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Hope Forward: Surviving and Thriving through Emotional Pain: "I Should be Grateful...?"

Monday, November 7, 2011

"I Should be Grateful...?"

Sometimes when someone is sitting here in the office talking about what's on their mind, talking about what's bothering them, they will stop and say, "I suppose I should be grateful, it could be worse." This always reminds me somehow of having to finish all the food on our plates because people are starving elsewhere in the world.

I think the statement raises some very good questions, such as where do gratitude and a true sense of what we "yes" have fit in with emotional pain and feelings of discontent in our lives? And can we be both grateful and unhappy at the same time? Can we appreciate our blessings and still honor our longings? And why is it that we often feel the urge to temper our feelings? Do we think we should not feel them?

I find these questions come up in the context of marital counseling as well. How do we manage to be appreciative of our partners while we are furious, or frustrated or disappointed with them as well? And also when we talk about our parents. Can we feel our difficult feelings toward them and appreciate the positives too?

How do we reconcile our values with our feelings?

I think the answers are individual of course, depending on our own unique character and circumstance, though there may be some common truths. While some of us are more comfortable feeling how we feel, letting our feelings rise and fall and be what they will, others are more hesitant. We get besieged by shame, or guilt or hopelessness, or the idea that perhaps we are not suppose to feel the way we do, or that there really cannot be any good outcome, or that since there are others who have it worse, our feelings should not be what they are. Except that they are. I have not found that denying our feelings solves much of anything. We can't always get relief as quickly as we might like, but keeping ourselves in the dark does not usually offer us good results. Neither does attacking our selves for the feelings we have. Nor does misusing gratitude.

That being said, I think that we can employ gratitude to help us with emotional pain without using it to invalidate our feelings. It does help to count our blessings, from the simple to the sublime. We can breathe clean air; We can see fall foliage; we can walk; even the basics, that are not so basic to everyone, can be starting points when we are in emotional pain; gratitude can certainly help put things in proper perspective and give us context. It can help us to feel better and see things differently.

But emotional pain is still pain. We still feel what we feel, and sidestepping feelings in the name of gratitude or using gratitude to avoid what is true for us usually just stalls our progress. So here's where the talking can help. We can let all our thoughts and feelings breathe; we can tend to them, see what they mean to us and make forward movement from there. The trouble, I think, is not feeling how we feel so much as it is attacking ourselves for feeling how we feel and then acting on the attack without having given ourselves a talking chance.


Continuing Education for Counselors said...

True- and the very dynamic produced from being told that one should be grateful is not very helpful. So, I see what you mean..

Melissa Groman, LCSW said...

thanks CE for C.
Glad you stopped by

Melissa Groman, LCSW said...

thanks CE for C.
Glad you stopped by

Cathy Hanville said...

It is so hard for people to talk about their suffering without minimizing it. It is one of the benefits of therapy to create a space where people can be with their pain without feeling bad about that. It is hard enough to experience emotional pain, but to than be judging yourself for it, just exacerbates the experience. Great post.

Melissa Groman, LCSW said...

It is Cathy. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and for stopping by and taking the time to leave a comment.