Gratitude purgatory

gratitude purgatory

“Don’t be such a Debbie Downer!” “You’re being a Negative Nancy.” Don’t worry, just think of all the things to be grateful for. Culturally speaking, positivity is praised and medically healthy, negativity is frowned upon and detrimental to one’s health. However, I have noticed that sometimes the lines get blurred, and one could experience gratitude purgatory.

What do I mean? First off, let me be the first to say, that being positive and optimistic is very wholesome. Who wouldn’t want to be a glass-half-full kinda gal?! (…or guy)

Yet I am going to be very candid when I share some of my personal experiences with forced positivity.

First off, there are moments where the last thing I want to do is “be grateful” and “count my blessings”. Then because I am not able to switch into that positivity mode, I experience shame, because gratitude is good for me, so why can’t I just do it? So, I try to make a list of things I am thankful for: the roof over my head, food, water, family, friends, education, hobbies, etc. I look at it and it’s true, I am glad my life has those things and would be complaining if I didn’t, but I feel fake. I feel like a fraud because I don’t FEEL any gratitude or improvement. I came to realize, I felt dismissed…. Because my life was “so good” I couldn’t: fear the future, anxious about finances, envious and compare myself to others, or cry when my performance wasn’t up to par (etc.), it always turned into “well someone else has it worse!” Followed by easy low-hanging fruit examples that made me look like a total bitch for being negative.

It was truly like a purging experience that to escape my problems I just had to recite goodness.

This repeats itself day in and day out. This secret shame of wanting to verbally process and air out my dirty laundry of negativities but also afraid people wouldn’t like me. I straight up had a former best friend in high school tell me they avoided me because I was “so negative” and they didn’t want to be around it. Not that I am mad about her decision-being around negativity is draining!  But it still made me sad, I felt extra negatively about my negativity.

Why did I struggle with negativity even though I had a gratitude list?

In my journey of healing, I have had counselors, mentors, dieticians, parents encourage me to experience gratitude. I have read mental health books that point to the healing powers of gratefulness. Yet something was missing.

I want to share a theory of my latest AHA-moment about gratitude.

Two weeks ago, I felt grateful. Naturally, organically, out of the blue. The sun felt brighter, my body felt lighter (not talking weight), the birds were chirping, and the sky was expansive. My whole body was filled with gratitude. It was like I had been in a haze of depression for months and hadn’t realized it.

It was unnerving how light I felt. My analytical side kicked in, I had to figure out why I was organically rehearsing all the things in my life I was grateful and in awe about. The biggest recent change was my physical health. I have some major gastrointestinal issues for years and have been working with a functional dietician for the past few weeks. We have been making changes in my diet. My body was starting to get proper nutrients and my gut was beginning to heal. I felt safe.

I had the realization that it could be nervous system-related:

When your body feels like it is being chased by a tiger, nothing else matters. Your body’s number #1 priority is to survive by escaping the tiger attack.

I think of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which talks about the psychology of motivation depending on the hierarchy of needs. The first one is food, water, and shelter, and the last one is self-actualization. Anything survival-related is going to take your brain’s attention first and foremost: MUST LIVE.

Nowadays our tiger attacks are way more insidious: finances, relationships, health, deadlines, preparing for a vacation, random anxiety just because hormones are fluctuating, high blood sugar, malnourishment, and over-exercising, to name a few.

I’ve ironically experienced tiger threats being that I am not positive enough and I should be grateful.

If I was truly running from a tiger and I asked my Life Coach or mentors for help, if any of them told me to simply stop and write down 3 things that I am grateful for! If I did stop and do this, I would get eaten by the tiger. BUT hey, at least I was grateful. Perhaps that is why I always struggled with being genuine with gratitude.

When I was experiencing a genuine-authentic sensation of gratitude, I wasn’t being metaphorically attacked. I was very safe and secure; my body was not concerned with anything life or death related. It was a different state of mind from survival to thrival.

How can this be experimented with? The next time you’re consumed with negativity. Instead of just pasting positive sticky notes over it and assuring yourself someone else has it way worse, check in with your body.

  1. BREATHE, slow and steady nasal breaths. I like humming my exhales or 360-degree breathing where I feel my ribcage expand like an umbrella opening. Whatever breathwork you like! The objective is to shift from stressed shallow chest breathing into deeper, slower breaths.
  2. NOTICE sensations, somatically not emotionally! What do you feel?
    For example: I typically feel as though my heart is filled with weight sand and it’s heavily pushing against my chest, and there is a weight sitting on the outside of my chest, my trachea has turned into a thick metal tube that has zero expansion from breath, and a tingly soreness in the back of my throat. Sometimes it travels elsewhere, just notice what you feel.
  3. PERMISSION: Give yourself permission to feel negative about a situation and be validated instead of shaming yourself because you’ve been so blessed. Permit yourself to compassionately support yourself as you process the physical and emotional sensations. Allow it to be present without any deadline or coercion into “all happy now”.

If my theory is right, you will create safety in your body and allow it to move into gratitude and experience its expansive benefits.

If you want to experience this firsthand, message me to schedule your free session! Negativity has been villainized when in reality, it is so human to feel negative emotions just as it is positive emotions. Being able to process negative feelings healthfully allows the positive emotions to be experienced on a deeper and REAL level.

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