When Gratitude is Unhelpful


I know this probably isn’t very popular to say but I believe gratitude can be unhelpful. It can also be wonderful, and yes, I know about the research from Positive Psychology about the power of gratitude.

Gratitude definitely has its place.

Yet, I find that gratitude is often used as an avoidance technique.

As a way of not contacting difficult emotions, of not fully feeling the injustice of a situation, of trying to force ourselves to accept something that actually isn’t acceptable – or isn’t digested yet.

Almost like a pretty coat of paint used to hide something we find ugly.

And if we want to live from a place of integrity, where we have our own backs and are honest with ourselves, I believe we must first:

Allow ourselves to feel whatever we are feeling. And I really mean whatever is showing up for us. 

Because it is showing up for a reason. Our emotions don’t exist to torture us but to provide valuable information.

So can we be really honest with ourselves and become really curious about:

In this moment, what am I feeling?

What thoughts are showing up?

What sensations?

What does this tell me about my needs or desires?

Does it give me information about something that isn’t working for me? About what I care about in this situation?

Being able to stay with whatever is showing up instead of trying to smother it with a layer of unheartfelt gratitude is much healthier to our psychological well-being. 

Because as humans, we are meant to experience the full spectrum of human emotions.

And we can’t force gratitude. Because as soon as we tell ourselves or other people that we ‘should’ feel grateful, it becomes an obligation, a rigid rule – not a choice.

This can sound like:

Everything happens for a reason

At least you still have xxx

You should be grateful for everything you DO have

Don’t complain, just be grateful that xxx

Please don’t say these things – either to yourself or to another person. Rarely, if ever are such statements helpful for someone going through a dark time.

Because here’s the thing. It’s OK to feel whatever you are feeling – and chances are, if you are going through a dark time, it doesn’t start with gratitude.

It looks more like:

It really sucks that my marriage didn’t work – it isn’t fair that other people seem to make theirs work. Oh…and there is a lot of sadness behind that anger…and grief…and…

It is only when you can honestly work through the difficulty of a situation, that you can allow yourself to feel the anger, the rage, the injustice, sadness or whatever else you are feeling – that maybe, just maybe, later, when it feels in alignment and not like a pretty layer of paint we are trying to use over hurt and pain that is demanding to be felt – can gratitude step in and have a space.

Don’t force it. Don’t insult gratitude by using it as pretty paint. Give it it’s rightful place by allowing it to surface in its own time.

And instead, bring in self-compassion to help you be with what is asking to be met.

Be easy, take your time. You are coming home to yourself. – Nayyirah Waheed

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