What Happens When Gratitude Doesn’t Work? [EP069]

Cultivating gratitude is wonderful, but forced gratitude clouds our judgment and creates self-doubt and self-recrimination. Sometimes, it’s much wiser to just admit that we’re hurting, that things don’t feel right, that something just has to change. In this episode, we’ll explore when gratitude really helps us and when it holds us back. And we’ll explore how to use the power of clarity to create positive change in our lives.

Table of Contents

Episode Introduction: When Gratitude Doesn’t Work

When Gratitude Doesn’t Work

Everyone knows that having gratitude is a wonderful thing. But the pressure to feel gratitude when things feel wrong to us actually hurts and weakens us. What’s a healthy way that we can hold gratitude and non-gratitude in our lives? Stay tuned to this episode of the Deeper Dating Podcast to learn more.

Hello everybody, and welcome to the Deeper Dating Podcast. I’m Ken Page, and I’m a psychotherapist, the author of Deeper Dating, and the host of this podcast. And today, I’m going to be talking about how the pressure to feel gratitude can actually hurt us.

This week and every week, I’m going to share with you the best tools I know to help you find love and keep it flourishing. Because the skills of dating are nothing more than the skills of love.

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So today, I want to talk about the healing gift of not having to be grateful. Now I deeply believe in gratitude. I’m not saying that gratitude is not a precious thing, that what we appreciate appreciates. That the act of finding the good and finding the gift is the wisest thing that we can do.

What I’m talking about more is what Jeff Brown calls, ” new cage thinking,” which is this kind of sense of pressure that even if something feels wrong to us, we’re supposed to accept it, be grateful for it, let it be. When in fact often our insides are telling us this isn’t right.

So cultivating gratitude is wonderful, but forced gratitude clouds our judgment and usually, it mutates into self-recrimination. This feeling of having to find gratitude when things feel wrong is great. But let’s acknowledge what feels wrong, or we’re going to be hypnotizing ourselves out of our own personal power.

We need to also learn to honor feelings that are not bitter, but not exactly gratitude. A feeling of emptiness inside, a feeling of longing, or a gut-level sense that something is wrong. Those troubling feelings really hold a huge amount of the key for achieving our most precious life goals.

When It’s Dehumanizing, Don’t Force Premature Gratitude

When It’s Dehumanizing, It’s When Gratitude Doesn’t Work
Photographer: Randy Jacob | Source: Unsplash

So I think in our quest for growth, we have to mature past that kind of dehumanizing cheerfulness of positive thinking that can pressure us to be grateful for all things always. As if anytime we’re not grateful, we’re at fault. So finding deeper gratitude when we’re also acknowledging what feels wrong, that’s a good thing.

That’s a great thing. But so often we tell ourselves that if we’re not feeling grateful, then we’re not in a good space. When we chloroform our innate sense of discrimination, that leads to self-doubt, not enlightenment. So often the opposite of what we think of as gratitude isn’t ingratitude, it’s self-love.

So many times, I’ve seen people keep trying to convince themselves to be more accepting and more patient and more disciplined to be the bigger person. But their gut-level discomfort is actually dead-on accurate. I’ve seen so many loved ones, I’ve seen myself, I’ve seen my clients, stay too long in unhealthy relationships or jobs just because they thought they weren’t strong enough or grateful enough or disciplined enough to fix things.

So I had a dear friend, his name was Michael Clemente. I’ve talked about him before. He died of AIDS in the early ’90s and in one of his performances he announced that he had found a way to get blood from a stone. He was going to teach his audience his tried and true method perfected through years of relationships with unavailable people.

When You Are Defined As The “Sick One” and Being Scapegoated, That’s When Gratitude Doesn’t Work

Cultivating gratitude is wonderful, but forced gratitude clouds our judgment and creates self-doubt and self-recrimination. Sometimes, it’s much wiser to just admit that we’re hurting, that things don’t feel right, that something just has to change. In this episode, we’ll explore when gratitude really helps us and when it holds us back. And we’ll explore how to use the power of to create positive change in our lives.

I think one of the greatest “aha moments” in my training as a psychotherapist came when I learned about the concept of “The assigned sick one.” So in unhealthy family systems, often it’s the most sensitive child who takes on that role, and that child registers what’s broken in the family and can’t bear that awareness.

So she or he tries countless ways of calling for help, and a lot of them are immature, unhelpful, convulsive, and that strengthens the family’s case that the sick one is the problem.

But in many ways the sick one is the wise one, even though she or he probably feels broken, weak, constantly angry, anything but wise, it’s a healthy family that finally becomes brave enough to listen to the painful callings of this sick one. When that happens, the family can begin to heal.

Inhumane and Relentless Positivity

So I think that all of us have a healthy sick one inside and that’s the part of us that says something is wrong when the rest of our mind says, “Keep pushing. Try harder, be more grateful, don’t weaken.” And in the face of that kind of inhumane and relentless positivity, we’re left feeling broken or weak or flawed in some irreparable essential way.

So at the risk of real oversimplification and also not including cases of active addiction or untreated mental disorders, we feel good when important things feel right in our lives, and we register that rightness with feelings of peace or gratification or stability.

When things feel wrong, we feel empty or sad or hurting. To a large degree, we really can trust those simple feelings and use them to lead us out of painful situations into more fulfilling ones.

I know for me that the recognition that all the ways that I registered wrongness inside were in so many cases not weakness but a deeper truth. I came from a family that was filled with things like that.

But I also came from a family that was ultimately willing to listen to my calls of what felt broken and how I felt broken in the family and begin to shift and have all of us kind of look at and own our own stuff. But that took a lot of work and certainly years and years and years of my life feeling like the sick one, like the crazy one, like the wrong one.

When It Feels Bad in the Heart, That’s When Gratitude Doesn’t Work

When It Feels Bad in the Heart, That’s When Gratitude Doesn’t Work
Photographer: Christopher Paul High | Source: Unsplash

So I also know that in day-to-day life, it’s so easy when I feel, or when other people feel, kind of that sense of emptiness, that sense of wrongness, that sense of grinding inside, that sense of rushing too hard or not grabbing onto life, whatever the sense is. It just feels bad.

It feels bad in the body. It feels bad in the heart, and it’s so easy to pretend that that’s not going on. But I really think that one of our greatest acts of beauty is when we can say, “There’s something broken here. There’s something wrong here. There’s a hole here, and I can feel that, and then I can listen to it.”

And I think this happens in many places in our lives and definitely happens in intimate relationships. I know for me in looking at my life when I’ve been in a situation where again and again I kept telling myself that I should be stronger, that I should be a better person, that I should be a bigger person, that I should be more patient, that I shouldn’t be swayed or controlled or manipulated or frightened in ways that I have been. When I kept saying that same thing to myself, those were always signs that I was not being honest with myself.

Learning To Listen to Ourselves Helps Us Realize When Gratitude Doesn’t Work

The poet, Audre Lorde, said this wonderfully. She said,

When I lived through pain without recognizing it consciously, I robbed myself of the power that can come from using that pain, the power to fuel some movement beyond it.

So there’s the worry then that if we just kind of completely go along with and give room for our annoyance, our anger, our needs, that we can almost be kind of narcissistic, it can become all about us and everything we need and we don’t learn the greater skills of acceptance and that’s a risk.

There are risks on both sides. That’s why it’s truly, truly an art. But I think that when we really learn to listen to ourselves and the things that feel wrong, we equally realize what is our stuff. We apologize more frequently. We just have more room to own it. Because when we tell ourselves not to feel what we’re feeling when something is wrong, we do one of two things.

We push our energy and our power down and we become weakened. Or we become strident and angry and kind of immature in our responses. It’s like pushing the beach ball down, and then ultimately, it has to pop up.

So there’s a bravery in admitting that things aren’t right. In , first and foremost, admitting to ourselves, “Things don’t feel right, and I have to do something about it,” and it’s bravery too to speak about that in our relationships.

When A Deeper Issue Is Ignored And Needs to Be Honored, That’s When Gratitude Doesn’t Work

And as I said before, I know countless people that are in relationships that don’t feel right. They stay because they keep telling themselves, “Maybe I’m asking for too much. Maybe I need too much.” And when we’re in a situation where we keep telling ourselves that and it doesn’t work, that means that something deeper that is off needs to be looked at and honored because it’s real and it’s true.

And there’s power in that, and there’s healing in that. There’s also a tremendous amount of pain which is why having someone else to talk to, why having meditation, why having tools like tapping or visualization, or the Inner Mentor™ process, which I teach in episode three, why these things help so incredibly.

And as Vito Russo said, “The truth will set you free, but first, it will make you miserable.” So I want to honor the worth of that miserable state of those feelings that just hurt and don’t feel right because there’s greatness. There’s a kind of greatness on the other side of facing that and acknowledging that, in a way that’s not reactive but holds truth and gets to really reflect on, “What’s wrong here. What feels broken here? I’m not going to fool myself about that anymore.”

When There’s Bitterness, That’s When Gratitude Doesn’t Work

When There’s Bitterness, That’s When Gratitude Doesn’t Work
Photographer: Phước Lộc | Source: Unsplash

That’s something that you can do right now while listening to this podcast. You could even take a moment and pause it to think, “what am I telling myself is okay, but my intuition, my gut says, ‘This isn’t okay. This is not right.’ Where am I pretending there’s not an emptiness inside? Where am I pretending that if I just did things differently, I wouldn’t feel badly in this relationship again and again?”

So I think that the traps of bitterness and forced gratitude are equally unwise. And the art is being able to hold the reality of what doesn’t feel good and then be able to work with that in a way that is resilient and can find the places of gratitude, but then not going to be the ones we told ourselves that we were supposed to be grateful for. So as Leonard Cohen said in his song Anthem, “Forget your perfect offering. There’s a crack in everything, and that’s how the light gets in.” That is so true for us.

The places where we feel the most broken often don’t need to be fixed. What they need is to be heard.

So I know this episode was a little bit shorter, but I think I said the pieces that I wanted to say. So I want to thank you all for listening. I want to encourage you to go to deeperdatingpodcast.com and sign up for my mailing list if you like what you heard here, and I look forward to seeing you on the next episode of the Deeper Dating Podcast.