Don’t Misuse Thankfulness!

It’s October 29th.  There’s a snowstorm – an early one. It’s taken out our internet.  And for some of us, our phones. It’s disabled the power for millions.

We’re thankful it’s October, not January. We’re thankful for our homes. We’re thankful it’s the weekend – most of us don’t have to go any place in particular. We’re thankful for our safety, our wood stoves and even our fireplaces. We’re thankful for our thermal underwear, our flannel shirts and sweaters; our wool socks and leg warmers; our down comforters and sleeping bags; our families and neighbors and friends.

Shall we just stop there with the thankfulness?

We could – It feels so good to be thankful, unless . . . instead of its feeling good, we’re being thankful because we should.  Unless instead of its feeling good, we’re being thankful because we’ll feel like we’re bad, or will be told we’re bad if we aren’t thankful. Unless we’re being thankful to defend against other feelings we’re having . . . like fear.

Let’s see what feelings thankfulness might be defending us against:

The branches are snapping and coming down. Trees are splitting and falling on yards, streets, driveways, cars, and homes. Loud noises tell us of the snaps, the splits, and the falls. We don’t know which branch or tree will come down next, nor do we know where it will land.

We feel out of control – powerless, and we don’t know when the power will come back on. We don’t know why our feeling of powerlessness is so intense, so raw. We have no idea that in addition to the powerlessness we’re feeling about snow and wind, breaking trees and no electricity or heat . . . we are also feeling powerless about some thing or things that happened when we were children long, long ago and ever so powerless. What child isn’t powerless?

Maybe someone hurt us and we yelled “Stop! Stop!” . . . and they didn’t stop. Maybe we were frightened and alone and cried and cried to get help . . . and no one came. Maybe someone was trying to make us do something, and we ran to someone else for protection – someone who wouldn’t protect us.

All these examples of powerlessness – and more – could be stirred by an unexpected “winter” storm…or any storm for that matter. Powerlessness – with no idea when we’ll have power! (or how we’ll use it . . . but that for another time).

So . . . if we’re feeling thankful as a defense against fear and powerlessness . . . that’s distorted and unhealthy, a misuse of thankfulness.  If we’re feeling thankful and afraid and powerless all at the same time (and we feel and tend to all three) . . . there’s the kind of health we need in our world at this time and in our future.  And if we’re feeling pure flowing thankfulness that is not a defense and that is completely in alignment with who and where we are in the moment . . . then we can simply enjoy it. This kind of thankfulness is a delicious feeling!

This month, as we come closer and closer to Thanksgiving, explore your own feelings of thankfulness. Are you truly, wholeheartedly thankful? Or are your feelings of thankfulness rooted in a wounded part of you? Is your thankfulness a defense . . . perhaps against powerlessness – either from the here-and-now or from long, long ago?

Related Articles:
Can Happiness Be Bad for You?
Happy Holidays! Are you Happy Enough?
A Tale of Spontaneous Body-Psychotherapy Experiences that Positively Affect Life!

© Copyright 2011 by Judith Barr, MS, LMHC, therapist in Brookfield, Connecticut. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

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

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  • Danielle


    November 11th, 2011 at 8:02 PM

    Being thankful is a lot better than feeling spiteful. I think that in that respect I will choose to stay in my thankful state of mind.



    November 12th, 2011 at 7:27 AM

    It is so funny that I found this article today because I have had some friends on facebook lately who feel the need to post every day (I guess leading to the Thanksgiving holiday) something that they are thankful for that day. It does get a little tired because the first day or two was ok I guess, but now that we are 12 days in, it feels a little tired. I am getting tired of reading it and I think some of them look like they are tired of making this committment to their posts! Some of them are going to have to reach really hard to get through the month of November!

  • Ari


    November 13th, 2011 at 6:39 PM

    Carlos! I find sentiments like yours fairly common. I give my clients and students assignments to keep gratitude journals (for different reasons and different circumstances.) It is fairly often that somebody will complain of it getting tiresome. But the main goal is to train your mind to focus on the positive. Training can take a bit of work. My father used to say, “You will succeed after you continue past the point when you really want to quit.”

  • Judith Barr

    Judith Barr

    November 14th, 2011 at 3:37 PM

    Thank you, Danielle, for your response to my post. Yes, being truly thankful feels a lot better than feeling spiteful, and I would in no way suggest simply “wallowing” in spitefulness. The thing is . . . if our thankfulness is not true from-the heart thankfulness, and/or if we are feeling spiteful beneath the thankfulness, the thankfulness might seem to cover up the spitefulness, but . . . the spitefulness will, in the end, haunt us and have an effect on us, our lives, and those around us. It’s much like when someone puts on a happy face or cheerful mask when she is truly sad underneath. No amount of “thinking happy thoughts” will get rid of that sadness. If we don’t feel the sadness underneath and work through it to its roots, the sadness will come back to haunt us. That is true of any feeling we repress. My invitation would be to purposefully, consciously, safely deal with the spitefulness and work to heal it, rather than trying to replace it with thankfulness. and actually, when we do heal the spitefulness, we can feel truly thankful.

  • Judith Barr

    Judith Barr

    November 14th, 2011 at 3:38 PM

    The timing is interesting, Carlos. Here are some questions to consider as you go deeper with my article: Is their posting of things they’re thankful for an avoidance of their commitment to their posts? A defense against other feelings they’re having? Is your irritation with their “thankful posts” a clue to something within you that you need to explore? Each time we explore within ourselves. . . we help to heal ourselves and our world. And that is something to be truly thankful for!

  • Evan Winters

    Evan Winters

    November 15th, 2011 at 12:16 AM

    We were caught in a severe ice storm once that knocked our power out for eleven straight days. I can relate to being thankful in that type of situation. My gratitude was sincere, I know that much, and I developed a deeper appreciation for all those things we take from granted like hot showers, phone service and electricity.

  • Judith Barr

    Judith Barr

    November 19th, 2011 at 7:39 AM

    Thank you for your comment, Ari. I do have some concerns, though. While in some forms of therapy and for some people, there may be benefits to training the mind to focus on the positive. The deep work I do with people, however, is beneath the mind, and its goal is to help people open and unfold their feelings safely and at their own organic pace . . . and build the capacity to journey through those feelings, the ones they have been holding at bay and defending against for so long. I’ve found that when people do that, instead of training themselves, they descend deeper within themselves and the thankfulness simply opens up and pours out.

  • Judith Barr

    Judith Barr

    November 19th, 2011 at 7:41 AM

    Yes, Evan. I can feel the sincerity of your gratitude. And I understand the the realness of that thankfulness personally . . . since I just came through the October snowstorm here in the Northeast.

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