How gratitude can stall healing

Oct 30, 2020

As a coach for widows, I often talk with people who are using gratitude against themselves. It sounds strange, right? Let me explain.  

Most people are never taught that it’s okay to feel difficult or negative emotions. In fact, we are often talked out of them as children. “Don’t worry.” “Don’t feel sad.” “Don’t be nervous.” Many people grow up thinking that it’s not normal or acceptable to feel negatively; that life is somehow supposed to be a bowl of cherries at all times.

So, if difficult emotions are perceived as abnormal, then we certainly don’t learn how to deal with them. (More on this unbelievably simple skill shortly.) Without the ability to process difficult emotions, we reach for a buffer to soothe the discomfort: alcohol, food, drugs, social media, Amazon and Netflix are just a few examples.

Then the unthinkable happens. The seismic event of a lifetime shakes us to the core and levels everything that was once normal, predictable and safe in our lives. Any negative emotion we’ve ever felt pales in comparison. Profound loss deals up an assortment of emotions that are perhaps best summarized as horrific.

Like never before, we reach for our buffer-of-choice to try to dull the pain, at least momentarily, and despite the consequences.  

We also try to talk ourselves out of difficult emotions. This is where gratitude comes into play. If we have many other blessings, we somehow think that we’re not allowed to feel short-changed.

We don’t want to wallow in our grief, so we shame ourselves into gratitude. “At least we had three decades together.”

We count blessings instead of feel feelings. We fake it, thinking that eventually we will “make it.”

Well intended platitudes offer up gratitude as an antidote to grief. “At least you had so many years together.”

We don’t feel entitled to our feelings of loss, so we kick ourselves with gratitude.

Gratitude becomes a weapon that we use against ourselves.

While gratitude is generally a positive emotion, when used as a weapon, it stalls healing. When we force thoughts of gratitude, we sweep the pain of loss under the rug. By forcing ourselves to count blessings, we resist the difficult emotions. And what we resist, persists.

The most efficient way through grief is straight through. That means feeling the difficult emotions that come with the territory. Processing each feeling as it comes is to allow it to be there without reaching for a buffer, name it, notice where in the body you feel it, breathe it in and observe how it changes over time. Be courageous enough to be fully present with the feeling until it loosens its grip. It’s a simple yet powerful skill.

Gratitude is a useful feeling, but not when used against ourselves. We can count millions of blessings and still feel robbed of what matters most. It’s okay to have enjoyed three decades together but still mourn for the two more you had planned.  It’s also okay to have had the most picture-perfect marriage and grieve hard for what was supposed to be.

Using gratitude against yourself will not expedite your healing. Processing your feelings will.

If you are kicking yourself with gratitude and feel stalled in your grief, my six-month private coaching offering called Life Reconstructed can help. If you’re ready to invest in a powerful solution, simply click here and we’ll see if it’s a fit.

Learn more about Life Reconstructed.

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