messages I get are often about the importance of having an energetic vibration akin to joy and peace.
I love how gratitude can translate to noticing the bright moments even on those days that seem challenging. I love how gratitude can translate to generosity of spirit.
My struggle with gratitude is when it’s used as a mask or method to deny or minimize pain. I often hear from people, “My life is good – I have so many great things going on in my life – (insert: money, home, health, family etc) and I still feel horrible”.
If you’re a person who minimizes your pain, my challenge today is for you to really look at why having food, clothing, home etc means that you shouldn’t feel pain.
So often gratitude is used to minimize the pain of ourselves or others – “at least you’ve got (insert blank)”, “everything happens for a reason” or “others have it worse than I do, so I shouldn’t complain”.
When you minimize your pain, notice what happens in your body. For me, I can physically start to feel tense inside the core of my body. Scan your body and notice where you hold your tension or pain. Emotionally I can shift to numbness (chakras closing) and sometimes I will disconnect from my body all together. You may notice similar things or you may notice your emotions such as anxiety & anger intensify.
What if you acknowledged both your privilege and your pain?
“I’m really hurting right now”. “I feel incredibly sad and overwhelmed”. “What I’m going through is challenging in so many ways – it makes a lot of sense that I feel what I’m feeling”.
We often find it easier to do this when we have an obvious trauma that happens, for example the loss of family member or dear friend. We’d never say – “Sorry about the loss of your parent, but at least you have a nice house”.
This can be more challenging when it’s difficult to put your finger on exactly what is bothering you right now. Maybe it’s stress, maybe it’s overwhelm and you’re judging yourself because other people don’t seem to be overwhelmed by the same things you are. Many times it’s a subconscious pattern of disregarding our own needs or even acknowledging our own needs leaving us with a feeling of anxiety or anger. Sometimes emotional pain exhibits as physical/somatic pain in your body.
If you don’t know why you’re feeling what you’re feeling, I encourage you to try and simply it acknowledge it without rationalizing it. “I’m feeling like crap today, and I don’t know why”. Imagine giving this place a little room to breathe for 5 minutes or more.
My experience with myself and in helping others, is that allowing space for pain allows it to expand and then release. Allowing pain doesn’t have to deny the capacity for gratitude.
Sometimes there are fears that arise around feeling pain – “What if it overwhelms me? What if it takes over and I never feel joy?” With psychotherapy we can explore what your fears are about feeling your pain and take a path that allows you to experience your pain at a pace that’s respectful to you. Energy healing too can help a person ground and reconnect with one’s body and emotions.
So What About Gratitude?
Gratitude has its place in all of this, and my encouragement is to see if you can BOTH acknowledge those areas of gratitude and also those areas of pain and shift away from an either/or attitude.
I’ve found that starting my day with 3 things I’m grateful for can be a beautiful way to shift my energy to be more connected with the present. Or even the intention of doing one thing that I enjoy today and being specific about it – play a game on my phone, go for a walk, eat something delicious, read a chapter of good book. Genuine gratitude feels really good. It has also helped me look beyond myself and give to others – whether that be a family member or friend or a charity.
I’ve found that seeing a therapist has been a great way for me to acknowledge my pain. I grew up learning to be at adept at disregarding my own needs and it took me a good while to really acknowledge and be present with my own pain. As I practice intentionally allowing my pain & struggles, I’ve found more peace and connection with myself & others. When I allow my pain, it often passes a lot more quickly than I had anticipated.
What are your rituals to feel your gratitude, and how do you give yourself space to feel your pain?