In this world we are forever pushed towards a mindset of wanting. Wanting more, wanting better, wanting easier. The part of us that is the survivor is likely also to want things. Maybe we want to forget, or want for the abuse never to have happened. Perhaps we want a normal childhood, or a loving parent. We want lots of things, but we will never get them. Focusing on our wants inevitably focuses our mind on the negatives in our lives, and as a result the abuse may continue to be present even after the abusers are long gone.
What if we stop thinking about what we want so much, and begin to give attention to what we already have? All of a sudden we are looking at the other side of the coin, at what we have gained in our lives. It gives a unique spin on a set of circumstances we cannot possibly change.
I started making a list of all the things that my parents’ abuse and my escape from it had brought into my life. If it was not for that I would not have the deep emotional connection I have with my partner, in fact I may not even have met him! Or what about the strong loving friendships with the rest of the SwanWaters* team. I would not do the work I am doing, I would probably not have moved about so much and seen so much of the world. I would not have the appreciation for learning and the drive for self-improvement that gives me so much joy.
“Studies show that we can deliberately cultivate gratitude, and can increase our well-being and happiness by doing so. In addition, gratefulness — and especially expression of it to others — is associated with increased energy, optimism, and empathy” (from Psychology Today).
Gratitude removes our focus from whatever is making us feel panicked, stuck or fearful. Suddenly we are not staring ourselves blind on our problems or pain. We are broadening our minds, and with that comes the ability to find new creative solutions. This is how we start moving forward on our life’s journey
That in itself seems like a pretty compelling reason to be honest, but I have found that for us survivors there may be another wonderful effect of gratitude.
“Gratitude may chase away thoughts far worse than a desire for a big-screen TV. Traumatic memories fade into the background for people who regularly feel grateful,” says Lauren Aaronson on Psychology Today.
Once I started focusing my mind on the things I was grateful in my life, I realized my past was slowly releasing its grip on me. I think the basis of gratitude is accepting the circumstances of life as they are. And as I have said before, acceptance and forgiveness go hand in hand. In adjusting the focus of my mind, I have been able to let go of the anger and resentment I felt toward my abusers and their flying monkeys.
It is that specific effect that I think has had the greatest impact on my healing journey. No longer do I waste precious time thinking about how wrongly I was treated, instead I have time to learn more about myself and how I can be a better person. Instead of feeling bitter, I feel I have been given an opportunity to spread some love in the world. Especially because I know how a loveless world feels.
Gratitude is not something that necessarily comes naturally, but like any attitude we can make it a habit with just a little practice. Here are some easy way to increase train that gratitude muscle.
Consider for yourself how often you say thanks. Does your barista get a thank you? The fish mongers at the supermarket? How about the gentlemen that held the door for you at work? How about your partner after they cleaned the bathroom? Or your kids when they did what they were asked? I don’t mean grunts, I mean proper thank you’s with intonation, articulation, eye contact and preferably a smile. It is a Thank You with presence of mind.
Every day, take some time to consider what you are grateful for. A smile, something new you learned, a kind word, a friend’s generosity or a beautiful sunset you enjoyed. It does not have to be long, or even explained. Write down some keywords, it is all about making the list. Nothing fancy,
It is a really simple little trick actually. When you hear a negative thought, try and replace it with a positive one. When you walk into your favorite coffee bar, and you think: Oh no, there are like 10 mothers with noisy toddlers in here today. Make the effort to replace that negative thought with: Nice one, my favorite table is available.
When you notice that you appreciate something or someone, share that sentiment. Say: Oh, look at the way the sunlight hits the wall. Isn’t that beautiful? Or when your waiter shows exceptional service, tell them: you really made our night with your lovely service, thanks.
There are so many resources out there. From articles, to apps, to free 10 day challenges and YouTube videos. So venture out and find the resources that work for you.
Here are the ones I used:
And if you want to be inspired to get on your gratitude attitude, have a look at this:
*Swanwaters brings together people looking for support with emotionally abusive relationships.
Originally published at swanwaters.com on September 21, 2015.
Originally published at medium.com