Gratitude is a nice thing to have.
I imagine that really nice people can conjure up the feeling pretty regularly. And it must be really nice to be really nice.
I’m just not.
I hide behind a really nice facade, but on the inside I’m critical and my skin is a pale shade of green and I’m wearing striped knee-socks like the Wicked Witch of The West. So, as long as I’m being honest here, I have issues with the word gratitude.
If one runs in the circles I do, one is reminded nearly every day of the necessity of being grateful. Apparently it’s a requirement for spiritual evolution, which is a lovely notion, really. Gratitude, as a feeling state, can be incredibly useful, I’ll give you that.
Disclaimer: I am not suggesting that being appreciative is useless. I am not slamming the gratitude practice of anyone out there. I am, in all honesty, deeply envious of those that can easily access appreciation, even when they’re in emotional darkness. I am also extremely thankful that I have health and a warm house and amazing loves. I am truly ecstatic that my daily life isn’t about straight survival. I am genuinely grateful for so many things.
What irritates me, is when people, well meaning of course, say things like “I know things seem really hard right now but it will help if you can muster up some gratitude for everything that you do have.” In my mind, what I hear is admonishment: aka stop complaining. It gives me an instant twinge of annoyance like an electrical shock because it isn’t helpful advice.
Here’s the thing—being reminded to be grateful when you’re having an emotional breakdown is a little like being reprimanded for crying too long when you skinned your knee as a kid. The message is that it’s not okay to hurt or express frustration. It’s not okay to ask, in your own roundabout way, for help to process what’s happening for you.
The gratitude sentiment isn’t the only kind of “encouragement” that bugs me either, positivity quotes in general can get under my skin when I’m feeling defensive. I can’t scroll through a social media news feed without seeing some quote reminding me to breathe or to embrace my imperfections.
I can see the value, I’m not denying that. But most of them walk the edge between being helpful reminders and being subtle fodder for my inner police officer to use against me.
Meme: “Trust is the key ingredient to miracles”
Me: “Oh, that’s so nice…and it makes perfect sense!”
My Inner Critic: “You need to trust more, this is why you can’t have nice miracles. You suck.”
We’re in the middle of a collective awakening. Many of us are just beginning, or are in the long process, of discovering who we are in the world. In unique ways, we’re becoming aroused by spirituality and unable to resist the siren call of self-care that spirituality evokes. At the same time though, through all this paradigm shifting we find ourselves at odds with what our new learning and our old belief systems.
Some of us are incredibly familiar with the cruel voice in our heads and some of us have no idea of the deep impact it has. No one is immune.
I teach my clients how to manage their inner critic and yet my own can still have a field day with me if I’m not paying attention. In various attempts to be “helpful,” mine likes to inform me in a droning voice that I’m actually not winning at life.
In psychological terms, the inner critic is called the Superego. The Superego as defined by Sigmund Freud is “The ethical component of the personality that provides the moral standards by which the ego operates.”
The moral standards by which the ego operates. Ouch. Maybe that’s the reason my Superego goes so crazy when I see positivity memes—because they act like little alarm bells reminding me that I have to be perfect in order to be worthy, which sure sounds like a moral standard to me.
If we aren’t super present, we can do all the self exploration and positive-focus work in the world and still get tripped up by our old subconscious moral beliefs. It’s a painful wall to be up against, because we want to be that change. We want to be enlightened and ascended and spiritual and trusting and breathing and doing perfect yoga poses. We want all of that, and at the same time, our Superego doesn’t want that, because then what would it have to bitch about?
I have to remind myself all the time that I’m not responsible for taking the advice of every meme I see and holding myself up to its standard. It sounds silly. I know some of you are rolling your eyes, but others understand all too well because you’re there too.
We want to believe this stuff works because we want to feel better. But the real shift isn’t going to come from memorizing platitudes and trying to follow along.
The real shift happens when we become aware of what’s holding us back from being able to follow the advice in the first place.
Author: Natha Perkins
Editors: Sarah Kolkka; Erin Lawson