The Role of Gratitude in Healing
Finding gratitude or hope after difficult life circumstances can be tough - but it is a powerful force that will help you in your healing journey.
When we've gone through something traumatic, or even a period of grief due to recent losses, it can be hard to see through the fog. We may be experiencing symptoms of depression, anger, anxiety, or vacillating through the stages of grief. All of these experiences are quite normal when we've gone through something heavy. Whether you have gone through a break up, or have a complex trauma history, for this season of grief it might be hard to see any silver linings or an end to the fog.
When we go through difficult things, it is likely that it may trigger our fight/flight/freeze responses. This may show up in ways of anger (fight), anxiety (flight), or depression (freeze). These various trigger responses can have many varying emotions, but these are a few that are common and may seem familiar. As mammals, this is very normal for our mammal brain. You see, our brains are not designed for us to be happy or to keep a solid credit score, our brains may not care whether or not we can get out of bed and go to work. In fact, our brains are actually just designed to keep us safe. Sometimes, it is this awareness alone that can help destigmatize the feelings that we are having towards our experiences and responses.
Our job is not to gaslight ourselves into being grateful we survived, but to learn how to regulate our nervous system post-trauma. You may have seen many TedTalks and books written on the power of positive thinking, and while in some instances this is true, it is very nuanced for those who have survived trauma and experiences that linger in our body and brain.
Gratitude is a wonderful feeling when we're able to have it naturally and freely. Gratitude comes from noticing, feeling, seeing, and/or experiencing things that are good in our life, ourselves, and others. When we are seeing life through the lens of trauma and grief, it may change how we see ourselves and the world around us.
“I don’t have to chase extraordinary moments to find happiness – it’s right in front of me if I’m paying attention and practicing gratitude.” – Brene Brown
Communicating to your nervous system that you are safe begins with noticing anxiety as your body telling you that you're in danger. If you are simply sending a work email, or trying to go to sleep, you know this may not be likely. We can begin by talking to our bodies and affirming that we are safe, and even having a mantra: in this present moment, I am safe.
Our focus is not on changing how we feel, but rather accepting what we feel. If we are constantly in a fight/flight/freeze state, then we cannot focus on the good and have gratitude. It is not through large extraordinary moments that we learn to regulate our nervous system, but in the small daily rituals that begin to shift us into a state of calm. I have a dear colleague who once said "I treat my body like another distinct part of myself, and when it speaks, I listen." It is in those moments where we pause to notice what our body is telling us, hearing it, and communicating back that we in fact are safe that we can finally shift into calm and find gratitude.
You are not alone
Gratitude is a powerful tool to capitalize on as you notice it come up through your healing journey. As you notice your nervous system shift into states of calm and safety it's important to notice them and notice how different it feels. It can be beneficial to reach out to a trained professional to help you walk through trauma and grief, and to know that you are never alone.