When Focusing on Gratitude Can Be A Problem

A few years ago, I was unable to spend Thanksgiving with my family. I initially felt bummed, but I immediately shifted to, “I’m a psychologist. I can cope with this effectively!†mode. I wrote a self-care prescription including exercise, connecting with dear friends, and being in nature. I treated myself to a massage and ate healthy foods. I thought, “Instead of focusing on what I’m missing, I will focus on what I have!†Yep, an attitude of gratitude. Good, right? Yes and No. Through out this process, I pushed down a yucky, gnawing feeling. Like that leak you have in your basement that you’d rather ignore. I followed my self-care prescription but found it hard to feel peaceful. My attitude of gratitude was not helping. At all.

There are many wonderful benefits to practicing gratitude. Our brains are wired to look out for danger. It makes sense that our ancestors would focus on opposing tribes throwing rocks vs. saying “hey, sniff this heavenly honey suckle.†It can be helpful to teach our brains to see good things. EXCEPT, when it moves us away from feeling our feelings.


My self-care prescription lacked “feel your feelings, even the painful ones about missing your family.†When we feel our feelings, they will usually settle in about 90 seconds. Unless, we stuff them (e.g., “I’m only going to focus on the positiveâ€) or fuel them with unhealthy thoughts (“I’m going to feel horrible forever.â€) I recognized, “If I want to heal it, I need to feel it.â€


I used the RAIN (Recognize, Allow, Investigate, and Nourish) technique for feeling feelings. My Thanksgiving RAIN looked like this:

R– “My heart feels heavy. I miss my family. I’m feeling alone today.â€

A– “I’m going to let these thoughts, feelings and sensations just be.â€

I– “What is this sadness and loneliness needing? It needs comfort, compassion, and kindnessâ€

N– “It’s hard to be apart from loved ones on a holiday. . .I’m feeling a wave of sadness wash over me. I recognize this wave will likely come and go over the holiday. I am just going to be kind to myself as these feelings arise.â€

For anyone who is experiencing pain during the holidays, know you’re not alone. It’s OK to feel grateful for the gifts in your life AND honor the painful emotions which arise. To learn more about RAIN, I encourage you to visit Tara Brach’s site http://www.tarabrach.com/wp-content/uploads/pdf/RAIN-of-Self-Compassion2.pdf.

Take good care,