Gratitude, Entitlement and Guilt
Today I am going to write about gratitude. Why? Well, I believe that gratitude is at the core of mindful living and yoga.
It might seem redundant to write about gratitude, but I find that gratitude isn't always a straight-forward, easy thing. In fact, I dare claim that for a lot of people gratitude is a challenge for a variety of reasons.
Gratitude in Dark Times
For one, gratitude might feel like a far away thing for some right now. In these trying times, it is easy to get caught up in the miseries of the world - we're surrounded by it on social media, society and even in fiction and entertainment. Outside of that, many people face challenges every day - illness, financial struggle, injustice, inequality, trauma, etc. Sometimes it can feel like everything is working against you, and that's a very natural reaction; we always tend to feel and connect the negativity more than we ever do with positivity. With other words: gratitude is the hardest when you're in the darkest place. That being said, that's when we need it more than ever.
(Entitlement) The Good, the Bad...
Gratitude while things are going well might be easy - you're thankful for that raise, that promotion, your partner, family, house, new phone, etc, that you really wanted. Even then, autopilot-living and entitlement threaten us.
Entitlement is a very loaded word, which might be associated to certain behaviours, but let's not forget that the word itself has two meanings: one is to actually have a right to something, and the other implies the idea that one feels one deserves privileges or special treatment... and most of us might have some form of the latter entitlement in our thoughts, just as we might have biases. That's something we have to work through to grow ourselves to be better.
The first meaning of the word, however - to have a right - is a good way to use the word "entitled/entitlement". It's good to feel entitled in this sense, because all living things are deserving of rights in this life - society is a construct built on the idea of responsibility and rights, both which work together: give and take. If we're not being given while we're having things taken, we are right to feel entitled to equal treatment and respect. It can push us to work for, or fight for, what we're worth. Know your worth, baby, and give others their due right back!
So, it's when our entitlement to rights comes at the cost of others' rights or us expecting things 'for free' that it becomes harmful. In the context of gratitude, however, I focus on the idea of expecting things for free, rather than the entitlement which robs others of their rights - that deserves its own post, because the struggle of minority groups is real - trust me, I have intimate knowledge of it myself.
Back to the point - we can grow entitled to something and expect it to be the reality of our life, especially when we begin comparing ourselves to others. This pandemic has really forced us to relate to this in a new way - that job that felt annoying, those nights out at a club, or heck, even health, are all things we previously autopilot-entitled and took for granted. Faced with this global trauma we have been forced to reevaluate - we have been humbled, but goodness do I wish we could've done this growth in a way which didn't threaten so many people's safety.
Anyway. Short and sweet: when you feel you should have something that you do not, it is easy to begin feeling frustrated, hurt or even angry. If we focus on the "lack of" instead of what we already have, we'll struggle severely with feeling grateful because even those things we own will come with a "but" ("I am grateful that I am safe, but I really want a vacation right now").
(Guilt) ...and the Ugly
The ugly thing strangely intertwined with gratitude is when we manage to break out of our autopilot, or whatever entitlements we might harbour, and start feeling gratitude - suddenly we might find ourselves unable to fully live that gratitude due to guilt.
Guilt is an ugly little creature. It is explained in many different ways, but one of my favourite views on guilt is from Jung's view on it. Disclaimer: while I did work with Jungian psychology for my BA, I am not a therapist or psychologist, so this is my interpretation of the texts I researched. But basically, guilt operates as a function for us to correct our behaviour when our behaviour goes against our moral compass. Basically, when we feel that we have compromised our own standard of behaviour, and we are the reason for this "perpetration", we feel guilt so that we can correct our behaviour to live more truthfully to our values. Sounds like a positive thing, right? Sure, it can be - our brain is a beautiful thing as is our consciousness, and it protects itself. However, from personal experience as a childhood trauma + relationship trauma survivor, the idea of guilt can become a bit more complex. If you are perpetually told what your standards are by an abuser (be they a narcissist or any other type), you eventually believe their standards over your own, especially because following their guidelines might contribute to your perceived survival, so being the beautiful and capable survivor that you are, their standards become yours - but yours may still be there and clash with the other imposed ones. That's how you can get caught in a loop of feeling guilty if you do and if you don't. You've perhaps been told by someone, society or an authority (doesn't always have to be an abuser either, of course) that you should do or think something, but you don't. Now, if you do follow the outside guidance, you might feel guilt because you didn't follow your own. If you follow your own, you might feel guilt because you are not doing what you "should". If all these processes are still in your unconscious or subconscious mind, well, then you just feel the guilt and you might not really consciously know why (which might make you feel guiltier, or worse). If you're stuck in that loop, just remember to be compassionate with yourself, and to try to break down exactly what is making you feel guilty, and if you're answer includes "I should be..." or "They will be disappointed/X/Y/Z" or "I can't because I'd let them down" or similar - perhaps try to conclude who "they" are, or who states you "should" do something. Because, dear one, you should only ever be yourself and walk your own path of growth to learn the things you need in this life, and to do the goodness that is unique to you.
My Personal Relationship with Gratitude
For some, gratitude might come naturally, and for others it might not. I have a mixed relationship with gratitude - often it comes natural to me, but that's due to the circumstances of my life, and because I've practiced it so consciously for so long that it became unconscious for me.
Because I had a significant part of my life that was hard due to trauma and feeling unsafe, gratitude comes easy to me. Every breath, every safety and every meal is significant to me. But I also have days where it's harder to feel gratitude, and I think it's a human thing.
Gratitude takes conscious acknowledgement - it is a practice, it doesn't always arise naturally due to our mind being so focused on survival mode or growth/evolving/the next step. It is continuous practice, and only after constant re-application might it come a little more naturally to some. I wish onto no one the hardships that might forge a rock-solid relationship with gratitude - we don't always have to work through the storm to come out stronger - practice is more than enough on its own. The daffodil can grow on a field or under the concrete - both are valid and ends up just as beautiful.
How to Wake Up to Gratitude
So, I've suggested that the following things probably are the most common reasons one could struggle with genuine gratitude:
Negative events or a dark outlook
The bad kinda entitlement / autopilot-living
If you're struggling with gratitude in your life at some point, my loving suggestion is to introspect. Is the reason any of the above? If so, I can offer some gentle suggestions from my experience, and opinions. Of course, as always, do right by you - if it resonates with you then wonderful, if not then my view isn't yours, and that's as it should be. Maybe it can help your own introspection if you felt stuck, if nothing else.
My first advice is to be open to receive. Become your own loving supporter - you don't have to 'kill your inner critic' for this. I firmly believe that repressed thoughts and emotions eventually become our inner demons. Befriend your inner critic and observe why you get harsh thoughts. If you feel guilt about something, observe the situation and try to figure out the why. Then, remember that you are not your thoughts. It's okay to feel discomfort and to feel guilt or to struggle, but try to work to detach yourself from it and observe it with curiosity to find the lessons hidden within, and be open to the fact that you are worthy to have and receive good things.
Practice Maitri, or Metta, which is loving-kindness. Not just to others, but to yourself too. Would you judge a loved one, dear to your heart, for feeling what you feel or acting as you act? If the answer is no, then why should you treat yourself differently? Treat not only others as you want to be treated, but treat yourself like you'd treat loved ones. You are enough. You are worthy. You are deserving. Celebrate your accomplishments, be it a huge promotion, an educational success, the fact that you were patient with that one person, or even that you got out of bed this morning or showered. All accomplishments matter - all of them.
Also realize that nothing is permanent, neither good nor bad. That might feel scary in the good times, but as a relief in the bad ones. In the good times, make sure to be present for it and feel that gratitude. Realize that - religion and similar views aside - no one really owes you anything. What I mean by that is this: you are given the gift of life in this vast universe. How unbelievable is it that we're both here, right now, communing over captured lightning, transmitting symbols to each other? Religion or belief in predetermined fate aside - your life could have mirrored any other life on this planet, for better or worse. Find your fortunes within your circumstance - don't compare with others too much. You got your life, and that's unique. But no one is born promised a life without hardship - it can hit anyone.
If you believe in religion and/or predetermined fate, well, then you also likely believe in the lessons behind the negative events too - appreciate those lessons. This experience is yours alone - how amazing is that?
Every breath is a gift, every moment is a gift, every emotion - love, joy, pain, sorrow - is a gift. It might not always feel like it, but you're alive and you're experiencing. This moment. Now. Live it.
Like I said, it's not always easy to be grateful. But keep practicing - find your strategies and your obstacles, and your core things to be grateful for even in the grimmest of times. If you can find none, be grateful for this moment, because you can try to work towards a new circumstance. If you feel that you cannot do it - ask for help. Reach out. Find your support. Heck, even reach out to me if you're here and don't know where to start.
Try to keep your eyes on every blessing you can find, and marvel upon it and realize your worth. Even if we have nothing, we have ourselves. You are a treasure worth feeling grateful for. Allow yourself to celebrate life, even in the face of the darkest hour. That way, no matter what happens, you can feel that you lived every moment fully and truly - and there's a beauty and freedom to that.
Thank you, dear one, for reading all this. I feel gratitude for being able to send my thoughts out into the aether, to find whoever might be intrigued enough to read them. I see you, and you lift my spirits for being here.
Ps. Feel free to watch my video below where I rant on the subject, and subscribe if you're interested in free meditations, advice, yoga practices and educational content... all made with love, from me to you!