balance · feelings · grateful · self discovery

The curse of the grateful

I was raised to be grateful.  That’s good right?  The short answer is of course it is.  How can teaching your children to be grateful be bad?  We can see what raising children feeling like they deserve everything they want has created.

We are living with a generation of kids graduating from college believing they should be able to walk into a corporation and be offered a title, office, car with expense account and assistant instead of a headset or a mail cart.  Instilling a sense of being grateful for what you have is a wonderful thing, in theory.  The danger is in the balance.  Any lesson can go wrong no matter how wonderful it seems.

So how can teaching someone to be grateful be a curse?  When the lesson being taught winds up unintentionally creating the belief that your feelings are less or unworthy.  If you learn that other people have bigger trials, issues and challenges worse than yours, it creates an environment where you feel like you shouldn’t complain.  You become unable to express your feelings because you always know that ‘someone else has it far worse than you do’.  It minimizes you and your feelings.

It creates an inability to talk about your problems and that you don’t have the ‘right’ to feel bad.  You learn to stuff your feelings, who are you to talk about what you are going through when there is always ‘someone else far worse than you’.

I do this, my sister does this and to widen outside of my genetic circle, I have friends that do it as well.  This curse is so deeply ingrained that you don’t even realize it is how you ‘work’ until that ‘aha moment’ or that ‘epiphany’.

My ‘aha’ moment happened a year ago, (yes just over a year ago, do the math apparently I am not the sharpest crayon in the box).

My sister was diagnosed with breast cancer.  This is not a blog about cancer, but what happened during a conversation we had one afternoon.  We were talking and she said that she was having a bad day but didn’t want to complain.  Without thought I said, seriously?  If you can’t have a bad day, feel sorry for yourself or complain when you have breast cancer when can you?  It seemed incredible that those words came out of her mouth.  I guess I was in ‘therapist’ mode instead of ‘sister genetically related with the curse of the grateful complex’ too.

We had this incredibly freeing conversation that day.  We realized that although unintentional, we grew up knowing that we were so much luckier than so many other people.  Our parents were foster parents so not only were we verbally given the grateful lesson, we had living breathing examples of how ‘lucky we were’ in our house.   Living breathing examples of how bad things could be.  Real children were passing through our lives, living in our house carrying scars on the inside and sometimes bruises on the outside.

So we stuffed our feelings.  While generally we are rather intelligent articulate human beings, we are completely inarticulate at expressing our ‘real’ feelings.  We didn’t feel as though we have the right to be sad, or down or feel bad.  No matter what happened, there is always someone else who is going through something worse.  When this is what you ‘know’ you can’t justify complaining.

Learning how to feel sorry for yourself may sound strange but incredibly important.  Taking some time to feel bad about what you are going through is not a bad thing.  It is probably a great service to your mental health.  The trick is not ‘staying there’.  The key again is balance.  To allow yourself the freedom to feel, to be sad, to feel cheated or angry is a positive thing.  It does not mean that you are ungrateful or that you don’t understand that others are suffering.  It offers validation that what you are going through is important, it deserves to be felt.    It doesn’t make you ungrateful, it actually probably makes you a better person because if you can’t allow yourself to feel, to grieve, to be sad or angry than you are doing damage.   It’s not about wallowing or staying in that space, it’s about allowing yourself to ‘go there’.

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