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Hope Forward: Surviving and Thriving through Emotional Pain: Gratitude and Emotional Pain

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!


Lily said...

I needed this. I have been stuck in focusing on the bad and neglecting the good. Oh, how it is a vicious cycle.

Melissa Groman, LCSW said...

Hi Lily,

Yes, it can be a cycle. Thanks for your thoughts!


Ettel said...

Hi Mellisa, great site! I appreciate your expertise in counseling. Nice write ups for readers seeking relief from emotional problems! Keep it up

I love this line :)
"Gratitude is the antidote to self pity"

good thoughts, everyone! :)

Melissa Groman, LCSW said...

Thanks Ettel,
Glad you stopped by!