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Episode 67: Ways Gratitude Can Go Wrong

Updated: Jan 15

This is an edited version of a podcast episode. If you prefer to listen, click Make Me Whole Podcast or click Podcast in the menu above to find this and all my other episodes.

Watercolor autumn foliage decorates the top and bottom of the picture. Black typewriter-style text says, "Not all gratitude is healthy or helpful."

Hello, my beautiful souls! Buckle up because today’s topic is both a revelation and a cautionary tale. It’s all about toxic gratitude. Of course I owe a debt of inspiration to the incredible Mel Robbins for this episode. She taught me to open my eyes, and I can’t wait to share the resulting nuggets of wisdom with you. Mel, if you’re listening, you’re a lighthouse in my stormy sea!

As you may have experienced, gratitude is often glorified as the be-all-end-all, but have you ever thought about it’s dark side? A side that not only can be used to manipulate those around you, but can also hold you back, personally and professionally. And here’s a humbling truth: I've walked both those dark alleys. So let’s take a flashlight and see what we find.

First up is using gratitude as a form of manipulation. I’m baring my soul here, y’all. I’ve done this with my own kids. Picture this: I planned an entire day around my daughter’s wishes. We went everywhere she wanted to, got frozen yogurt, laughed and hung out with her friends. Just took it all in. Then back home, when her chores weren’t getting done, it was like a cloud was moving in on our sunny day. So I played my card. “Hey, we just had a great day! Don’t you think you could help out a bit?” What I didn’t realize was that I just tarnished our shared joy. I turned a beautiful day into a bargaining chip. Friends, this is a trap that is easier to fall into than you think. For parents, for partners, for all sorts of relationships. It’s tempting to use the goodwill of a happy moment as a currency. And that’s when gratitude turns toxic. It becomes a transaction, not a gift. I’ve had to dig deep and ask myself, why did I feel the need to trade happiness for duty? The truth stung. It was about control and expectations. I traded spontaneous joy for mundane and simple because I felt like my act of giving entitled me to receive. That’s not how love or gratitude works. That’s manipulation in disguise.

Now let’s discuss the second offender. Gratitude that anchors you to unhappiness. Let’s say you hate your job, but you stick with the narrative, “It pays the bills, and I'm grateful for having a job when so many don’t.” And there we are: telling ourselves a self-destructive story. It has happened to me. I knew I wasn’t happy. I knew that the job was draining my spirit, but each time I wanted to complain or dream bigger, I’d stop myself with the thought, “But I have a steady income and insurance. I should be grateful.” Now, don’t misunderstand me. Gratitude for what sustains us is so important, but when it becomes an excuse for settling for less than we deserve, it’s like praising the walls of a prison cell for keeping you out of the rain. There’s a nuance here. You can be grateful for your paycheck while also acknowledging that you’re capable of and deserving of more. It’s like being in a relationship that has lost its spark. You're grateful for the companionship, but you yearn for the passion. It’s ok to want more, and it’s ok to go after it.

So, I started rewriting my narrative. Instead of stopping at “I'm grateful for my paycheck,” I extended it to include, “...but I’m deserving of a job that is in tune with my passions, my talents, and my well-being.” When you revise your story this way, something magical happens. You free yourself from self-imposed limitations. You’re no longer stuck between a rock and a hard place. You’re sailing towards uncharted territories, and gratitude is like the wind in your sails. I took a bold step, and you won’t believe the transformation. I was no longer glued to a job that didn’t fulfill me. I searched, I struggled, but eventually I found work that resonated with my soul. And for that journey, I am genuinely, truly grateful.

To wrap things up, let’s make a pact today, you and I. Let’s promise to never misuse this beautiful virtue of gratitude. Let’s not turn it into a tool of manipulation or a chain that binds us to unhappiness. Let’s instead strive for gratitude that frees us, that enhances relationships, and lifts us to the life that we’ve always wanted. I’ve started this journey, and I’d be thrilled if you'd join me. As we part ways for now, I want to give another round of applause to Mel Robbins. Her work is a masterclass in how self-awareness can lead to self-improvement.


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