There is much talk about the power of gratitude. Focusing upon gratitude has been shown to improve depression and anxiety. Making gratitude a daily habit can change negative thought processes. I know first hand how gratitude can change your life.
By training ourselves to always focus upon the positive and the gratitudes, there is also a chance we are creating defense mechanisms to ignore the natural pain and sadness of a moment.
An encounter with a past client reminded me of how this can happen. At 16, his father died after a year long battle with cancer during his junior year of high school. A competitive athlete, he found comfort in returning to the football field. Five months after his father’s death, he tore his ACL and was out for the football seasons. He shared he never allowed himself to think about how bad it was. He focused upon the fact his knee would heal, he would return to sports and that his life wasn’t as bad as it could be. He had his mother and family. He wasn’t worried about having food to eat or where he would sleep.
As a counselor, I often encourage clients to find the positive in a circumstance. Being grateful changes the view of horrible situations. At the same time, there is power in recognizing the difficulty of a moment. The reality for my client is he had lost his father and then lost the ability to participate in a sport he had lived his whole life playing.
Even after a second surgery on his knee (and never being able to play high school football), my client shared he never allowed himself to have a pity party. He made it his purpose to always be grateful and happy.
Sometimes life and situations are difficult and painful.
If we do not take the time to acknowledge the truth about a situation, we begin a cycle of avoidance. An abundance of positive coping techniques can make one feel inadequate if there is any negativity. As a result, necessary and healthy emotions can be ignored only to return at a later time. Ten years from his father’s death, my client shared he was finding it harder and harder to be grateful and that life was becoming harder despite his continued techniques of being grateful.
By continuing to focus only on the positive and being grateful, my client never allowed himself to be open to grieving. He didn’t feel comfortable with normal grief reactions of sadness or anger. He felt he couldn’t allow himself to feel anger or sad. I shared with him that it was horrible his Dad died when he was 16 and that he wasn’t able to finish his high school athletic career. I asked him why he felt he didn’t have a right to be angry?
As I said those words, he nodded his head and looked out the window. Being grateful and angry at the same time didn’t feel right. When one is making significant room for one emotion, there doesn’t seem to be space for an opposing emotion.
Acknowledging the difficulty of a situation is not ignoring gratitude.
During my mother’s visitation, as I stood next to her casket, a friend stood there talking and suddenly stated, “Sheryl, this just sucks.” I had been spending the past months of caregiving grateful for the support of friends and good medical care for my Mom but at that moment my friend was holding a mirror up to my world and validating it for me. I was now without either parent. She was right, it sucked. I needed to have someone validate it for me because I was not able to do so.
Gratitude is a powerful practice that I encourage everyone to develop. At the same time, it is equally important to acknowledge what else is going on. I’ve often shared with clients that they are allowed to have a pity party but the party can’t last forever.
It can be a struggle to find a balance between gratitude and other emotions of a situation. Many grief clients would come to me stating how much more fortunate they were than others. I never disagreed with them but at the same time, I shared with them that it was ok to hurt and feel this wide variety of emotions.
- Gratitude will tell you at least you have a current job when you don’t get the new job you interviewed for. The truth is that it hurts to be rejected (even if it’s a job you didn’t want).
- Gratitude will tell you that losing your current job will open up new opportunities. The truth is, losing a job is scary and forces one into the unknown.
- Gratitude will tell you that you have great insurance and are able to seek out physicians and other professionals for your health concerns. The truth is being sick impacts how you live every moment of every day and it is exhausting.
- Gratitude will tell you that you have a good adoption agency and will be chosen. The reality is there are days when the lack of a phone call makes the hole in your heart bigger.
- Gratitude will tell you that you will have the ability to pay off the house and financially live well after your spouse dies. The truth is, although being financially comfortable is a blessing, you have lost the one that you love.
Today I encourage you to practice gratitude but allow yourself time to feel some of the other emotions that are equally important. There can be and is value in each emotion that we feel. It is what we do with those emotions that counts.
Have you allowed yourself to not be grateful?