When Gratitude Can Be Toxic

Gratitude is a topic that is presented as of the utmost importance in society.  And, gratitude is a wonderful thing.  Life is much happier when you are grateful for the good things in your life.  I feel so much joy when I focus on appreciating little things, like going for a drive with some good music playing in the car.

There are times though that gratitude isn’t the best solution.  It may even be impossible. 

If you have lost a loved one, for example, you will get to the point where you are grateful they’re no longer suffering & that you had them in your life for however long the time was.  To get to that point though, you first will need to go through the grief process.  That is going to take time, & involve some unpleasant emotions like feeling lost & alone, anger & intense depression.  To get to the grateful place is messy, & shouldn’t be skipped over.  Focusing only on gratitude for that person while not properly grieving means you’re ignoring pain that needs your attention in order to heal.  Ignored pain finds alternative ways to get your attention, & those ways aren’t healthy.  It can manifest as unhealthy relationships, addictions, physical & mental health problems.

This is also true when it comes to dealing with abuse in your past. 

There are people who tell victims that they need to be grateful for the trauma because it supposedly made them strong or it made them who they are today.  This can be so harmful for victims!  It’s invalidating & also can create a great deal of shame in a victim who is struggling & unable to feel any gratitude.  It is so cruel to tell someone this & make their struggle even harder than it needs to be!

This post is for people who have hurt such comments about how they need to be grateful for what they have been through.  There is nothing wrong with you for not feeling grateful.  Healing is ugly.  It involves a lot of terrible feeling emotions.  It also is a grief process, because you have to accept that some pretty terrible things were done to you, & that caused you to lose precious time in your life, maybe even your whole childhood if your abuser was your parent.  How can any human feel gratitude during such a process?!  It takes a long time & a lot of healing first before you can feel any gratitude related to your situation.

Rather than try to create a grateful heart at this time, forget that.  Not necessarily forever, but for the near future at least until you are further along in your healing journey.  Focus on your healing instead of gratitude.  Feel all the ugly emotions & process them fully.  Then, maybe you can be grateful for some aspects of your experiences.  There are a few things to be grateful for after all.

You can be grateful the trauma & abuse didn’t destroy you, that you have a lot of inner strength that enabled you to survive it, that the abusers are no longer in your life & that God has found some purpose in your pain such as writing about it to help other people.  You also can be grateful for having the courage to face your struggles, because that courage isn’t something everyone has.  Please remember that gratitude can be a good thing to help a person add joy to their life, but it isn’t a cure all.  It isn’t a healthy alternative to pain.  It isn’t like an ointment that will soothe your pain either.  You can feel gratitude while also facing painful, even traumatic things have happened to you.  Just remember not to try to rush yourself into feeling gratitude.

7 Comments

Filed under Abuse and the Healing Journey, Christian Topics and Prayers, Mental Health

7 responses to “When Gratitude Can Be Toxic

  1. Excellent advice! I can look back over the last 20 years of my life and clearly see the wisdom of this advice. Blessings, Cynthia!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on Emerging From The Dark Night and commented:
    A powerful post.. we have to go through a lot of messy emotions in healing and grieving. we cannot just skip to gratitude. To be told to be grateful before we truly are may mean that our messy process makes others uncomfortable..

    Liked by 2 people

  3. This reminds me of toxic positivity which can be harmful because it can make people try to constantly deny all of the negative emotions and feelings inside of them. Sometimes it’s still important for us to feel those feelings. I understand your message: one can feel grateful for having survived everything that they had to face in life, but that doesn’t mean that they have to feel grateful for it and they shouldn’t force themselves to feel grateful for it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Exactly! When healing from trauma, you need to feel the feelings so they can be processed. After that, it’s fine to be grateful for somethings like you said. But no one should feel they must be grateful for the trauma.

      Liked by 2 people

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