Gratitude and trauma (DW#642)

Survivors of abuse and trauma have a complicated relationship with gratitude. When a person is trying to work through formerly repressed feelings about abuse or trauma in the past, gratitude can become a stumbling block.

One reason for this is that on the surface, survivors of abuse often do not have a problem with gratitude. They may comply and do gratitude practices but it may not be the path to healing that they are looking for and need.

Survivors of abuse and trauma often have a problem with feeling their feelings. Abuse can really mess up a person’s trust in themselves. They do not have confidence that their feelings are warranted, accepted or okay. On top of that, gratitude may have been used by abusers to further confuse the victim and destabilize their sense of reality.

Once the abuse is behind them and they are on a healing journey, they are often recommended to initiate a practice of gratitude by well meaning friends or counsellors. Sometimes, these suggestions can reinforce the idea that what they are actually feeling isn’t acceptable or understandable.

In other words, while gratitude may be very valuable in long term emotional wellbeing, it cannot be pushed on someone prematurely as it may interrupt the healing process. For people who have spent a long time denying and minimizing what they are went through in the past or are currently going through and the feelings resulting from trauma or abuse, gratitude can become a distraction from doing the real work of accepting the past and processing the feelings associated with their history.

In situations such as these, what opens the path to true gratitude may actually be the permission notto feel grateful in the moment. The more helpful advice may be to get real about what a survivor feels ungrateful for. To allow them the space to recognize that not every circumstance deserves gratitude. That in situations when a harm comes into their life, for example, of being defrauded, exploited, physically assaulted or emotionally abused, it is okay to feel anger, rage or whatever feelings are being experienced. At least in the short term.

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