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Gratitude is something we hear talked about as being something that is very important to living a better life. Setting aside some time every day to stop for a minute and pause to count our blessings. It is one thing I often recommend to my clients as a way to engage in some self-care. However, for many people, especially those suffering from depression/anxiety, it can become fairly difficult to access and shame gets in the way. When this happens, I often hear a lot of shame getting in the way. “I know I should be grateful, but …” Shame can be one of the most toxic emotions a person feels and has a high correlation with depression and other mental despair. When we get lectured to just be grateful, it’s important to not do so in a shaming way or take it in as an assault on your character. When a person is traumatized, being told to be grateful can feel almost impossible to do, and then shame hijacks us. Anger, fear, anxiety, or sadness often are much louder voices in our head than gratitude is.

Here’s a way out of that.

Allowing yourself to feel and acknowledge those “negative emotions” in a place where you feel you can safely express those emotions can let them dissipate them. A therapy office with a skilled healer should be one such place. The trick is to not become addicted to the emotions. In our natural state, emotions should come and go without downing in them. Denying them their messages often means we will just have to face them again, probably in an inopportune moment.

I see time and again clients who desperately want to be free of their depression/trauma/anxiety and try to force themselves to be more grateful. The problem is, gratitude cannot be forced. Gratitude can come when we express our pain with a person who listens without judgment and then look for some lesson we can get from that pain that has not left us. This can be the beginning of taking our own power back.

We all have some degree of how much pain and suffering we can take before we are overwhelmed. One way to think of it is we all have a different size cup to hold our pains. When it gets full, some people shut down, want to sleep, drink or use a substance, or lash out. Your cup may be larger or smaller than others, but we all have a maximum we can endure.

When your cup is full, having a strategy to empty it becomes critical. Therapy, acupuncture, taking a walk in nature, listening to music loudly in the car, getting a massage, are but a few. Denial of it may be prudent when you’re at work or in public to avoid more shame, but make sure to go back to it if the negative thoughts are lingering afterwards. Gratitude will come as you practice it. Eventually you will create stronger neural pathways once the obstacles are felt, acknowledged, and released. Then you can become stronger for it.