This time of the year can be particularly difficult for many. When everyone else around you seems to be having it all —- how does one experience real gratitude? There is a lot of cultural and social pressure to express gratitude. Under certain circumstances; all of us have tendencies to repeat our ways of thinking and reacting, without actually thinking. This is called a learned behavior.
Holidays are always a mixed bag of emotions for my clinical practice, because a lot of learned behavior starts to emerge, from feelings of being overwhelmed in gatherings with diverse points of view around the Thanksgiving table, to being stressed with the underlying emotional burden of social expectations. No matter how learned the behavior pattern is — you can learn a new approach!
I always talk to people about the importance of acknowledging the feelings first and then to express these feelings without judgement and fear. As,it has been clear to me, once you can accept your own feelings, you can begin to develop compassion for yourself as a person. With this self directed compassion, you can gradually start finding joy and gratitude for the present moment, without judging yourself for the past or dreading the future.
When gratitude doesn’t feel authentic, looking inward and accepting yourself as who you are —- at this very moment—- is the most important first step. There is no growth without the pain of discovering our vulnerabilities and fears. So, when it doesn’t feel like you have much to be thankful for, or when everyone around you is making lists of things they are thankful for, start with yourself.
- What does gratitude mean to you?
- What about you, makes you – you?
- Can you ask the above question without judgement of yourself?
- If not, where is the judgement coming from?
- Are you able to be kind to yourself before you can be kind to others?
- Do you practice healthy boundaries in your life?
- If not, what stops you and what can you do to change it?
If the only thing you do for yourself this holiday season, is to further develop the process of self reflection and curiosity — you are well on your way to authentic gratitude. Because who said that gratitude has to be experienced a certain way? Developing compassion for yourself is the best expression of gratitude for the unique human being – that is YOU.