Attitude of Gratitude Helps When Dealing with Job Loss, Sexual Abuse or Other Life Challenges

Friday, October 2, 2009 6:48

By Ellen H. Brown

Many years ago, when I was healing from child sexual abuse, my therapist proposed what seemed like an outrageous idea at the time.

After I’d described how difficult it had been, dealing with flashbacks and body memories of the abuse, over the past couple weeks, she validated my feelings, as always. Then, easing forward on the couch, she told me, in the softest of voices, that she had an assignment for me. Over the course of the next two weeks, she wanted me to write down five things for which I was grateful, each day.

At first, I was angry. Who did she think she was, suggesting that I be grateful when I was dealing with all these atrocities? What in the world did I have to be grateful for, anyhow?

Though she understood I was struggling, it was important for me to consider the good in my life, in the here and now, rather than focusing all my attention on the past, she said. At the time, I thought her idea was cruel and unusual not to mention the biggest bunch of bunk ever. While I was too polite to say so, I’m sure my facial expressions spoke volumes.

Nonetheless, I started my assignment the very next day, albeit begrudgingly. At first, I struggled to come up with my “five things.” Sure, I had a supportive husband and our house was okay or maybe even pretty good. But what else? We had a sweet dog. Enough money. And as the saying goes, at least I had my health. Big Deal, I thought. Who cares! Needless to say, I didn’t connect with the spirit of the exercise on that very first day.

But what happened over time surprised me. After the first couple days, the exercise became easier, and while it wasn’t exactly enjoyable I noticed that I was allowing myself to FEEL the gratitude instead of disconnecting from the process. When I did, something shifted inside. I felt more hopeful and connected to people and less bitter. I was softening, yielding, coming home to myself.

Why am I telling you all this? Because traveling through life with an attitude of gratitude can make you feel more happy and peaceful. It may even help you have more faith in yourself, and in God (or whatever you call your higher Power).

It’s certainly had that effect on me. Looking back on that day with my therapist, I am so grateful that she had the courage to push me beyond the bounds of my comfort, because that one little exercise transformed my life.

Today, I not only recommend this gratitude exercise to clients who are dealing with job loss or the death of a loved one or caring for a relative with a chronic condition, or overcoming rape or sexual abuse, I do it myself. Religiously. Because when I “forget,” I don’t feel as happy or grounded or connected with people.

If you’d like to experiment with bringing more gratitude into your life, here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Make a list of the 5 best things that happened to you today and everyday.
  • Write down the names of 3 people in your life for whom you are grateful and list the reasons why for each person.
  • If you are dealing with a difficult situation right now, consider what you’re learning from the situation. For example, if you lost your job, ask yourself what am I learning from this experience?
  • Be on the lookout for reasons to be grateful, whether it’s a beautiful sunset, the person who lets you into traffic or your loved ones who support you by making the morning coffee or walking the dog.
  • Send a thank you note to someone who’s made a difference in your life, describing why you appreciate him or her.

Notice how you feel after trying these strategies, and please let me know what you think. I’d love to hear about your experience.

How has gratitude helped you in your life?

What do you think holds you back from feeling more appreciative?

Please join in the conversation by scrolling down and leaving a message, here, on Stepping Stones.

Are you facing a difficult life transition such as job loss or dealing with the death of a loved one? Are you struggling to keep your head above water as a primary caregiver of an older adult? Or would you like to thrive as a survivor of rape or sexual abuse, rather than merely surviving?

If so, I’d love to support you on your challenging life journey. As a certified professional coach, I help clients navigate difficult transitions with hope and grace, encouraging them to see the treasures buried deep within their “tragedies.” Visit my website at http://tinyurl.com/npmube to sign up for an introductory session or a coaching package that’s right for you. Since coaching sessions are conducted by phone, I can work with clients anywhere in the world.

Ellen H. Brown is a certified professional coach based in Cleveland, Ohio.

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9 Responses to “Attitude of Gratitude Helps When Dealing with Job Loss, Sexual Abuse or Other Life Challenges”

  1. Stash Serafin says:

    October 5th, 2009 at 9:24 am

    Ellen, your post is so inspiring as gratitude and attitude are such keepers in my life. The idea of writing a list with five things to appreciate, be grateful for can be hard at first, but I am here to tell you it does work. I honor you as a person who has gone through experiences of trama, you somehow felt your way through, honored whatever came up and somehow dealt with it in such a gentle manner sensitive and probably had a dialogue that was so gentle and had plenty of dignity in the dialogues. I always get nervous when mention being gentle as don’t want anyone to ignore or push feelings away rather palpate, be gentle, and honor whatever comes up to be felt. For me; it is how the feelings come up and how gentle I can be and how much dignity I can maintain when I feel whatever I am feeling. Stepping stones to me are sensitive, soft dots of Braille since I am totally blind, and Braille feels like a neat learning curve for focusing me through life as a sensitive journey. We can walk our talk by being tender, more sensitive, not denying anything, merely allowing and flow rather than friction can happen. You proved this to me, and are a living example of how love overcomes any obstacle. Step softly with your stuff, be tender, keep the heart open, and I hope you feel how much you are loved and appreciated by MANY.

  2. Ellen Brown says:

    October 5th, 2009 at 9:36 am

    Dear Stash,

    I SO appreciate what you said here. I, too, think it’s so important for us to honor whatever feelings come up, rather than pushing them away. While I believe gratitude is important, I don’t believe gratitude should replace whatever it is we’re feeling. To me, YOU are an amazing example of gratitude and open-heartedness, and an inspiration to me, both as a coach and a person who is traveling on my own journey. I loved what you said about being tender and not denying anything, and I love your vision of Stepping Stones. Thanks so much for sharing your wisdom and love …

  3. Rebel Brown says:

    October 6th, 2009 at 10:38 am

    Ah Ellen. What a great post! (BTW – do you know you have the same name as my beloved mom? LUV IT)

    I, too, believe in the power of gratitude to heal all wounds. I write a gratitude journal every night before I go to bed. Started it decades ago and still do it to this day. Every night before I go to sleep, I write the top five things that I’m grateful for that day.

    On the tougher days – I write simple things. I woke up, I breathed, I put one foot on the floor and the next and kept going.

    On the great days I write wonders – my dreams are coming true, my friend is alive and well, whatever.

    The point is that I write about the blessings in my life every night before I go to sleep – preparing myself for my time of renewal with a positive focus.

    I too have been healing from childhood abuse – I blocked the memories for decades and only recently recovered them. I began EMDR treatment for what we thought was post traumatic stress after care taking my mom with a stroke, my dad with cancer and then a friend diagnosed with AIDS and given 2 months to live. We thought the stress of those years had hit me hard – in fact it was 4 plus decades of buried abuse that my therapist calls torture. WOW.

    As those memories came up – I was surprised to find myself less angry than grateful for the knowing – for the release of that terror that had been crying for attention (and controlling my life) for all those years upon years – MOST of my life to date.

    Today – I’m reinventing myself on the Other Side of Me (working title for a book and/or blog). I am so grateful for the recovery of those memories. Now I get to live the life of my OWN choosing based on what I want, not on the scary voices from my subconscious.

    BTW my friend with AIDS lived (after 2 years of hellish sickness) and is healthy as a mule living in my guest cottage today. A Walking Miracle and I do believe that all the positive visions and writing helped to save him! I wrote volumes of gratitude for him and his life and visions of the future things he would contribute to our world. It worked when the Drs had no hope.

    I believe that appreciation and gratitude is the emotional place where we can find connection to the complete “I”. Spiritual, emotional and physical completeness. When we give ourselves over to the appreciation of our lives, our spirit and our opportunities for growth – everything gets lighter.

    It certainly works for me!

    Thanks for a great post and the invitation to comment!

    keep smilin’

    reb

  4. ava diamond says:

    October 7th, 2009 at 11:02 am

    Loved your post. Although lucky enough not to have suffered abuse in my life, I find that living in gratitude makes for a more joyful existence.

    And here’s a related and very useful tool can can change one’s self concept in 30 days. It’s one that I teach in my keynote speech, “Is Your BUT Too Big?”

    It’s related to writing down five things you’re grateful for, yet different.

    It will have a huge positive impact on one’s own self concept in just 30 days.

    Each evening, write down 5 things you acknowledge about yourself from that day–things you feel good about. It could be something small and simple–, “Today, I acknowledge myself for taking time to be kind to the cashier in the drugstore” to something bigger “Today, I acknowledge myself for finishing this project two days early.”

    Begin each one with “Today, I acknowledge myself for….”

    What happens, when we know we have to write 5 of these each evening, is that we begin to look for things to write down. So we notice all the things we do that are kind, and smart, and great, rather than noticing the stuff our inner critic points out.

    It can be a transformational exercise. Why not try it?

  5. Ellen Brown says:

    October 7th, 2009 at 12:24 pm

    Thanks, Ava. I love the tool you shared, and I’m going to try it out, myself. I SO agree that we often notice the things our inner critic is blathering on about. So much better to reinforce the positive steps we’re taking in our lives.

  6. Connie Vasquez (LaConsuelo) says:

    November 18th, 2009 at 7:37 am

    Brilliant, gutsy post, Ellen. So true. I find that focusing on things for which I’m grateful serves as a ballast during diffiicult times and keeps me grounded. It’s easy during life’s difficulties to become lost in the feelings of grief, fear, etc. Gratitude lists – or simply walking down the street noticing the simple joys of life – has kept me from losing myself amid the swirl.

  7. Ellen Brown says:

    November 18th, 2009 at 11:29 am

    Thanks so much, Connie! It IS so easy to become lost in our feelings of grief and fear during tough times. And it’s so true that noticing the simple joys or the beauty of nature can be such a balm …

  8. Patricia - Spiritual Journey Of A Lightworker says:

    March 31st, 2010 at 4:06 pm

    Having an attitude of gratitude has made such a big difference in my life. I think Oprah was possibly the one who first made me aware of Gratitude Journals. I gave them one Christmas to all of my family and friends. I have written several blog articles about gratitude. Today I can even say that I am grateful that my dad was an alcoholic. Without him being an alcoholic, I would never have gone to my first Adult Children of Alcoholics meeting. That day began my journey with 12-Step meetings and recovery from incest. Today, I know that I would not be the great, caring person that I am without the struggle of incest in my life. Thanks for sharing this article and your inner thoughts.

  9. Ellen Brown says:

    April 1st, 2010 at 7:26 pm

    So glad this resonated with you, Patricia. Yes, gratitude is a powerful tool, and one that can really shift our attitudes. I love what you say about how gratitude has changed your life. You have obviously come a long way on your journey!

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