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Hope Forward: Surviving and Thriving through Emotional Pain: November 2010

Monday, November 22, 2010

Gratitude and Emotional Pain

I know, I am going with the theme of the week again. But I do think that gratitude is a good tool for coping when you are struggling. And it is Thanksgiving, so it seems timely. I know that finding and focusing on gratitude can seem counter-intuitive sometimes, especially when you are hurting, but when you are looking for relief, gratitude can work wonders.

Studies have shown that being willing and able to identify and name things that you are grateful for builds resiliency. Being grateful does not mean dismissing bad feelings, neglecting them or avoiding them. In fact the opposite. In telling our stories of trauma, betrayal, anger, frustration, and in seeking to understand what has shaped us and how, when we include points for what we "yes" have, we can reinforce the idea that there is hope, there is meaning and there can be healing. We can move out of helplessness and into progress.
Gratitude also plays a major part in finding relief and healing hurt relationships.
Consider this: Someone you love hurts you. They seem neglectful or disrespectful, or distant. Or maybe they have betrayed you in some way. You are angry and hurt, fearful, maybe, and confused. The bad feelings are painful. Being angry with someone we love or who has helped us is especially painful. We are often tempted to retaliate, or threaten or withdraw. Anger and fear can propel us to act in all kinds of destructive ways.

But when we can mix in some honest recollection of the ways we have been helped by the person we are angry with, the things they have done that we have appreciated or needed or benefited from, we can soften the bad feelings just enough to get some relief and deal with things in a more productive way.

Spouses who frustrate us may also have helped us co-parent well, or encouraged us in our career. Parents who behave irrationally may have helped support us in some way. Bosses who are difficult may have gone to bat for our raise. Friends who have been neglectful may have once listened well to us when we were a mess. And we ourselves, when we make mistakes, also have our good points. We are well served to remember them and appreciate them while we are taking a look at the things that we do that no longer serve us well.

Of course, I am not excusing bad behavior, but I think everyone fares better when we seek to understand it, and when we can support our efforts by telling the whole story, not just the painful parts. And of course, I know its not so easy to call up things to be grateful for when you are on brain rev from anger or fear or frustration or self attack. But still....

I maintain my great respect for anger and frustration, for talking and talking and talking some more. About what shapes us, what we believe, what we would like and what might be in the way of getting it. And I think that as we tell our stories, we are missing out if we don't also include the things that we have and are and do that work well.

Gratitude is the antidote to self pity. And since self pity (which you can certainly indulge in if you like) usually runs us in circles inside, a bit of gratitude can pull us out. I know I might be stretching it, but if your legs work, or your eyes, or you have a bed to sleep in, you have something to go on.

Yes, sometimes it is about perspective. But I think its also about allowing ourselves to have all our feelings, the good and bad ones, and fostering the hope that we can have them and get relief from them. And create resilient selves and resilient relationships.

I do also want to add a personal note of thanks to my readers. To those of you who stop by, or comment, or email me, or who have recognized Hope Forward on your own sites, to my followers, and to everyone who has encouraged me to keep writing. Thank you!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Kindness and Healing Emotional Pain

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about kindness. And about how it heals.

And how it should be on the list of ways to survive and thrive when life is frustrating.

Sometimes, when we are hurting, we end up giving away to others what we ourselves need. Like patient listening, reassurance, acknowledgement, praise, gentle suggestion, hope, love, kindness, in the hope of then getting back what we ourselves need.

Or we do the opposite. We ball up and don't give anything to anybody. Either way, we may be left feeling alone, frustrated or depleted. And dipping our toe in the quick sand of self pity.

Kindness can be tricky.

Giving in order to get within the parameters of our healthy relationships is fine. Most good relationships are reciprocal. Taking care of one another, giving and getting at different times, in different ways.

And closing up can be a way protecting ourselves against rejection or further hurt. Sometimes that's a kindness to ourselves. Practicing kindness when we feel like closing down can seem impossible, or irritating, even.

But I think that kindness, small or large - for the sake of kindness itself, (not necessarily to the person who is part of our frustration - though some say that helps too) has so many benefits.

And there are so many easy ways to be kind. Inevitably, we end up getting back. Maybe not from the recipient of our kindness, but still.

Kindness shapes us. And reshapes us. It can help when we are angry, or lonely, or frustrated, or too wrapped up in our point and our pain. It helps us step out of ourselves just enough to do other things that will help us feel, be and live better.

Practicing kindness brings relief. It can bring feelings of accomplishment, of productiveness, of worthiness, value and competency. When we are feeling low, we can use all the good feelings we can get. To help carry us along. To get us out, even momentarily, from our own world of pain or angst.

I have great respect for anger, and anxiety and frustration, for fear, doubt and insecurity. I know there are many ways to get relief. And I am thinking that doing a kindness should be on the list.

Kindness to ourselves, yes. But I am talking about kindness in general. Even if it only offers a brief reprieve from OCD or panic, or addiction or rage. I think its worth it.

So here are some ideas, mostly on the small and reasonable list, but that count:

Say thank you to someone....for even the small things like taking out the garbage or holding open a door, or giving you your change at the store.

Notice and Express appreciation for something specific, or ordinary, for example, someone's kind words to you, or their delivering the mail, or for being on time or being honest or being friendly or working hard.

Notice and Give a compliment: on someone's outfit, or attitude or work or style. No need to be flowery or expansive, just genuine. Sometimes brief is best.

Give Charity. Give a dollar. Give a quarter. Give what you can. Drop something in the bucket of the folks outside the grocery store. Buy special stamps like the Breast Cancer Awareness ones that cost a drop more, but are an easy way to support the cause. Or donate online, or pick your favorite charity and send something their way.

Buy a flower for someone.

Cook a small meal for a stressed out friend. Or take some fruit to someone who looks sad.

Tell someone their kid is cute.

Tell a teacher you appreciate their efforts with your kid.

Call to wish someone a speedy recovery if you've heard they are sick.

Check out kindness websites, like Do One Nice Thing or Partners in Kindness or Help

Have your anger. Have your point. Have your pain. Talk, rage, cry, write, walk. Talk more. And while you are waiting for insights, relief, progress, change, consider the benefits of small acts of kindness. You'll see. Doing a kindness will be like a small crack of sunshine on a grey day while you are walking on the road to better.

A Quick Thanks...

To the folks at OnlineSchools.Org for including Hope Forward in its promotion of healing blogs and online social work learning opportunities!