I recently traded grievances with my best friend: She was feeling down because her metalworking conference had been canceled, and I was glum because of my lackluster quarantine birthday. We exchanged these thoughts as if they were the most shameful confessions we’ve ever made, caveating them with phrases like “it’s stupid,” and “I’m fine,” and “it’s really not a big deal.” We subscribed to this need to tone down our respective list of grievances during quarantine because, we only feel “allowed” to acknowledge how lucky we are. And while we’re admittedly lucky for a number of reasons, subscribing to this line of reasoning is inauthentic and ultimately doesn’t serve us.
That said, I certainly embrace the challenge to see the bright side of my situation; I try to be optimistic, look at the big picture, and of course count my blessings. I earnestly believe developing a gratitude practice during a time like this is helpful. I, for example, count three things I am grateful for each day. (Today, it’s my morning cup of coffee, the trees in my parents’ yard, and Stephen Colbert.) But still, I’m earnestly upset about my birthday, and according to a mental-health pro, honoring your list of grievances with a grievance practice is important right now.
“Developing a more grateful stance definitely is a good thing, but pretending you have no upset feelings and trying to be grateful and positive all the time is not going to work. It doesn’t feel real or true,” says says Helene Brenner, PhD, licensed psychologist and creator of the My Inner Voice app. “The trick is to find a way to handle sadness, grief, and loss in a way that allows you to feel it without getting totally lost in it.”
“Understanding that we have a ‘weak’ part that’s having trouble dealing and giving compassion to it automatically makes us more resilient.” —psychologist Helene Brenner, PhD
It’s why grievance practices, the yin to your gratitude practice’s yang, are important for staying mentally healthy and grounded. If you don’t take some time to acknowledge that “Oh, this is total BS and I can’t believe this is happening,” you put yourself at risk for losing touch of the situation and how you’re dealing with it. You get accustomed to burying your emotions and keeping that stress buried within. To honor your list of grievances in a way that’s healthy and respectful, share your frustrations with someone you love and trust, because they’re less likely to respond from a place of judgment.
Remembering your audience, however, is always important. That is to say, losing your birthday plans is not identical by any stretch of the imagination to getting laid off or needing to cancel your wedding. So, in light of those caveats, if you feel like you don’t have someone to turn to, Dr. Brenner’s ABC’s of Compassion can help you process your grievances in less than 10 minutes.
First, acknowledge the feeling, and try to identify precisely what it is. (“I am sad, because I was looking forward to XYZ, and it’s another thing I can’t enjoy anymore.”) Next, be with it; personify it as if it were a friend but be sure not to become it. Finally, show compassion to your list of grievances. Holding onto petty things right now also means you’re holding on to your grasp of humanity. And ignoring that your list of grievances doesn’t bother you eventually won’t serve you.
“Difficult emotions do not get better when we get angry at them and tell them to go away,” Dr. Brenner says. “Understanding that we have a ‘weak’ part that’s having trouble dealing and giving compassion to it automatically makes us more resilient.”
So, yes: You can have perspective and practice gratitude, but you can still be upset that something was taken away from you or doesn’t feel fair for any number of reasons. We use tools of positivity to keep our head up and not fall down the well of despair. But it’s valid to be sad about how this pandemic is impacting you, and it’s understandable to have a list of grievances about it. Petty or not, trust that you’re not alone in feeling the way you do. Keep your eyes open, but stay true to your authentic self.
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