How to Balance Gratitude

With Thanksgiving behind us and the holiday season in full swing, it seems fitting to talk about gratitude. Gratitude captures both the verbal expression of thanks as well as an overall attitude of appreciation. This disposition of thanks brings obvious benefit to the recipient of gratitude, but it also enriches your life – you being the giver of gratitude. All to say that growing gratitude is an important task to focus on.

Before going any further, let’s look at the different styles of gratitude. The most straightforward style is purely genuine and spontaneous gratitude, but an equally worthy style is the purely genuine and actively worked on form of thanks. Countless other styles exist, such as the begrudgingly grateful style, the “unfelt but still expressed” gratitude, etc… Our ultimate goal is to understand and foster balanced gratitude.

While balanced gratitude is applicable to all, many people intuitively have the balanced component within their gratitude. Unfortunately, many survivors of trauma need to actively grow the balance component. This is because trauma, particularly trauma experienced in childhood, chips away at, or even blocks, healthy entitlement from taking hold. Insufficient healthy entitlement can set you up for unhealthy gratitude – unhealthy in that there is either too much or too little.

In our current cultural climate, excessive entitlement is rather easy to identify, and hopefully most of us recognize the imbalance within such a stance. Healthy entitlement is a little harder to recognize because it is less flashy, but it too is out there, and I encourage you to seek out individuals who can be role models of healthy entitlement. Before you start looking for examples of healthy entitlement, let’s look at what it entails. Healthy entitlement is an accurate recognition of your human rights, your personal needs, and your wants as well as desires. In addition, healthy entitlement includes a clear understanding of the boundaries between each of these categories.

It may help to visualize a funnel, with your human rights being the smallest point, and your personal needs, wants and desires going in ascending order – meaning that there are more personal desires than human rights, etc…. Many survivors of trauma, because of their underdeveloped or compromised healthy entitlement, do not recognize these categories, and/or do not recognize the distinctions between these categories. Some survivors do not recognize that they have human rights, while others only recognize a minute number of them as being fundamental rights and regard the majority as personal wants. A few examples may clarify this: it is a human right to have physical and psychological safety; therefore it is not simply my personal desire to be free of abuse: it is my human right to be free of abuse. It is my personal want to have a comfortable home to live in, but this is neither a human right nor even a personal need – the need would be to have shelter. Healthy entitlement sees these distinctions while excessive entitlement often does the flip, claiming too many personal desires and wants as needs and personal needs as human rights.

A solid recognition of your human rights and the boundaries between rights, needs, wants and desires becomes the bedrock for balanced gratitude because it creates the balance. Remember the funnel you visualized earlier? Well, add a second funnel and label this one gratitude, with the small tip of the funnel being a small amount of gratitude and the large mouth of the funnel being a large dose of thankfulness (keep in mind that you have the freedom to define what a small versus large amount of gratitude is). Placing these two funnels next to each other allows us to begin practicing balanced gratitude. Gratitude for your human rights being met is important, yet it is healthier to have less gratitude for this than for your personal wants being met. For example, I have gratitude that I can breathe clean air – but breathing clean air is a recognized human right and so my gratitude for this is less than my thankfulness for being able to garden, which fulfills a personal want and desire of mine, but not a need or right.

When you claim the legitimacy of your rights, having others honor your rights becomes more of an issue of obligation and less of an issue of thankfulness – and a high degree of gratitude generally does not correspond to issues of obligation (for example, your boss is not intensely grateful that you come to work on time because your are obligated to do that). Now I am not saying that you should have no gratitude for the fact that your rights are being recognized – the point I want to highlight is that, due to having traumatic experiences, survivors often struggle with excessive gratitude for things that are due to them. Asserting a healthy entitlement of your human rights will balance excessive gratitude to more sustainable and appropriate levels.

I encourage you to practice growing your gratitude, and as you practice keep the two funnels – one for your human rights, personal needs, wants and desires, and one for the degree of gratitude – in mind. Periodically check to see if your depth or length of gratitude is roughly lining up with where the object of your gratitude falls in regards to rights, needs, wants or desires. If you notice that there is a bit of misalignment, grant yourself permission to calibrate a bit and try out this adjusted level of thankfulness. If this new level of thankfulness doesn’t fit, feel free to let go of it and adjust back to your prior level. As always take what works out of this article and leave the rest behind. You are where you are on your healing journey, and for this fact alone, extend gratefulness to yourself and to those who have helped you heal. Never forget that there are trained professionals ready and willing to help you grow.

Related Articles:
Right Use of Power: Ethics as Soul Work
From Victim to Survivor to Thriver

© Copyright 2011 by Susanne M. Dillmann, PsyD, therapist in Escondido, California. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • MelG

    MelG

    December 1st, 2011 at 7:03 PM

    Don’t forget that you deserve that gratitude toward yourself. You have gone through a lot on your spiritual journey toward faith and healing. You deserve that little pat on the back every now and then.

  • Ken

    Ken

    December 1st, 2011 at 11:54 PM

    The two funnels sound like a nice method of gauging gratitude. But I’m surprised that trauma survivors have these things all wrong in their minds. Treating your rights as desires could be so wrong because it leaves you vulnerable to do much of an abuse from others..!

  • YB

    YB

    December 2nd, 2011 at 7:57 AM

    @MelG:That is an amazing thing,Mel! How often do we go about our lives without acknowledging even once as to how great a job we are doing.And this kind of an appreciation toward the self is bound to keep us excited and raring to go for more! Thank you for your comment it really taught me something :)

  • campbell

    campbell

    December 2nd, 2011 at 7:50 PM

    Few people can balance gratitude as they have so little of it in their own lives for the others who have made everything for them possible. I see so many people who act downright entitled, like they deserve something in return for nothing. That is an attitude that I deplore in other people, but that seems to be the wave of the future. How do we stop this and show more people that there is more to life than the person that they see reflected in the mirror. Think of all those who have helped you get to where they are today, and tell them thank you fer helping you get there. That kind of gratitude is something that we should all practice daily.

  • Kelli

    Kelli

    December 3rd, 2011 at 6:56 AM

    I have kind of come to see this whole thing as very generational, like there is very much a divide of how grateful some people are for what they have and how some very much feel like they deserve it, just because. I would rather die than not be grateful for the numerous blessings that have come my way in life. I have worked hard, but there are still some blessings that can’t be explained. For me that makes me grateful beyond words. But there are those too, I guess younger kids, who think that they do not have to say thank you, that it is natural for good things to come their way. I hope I have given my own children a better lesson than that; otherwise I think that there are going to be a lot of people in the world in for a rude awakening when the going gets tough.

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