Always Well Within

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How to Take Care of Yourself When You Don’t Feel Grateful

When you don't feel gratitude, practice self-compassion

As we approach the obligatory day of gratitude in the U. S., some of you may not feel particularly grateful.  I understand.  I faced an entire decade of challenges when my heart wasn’t overflowing with gratitude.  I just wanted it – all the challenges – to all go away.

There are countless reasons why you might not feel grateful at the moment:

  • Chronic illness
  • Non-stop pain
  • Addiction
  • Personal loss
  • Financial woes
  • Jobless
  • Relationship blues
  • Difficult family relations
  • Incurable illness
  • Feeling overwhelmed by world catastrophes
  • Worry about the environment

And that’s just a glimpse of the possibilities because life is not always easy.

When You Don’t Feel Grateful, Consider Self-Compassion

What can you do if you don’t feel particularly grateful even if it is Thanksgiving? I suggest starting with a well deserved dose of self compassion.

Feeling down?  Don't feel grateful?  Try self-compassion.  #gratitude #selfcompassion #selfcare #thanksgivingblues #personal growth

Now, some people might consider this a “pity party.”  But personally I don’t like that phrase.  It’s too reminiscent of “stiff upper lip,” which sounds more uncomfortable than brave.

How can it help to deny your suffering?  If someone else had the same despair, your heart would naturally go out to them.  So why shouldn’t you care for yourself too as long as it doesn’t become an unhealthy self-obsession?

Don’t be afraid to acknowledge the depth or pain of your challenges, and take time to cultivate compassion for yourself.  In fact, this is the way to gradually heal your mind and heart, regardless of whether externals change.  It took me ten years to accept my own suffering, but I finally did.  So I know you can too.

How to Cultivate Self Compassion

You can learn how to practice self compassion with this simple preliminary practice of giving and receiving on the breath from The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche.  First, find a quiet place and allow your mind to settle for a few moments.

“For the purpose of this exercise, divide yourself into two aspects, A and B.  A is the aspect of you that is whole, compassionate, warm, and loving, like a true friend, really willing to be there for you, responsible and open to you, without ever judging you, whatever your faults and shortcomings.

B is the aspect of you that has been hurt, that feels misunderstood and frustrated, bitter or angry, who might have been, for example, unjustly treated or abused as a child, or has suffered in relationship or been wronged by society.

Now, as you breathe in, imagine that A opens his or her heart completely, and warmly and compassionately accepts and embraces all of B’s suffering and negativity and pain and hurt.  Moved by this, B opens his or her heart and all pain and suffering melt away in this compassionate embrace.

As you breathe out, imagine A sending out to B all his or her healing, love, warmth, trust comfort confidence, happiness, and joy.”

Just be a receptive vessel, allowing yourself to be filled with whatever quality or comfort or kindness you need.  You might find that difficult at first.  Trust me. Moving through this discomfort forms an essential part of the healing process.

By practicing compassion for yourself first, you’ll gradually  heal your own pain and suffering.  Then gratitude will become a more realistic proposition.  And, in the process, you’ll uncover and strengthen the love and compassion that lies within you.

In fact, you’ll begin to see that you’re not alone in your suffering, which breaks your heart open in the most magnificent of ways.  We are never alone in our suffering.  Just look around and you’ll see we all share the same sufferings.  Realizing this, you naturally begin to extend your heart to others.  And, life suddenly acquires new meaning and purpose.

You deserve your own compassion as much as anyone else.  I hope this simple practice of self compassion will bring you relief from your pain.

Do you feel comfortable feeling compassion for yourself?  Do you ever sit down and give yourself the space to do so?

Thank you for your presence, I know your time is precious!  Don’t forget to sign up for my e-letter and get access to all the free self-development resources (e-books, mini-guides + worksheets) in the Always Well Within Library. May you be happy, well, and safe – always.  With love, Sandra

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28 Comments

  1. Great tips, Sandra, as always. Practicing self compassion is such a difficult thing for people to do, myself included. And, it cracks me up that you and I have similar gratitude posts this Thanksgiving!

    • Hi Charlotte,

      You’re not alone, practicing self-compassion or loving kindness towards oneself is difficult for many people. Often, there’s a resistance, guilt, or feel of being non-deserving that you have to move through and when you unblock this it’s very powerful for people.

      I totally smiled when I say the title of your post yesterday! I love being in tune with you.

  2. Excellent suggestions, Sandra! 🙂 I have a couple of thoughts:

    1. What really helped for me was to see that true gratitude can be a state of mind, rather than a list of experiences. It was freeing to just be grateful for the journey, rather than separating life into “good” and “bad” experiences. Everything has a lesson to teach us, so we should be grateful for it all! Here is a post I wrote about that: http://myjourneytoithaca.wordpress.com/2013/11/21/an-unconventional-gratitude-list/ .

    2. I don’t know that it’s possible for true self-compassion to turn into an “unhealthy self obsession.” There are a lot of things that disguise themselves as love, but aren’t. But actual love, leads to a greater understanding that there is no “me” and “others,” but that we are actually all in the same category. I’ve found that loving and being compassionate toward myself has helped me to become MUCH more understanding in my interactions with those around me.

    Thank you, and have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

    • Dear Bethany,

      I think you are quite on target when you speak of gratitude as a state of mind rather than a technique, although we sometimes need the one to get to the other. Genuine gratitude definitely has a heart-opening feeling.

      Yes, if it’s “true” compassion it might be difficult to turn it into an unhealthy obsession! At the same time, people turn the spiritual into obsessions all the time. It’s been called “spiritual materialism.” I think it’s definitely something to watch out for because it can just reinforce one’s ego! You are so right though, when we get to the point of letting go of “you” and “me,” self-obsession is no longer an issue. I love hearing how having self compassion has unlocked your understanding for others. Have a wonderful holiday!

  3. This are wonderful suggestions for people that are feeling less then grateful this Thanksgiving, Sandra. Rather than continuing to “stuff” your feelings, being compassionate with ourselves can help really face what is going on and reach out for help if you need it. Great post. Have a happy Thanksgiving!

    • Thanks for bringing out this key point, Cathy. “Stuffing” our feelings never works. We do need to really face what’s going out, that’s always the first step to transformation. Wishing you a enjoyable Thanksgiving.

  4. Wonderful post Sandra. I’ve been practicing compassion along with my gratitude. You offer great suggestions on how to open and soften our hearts/ energy to be more receptive to the blessings in our lives. Happy Thanksgiving.
    Brad

    • Thanks you, Brad. I love the word “soften!” Imagine if we all softened a bit. It would be quite nice, I think. Wishing you a pleasant holiday.

  5. Thank you for this inspiring post. It’s always been difficult for me to feel ‘compassion’ for myself. I feel guilty when I am too tired or sick to help others and, yet, my grandchildren and son in law depend on me to ‘always be there’. I love my grandchildren, but – at times – I realize that my son in law does take advantage of me. He is the type of person who expects everyone ‘owes him a favor’ – seems he’s always felt that way. He’s impulsive, quick to anger and I don’t feel he is maturing with age (he’s 40 yrs. old now). Still, I feel I should help him for my grandchildren (who have lost their Mom – my youngest daughter, Dawn).
    I will continue to help out my grandchildren. I cannot ‘not’ help. I help them because I know my daughter would want me to and because I love them. She was a wonderful mother.
    That being said, I’m going to try this ‘self compassion’ concept out. Hopefully, I will be able to experience some comfort and peace during the holidays if I take some quiet time out just for ‘me’.
    May you and your’s be well, safe, happy and at peace, Sandra.
    Sandy

    • Dear Sandy,

      You are not alone, it’s challenging for many people to feel compassion or loving kindness for themselves. When I’ve facilitate courses on those topics, I’ve observed that people often encounter resistance, guilt or a feeling of being undeserving at first. But if they keep with it and move through these initial feels (it can take a little while) the result can be very powerful.

      I hope you will take some time for yourself this holiday season. I’m sure you have given so much of yourself for your grandchildren and I bet they wouldn’t mind at all if you took some short periods of quiet time for yourself You deserve it and I hope that really happens for you in the coming weeks!

      Sending you love and best wishes!

  6. Great post! Holidays can be hard for all of us especially the one that has an obligatory sense of gratitude at its center. Your reminder that it is okay to not quite be feel’in it, and to be compassionate toward ourselves is wonderful. We need to cut ourselves a little slack–life is never perfect and isn’t meant to be. I think sometimes that we get a little too hygienic when it comes to matters psychological and spiritual.
    Thanks so much Sandra!

    • Hi Audrey,

      I think the idea of giving ourselves a little slack is so apropos. I greatly value genuine gratitude, but I think it’s important to realize that life is much more complex and that great difficulties do and will happen for ourselves and others. And that’s almost always a process to unwind not a snap answer. I truly had to smile at your thought about being “too hygienic” when it comes to matters psychological and spiritual. I appreciate your unique view!

  7. Dearest Sandra, I just LOVE this post and love YOU for writing it. This is powerfully healing wisdom and advice. I love you for going “deeper” beneath the crap so many of us are fed. I love the “embracing ALL” quality of this post. I’ve never seen any post like this. I need this right now, too. So the timing is excellent. I just cannot encourage you to write as freely and boldly as you have been writing. There is so much out there that is “same ol’ same ol'” and very much into “the stiff upper lip” edict. I do NOT agree with that, and find it, in fact, very unhealthy, unloving, and not compassionate. It is why I also really loved your post on “the law of attraction”. You go deeper, see deeper, and are speaking more and more boldly. I applaud you and am very grateful for the reflection you offer. Tears in my eyes as my heart wells with gratitude. Much love, Robin

    • Dear Robin,

      So many of us need this right now, don’t we? Thank you for your honesty! My heart is with you whatever your challenges may be. And, I know you have the larger perspective and a gigantic heart. But, at the same time, life is not always easy all the time.

      Thank you so much for your encouragement. I appreciate your noticing how I am doing deeper and speaking more boldly, as we don’t necessarily notice this for ourselves. Another pair of eyes, truly helps. That’s my aim – to ask the compelling questions that we need to ask ourselves to lead a genuine and helpful life.

      No stiff upper lips on our block! Just more love! I’m so grateful to know you and to receive the beauty and wisdom of your work.

  8. I actually am feeling pretty grateful these days, Sandra, but then I usually do.

    I shared your wonderful tips with my Facebook readers, though, just in case they need them. I hope you have a beautiful holiday! 🙂

    • You seem like a very positive spirit, Jennifer! It takes spiritual forbearance to see the lessons even in the tough stuff. Thanks for sharing my post and I feel it’s what some people will need to hear this Thanksgiving. I’m so grateful to know you. Many blessings to you.

  9. Wonderful Sandra,
    And for so timely as I pick myself up after something has upset me and my immediate life- nothing serious but enough to know that a good dose of self-compassion is what will lift my energy back into positive mode. As a healing friend of mine calls a new pain- a healing breakthrough as often a new door or awakening brings new rays of light.
    I love your writing it make my hear smile
    all my love
    Suzie xx

    • Dear Susie,

      Upsets still come out way, but the wisdom is in knowing how to meet them, isn’t it! You certainly know what to do and are an inspiration for all of us. Enjoy those rays of light. And thanks for your affirming words. I love your art. It always makes me smile too.

  10. This fall season has been particularly difficult for me so I very much appreciate your writing. In my gratitude practice, I have found feeling compassion and even forgiveness toward myself as being the most difficult task. It is something I am continually working towards. Thank you for the reminder to keep on working towards this… I hope you have a peaceful holiday.

    • Hi Kaylin,

      I’m sorry you’re going through a difficult period. Many people find it difficult to practice self-compassion because we’re prone to feel we’re not deserving or it’s selfish. It’s good if these challenges come up in the practice. It gives us a chance to move through them and truly open our heart more deeply. It can take a little time though if these particular patterns of mind have been around for awhile. I wish you the very best with this. I know you will get there more and more. Wishing you a peaceful holiday, too.

  11. Jean Sampson

    Hey, Sandra, this is a wonderful post and all of the comments were so honest and real! Right now, things in my life are pretty quiet and a big stress that has been present for over 10 years seems to have settled down, at least for now. So I am in a very grateful space at the present time, but I do know that nothing stays the same and I will need to keep on giving myself compassion and love. In thinking about this holiday, I contrasted my life with the lives of people who have just undergone tragedies (there are many in the world right now, en mass). I tried to put myself in their situations (really impossible to do, but a good exercise anyway), and see if, had it been me, would there be anything at all that I might be grateful for. The only thing I could think about is the people who survived with no material possessions, but all of their family members were safe. Even though they had lost everything, they were so grateful for the survival of their loved ones. I like to sort of “practice” to see if something happened in my life, could I still find something to be grateful for and how could I get back to my center. You are so right about not stuffing your feelings! It is so hard to move on if you don’t allow yourself to move through, with tears or whatever you need to do. Sorry to be so long-winded, but this is something I have also been thinking about. Have a holiday that is filled with love and peace.

    • Hi Jean,

      This is really an excellent exercise and exactly how we develop more compassion. All the tragedies in the world give us a chance to see and be differently, with a much softer heart and more humility too. Thank you so much for sharing this exercise that you do. I think we could all benefit from this!

      Wow, the big stress has shifted after ten years. That’s so wonderful and it just shows you things can still change even if they have been a certain way for quite awhile. I’m glad you have this period of quiet and goodness in your life now and feel joyful for you. May you enjoy every moment of it.

      You have such a beautiful heart and I appreciate how deeply your think of these matters. Wishing you an enjoyable holiday.

  12. Hi Sandra,
    While I am basking in the glory of gratefulness at present, I can recall those moments when I had to go through all those frustrations which impel us towards self compassion, which to my mind is just self confabulation to reject negative thoughts, to overcome hurts, to explain to ourselves that such circumstances are transitory and we must approach them with calm mind.

    Self compassion and self healing are so interconnected but we need a strong mind to understand and accept all those profound thoughts you have expressed! Thanks Sandra for reminding us that we should be grateful for the little joys that come across everyday. Wishing you Happy Thanksgiving!

  13. I used to seriously beat myself down. I had no patience or compassion for myself. I thought I was dumb and inept. The day I started going to support groups I learned people have amazing compassion for others. So why not have some for yourself? One of my favorite phrases is “be nice to yourself.” We are our own worst critics. Stop it! Whatever you are going through someone has been through worse. Be grateful for _something_ in your life. It doesn’t matter what. I believe it starts there.

    Thanks for the post. I’ve been there…

    • Dear Sean,

      I’ve glad you’ve made it to the other side and no longer beat yourself up. We’re fortunate that there are so many truly compassionate people in the world, and this can inspire us to have compassion for ourselves and that can help begin to loosen the grip of despair. Thanks for your thoughts.

  14. I have learned a number of techniques for shifting judgment or fear to gratitude, but I’ll be the first to admit that I have never had to apply these techniques in extreme circumstances. I have always had a roof over my head and food to eat. I’ve never lived in a war zone. True, I’ve faced my share of challenges, but not unlike many people. I like to think, though, that through practice and habit, I’m building a foundation for helping me respond with gratitude when faced with more difficult situations. Starting with self-compassion is key, and you’ve offered a gentle and reassuring approach to easing out of bitterness and into thankfulness.

    Speaking of thankfulness, this is a time for me to thank you for all the gentle reassurance and inspiration you have offered me over these years. I just posted my last blog post, and I’m stopping by to let you know. I know we will stay in touch, but I wanted to say publicly here that I treasure what you offer on your blog to so many people. I hope you will stop by the last post.

    Wishing you much joy and maybe blessings to be grateful for this holiday season. Thank you.

  15. Dear Galen,

    It’s so important to have this awareness of how privileged we actually are. I’m so glad you put a spotlight on that important point. Not to diminish the reality of mental suffering, but often see the real tragedies in the world can put things in context for us.

    I’m going to miss you and your regular dose of insight terribly! Thank goodness your blog will still be there. At the same time, I’m so happy you have the courage to step into uncertainty and go with the message of your heart and your intuition. Thank you for your kind words. I’ve been by your last post (for the time being) as I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

    Much love and gratitude to you Galen. Wishing you the very best in every moment.

  16. Thank you for this Sandra

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