Gratitude provides many healing benefits you may not be aware of. It can help you cope with hard times and help you heal from your childhood abuse.
I know it may seem ridiculous or insensitive to suggest practicing gratitude when life hasn’t been the most kind to you. It’s hard to feel grateful when you had parents who intentionally hurt little powerless and helpless you. But please, hear me out.
Gratitude isn’t about ignoring or minimizing all the difficult things you went through or are still going through. It doesn’t mean that you think life is perfect or that you’re grateful for literally everything.
You shouldn’t ignore the abuse you experienced or every other burden or challenge that life throws at you. Those experiences played a role in shaping who you are. And to heal, you need to acknowledge its existence.
However, gratitude is something that can exist alongside difficult things. It is possible to feel grateful yet annoyed that life just sucks sometimes. In fact, gratitude can be the very thing that can perhaps make things suck just a little less.
This post will discuss what gratitude is, the various benefits of gratitude, some of the research behind it, and how these benefits can help you in healing from your childhood abuse and trauma.
What is Gratitude?
Simply put, gratitude is acknowledging the good things you have going on in your life. This sounds easy in theory. But putting gratitude into practice is much more difficult.
Practicing gratitude means that when you look at life as a whole, you’re able to notice the good in it. And it can be anything.
Gratitude scientist, Robert Emmons, said: “Gratitude is a prevailing attitude that endures and is relatively immune to the gains and losses that flow in and out of our lives. When disaster strikes, gratitude provides a perspective from which we can view life in its entirety and not be overwhelmed by temporary circumstances.”
The Science Behind the Benefits of Gratitude
Individuals who practice gratitude consistently report various physical, emotional, and social benefits. It can improve one’s health in direct and indirect ways.
A meta-review looked at dozens of studies to assess the effects of gratitude. Researchers found that more grateful people were likely to experience less depression, higher moods, and higher satisfaction with life.
Higher gratitude is also correlated with more positive social relationships and better physical health, particularly regarding stress and sleep.
Further research also suggests that being able to practice positive emotions like gratitude has been shown to help people cope with trauma. These studies show that more grateful people in the face of serious trauma, adversity, and suffering recover more quickly.
15 Benefits of Gratitude for Healing from Trauma
According to neuroscientist Alex Korb, “Many of the benefits of gratitude are simply about directing your attention in certain ways – what parts of your life, what parts of reality you pay attention to. Your brain at the moment might not automatically pay attention to all the wonderful things in your life. But if you intentionally practice gratitude, you become more aware of these positive parts of your life that were always there.”
Here are 15 benefits of gratitude for your healing journey.
Gratitude aids in post-traumatic growth
According to Emmons, gratitude is actually an essential part of the process of healing from trauma.
Recognizing the positives that came out of something negative doesn’t mean what happened to you was okay. But it does help in healing. And this is known as post-traumatic growth – a positive change experienced as a result of a major life crisis or traumatic event.
MRI studies mapped the gratitude circuitry in the brain, which activates a sense of reward, fairness, and decision-making – all aspects that help with survival and post-traumatic growth.
It’s important to note, however, that post-traumatic growth and post-traumatic stress aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, many traumatized people experience both. The main difference is that individuals with more gratitude report fewer and less severe PTSD symptoms.
Gratitude is a healthy coping skill
Evidence shows that grateful people are more resilient to stress, whether it’s everyday hassles or major upheavals. Generally, grateful people are more optimistic which can create a healing attitude.
The practice of gratitude itself is a healthy coping skill you can adapt during times of stress or uncomfortable emotions. Basically, embracing gratitude during hard times may be one of the few things that help you get through them.
Gratitude promotes more positive emotions
According to a study, practicing gratitude can help cultivate an optimistic outlook. Another study demonstrates that just 10 weeks of regularly practicing gratitude helped participants feel more optimistic and positive about their current lives and future.
People who practice gratitude tend to report higher levels of positive emotions such as joy, pleasure, optimism, and happiness.
It can be explained that practicing gratitude allows you to acknowledge the good in life, thus helping you feel better. Many say it isn’t happiness that makes you grateful, but that it’s gratitude that makes you happy. Because when you notice the positives more, you’re able to get more pleasure out of life.
Gratitude is also said to block toxic, negative emotions like envy, resentment, and anger. When you’re busy feeling grateful, it’s hard to feel jealous or mad about something simultaneously.
Gratitude reduces depressive and anxiety symptoms
On top of post-traumatic stress, depression and anxiety are other mental conditions that are common effects of childhood abuse.
A study from 2020 showed that practicing gratitude regularly can help ease symptoms of anxiety and depression. So even if gratitude doesn’t seem to provide more positive emotions, it can reduce depressive and anxiety symptoms.
When our brain is focused on thinking about things we’re grateful for, it has less time to ruminate or worry about things that aren’t so great. Perhaps your attention can be redirected from something anxiety- or depression-provoking to something a little more positive or at least, less distressing.
Gratitude improves physical health
Generally, grateful people tend to have healthier habits. They tend to take better care of their own health. However, learning how to practice gratitude can also teach you to adopt healthier habits.
A grateful attitude is associated with a stronger immune system, lower blood pressure, fewer illnesses, and fewer aches and pains.
People who practice gratitude tend to exercise more and have more alertness and determination. They also tend to have better sleep and feel more refreshed upon waking up.
Gratitude improves relationships
Gratitude helps form new relationships as well as strengthen existing ones. Grateful people tend to feel less lonely and isolated. They are more likely to reach out and express their appreciation and gratitude towards others.
Studies show that expressing out loud your gratitude to someone – like calling or thanking them face-to-face – is really effective at increasing your and the other person’s happiness levels. And since gratitude leads to more positive emotions, people who show more positive emotions also tend to draw more social support in times of stress.
In terms of romantic relationships, research shows that partners who showed gratitude towards one another reported higher relationship satisfaction and improved happiness.
This also applies to family and friends. Expressing gratitude toward one another help set up a feedback loop of intimacy and trust. Thus, grateful people tend to have closer and stronger bonds.
Gratitude encourages altruism and compassion
Much research found a positive correlation between gratitude and prosocial behavior.
People who practice gratitude tend to be more helpful, generous, empathetic, forgiving, and compassionate. They are able to acknowledge the fortune and privileges they have in life so they tend to want to give back.
Giving back and helping others can also be healing of itself.
Grateful people are also more likely to help others and offer emotional support. They are able to recognize the people who have supported them and want to reciprocate the act of kindness if possible. And this behavior makes it easier for them to gain support from others as well.
Gratitude fosters humility and self-acceptance
Our culture places a lot of value on external accomplishments, appearances, and self-promotion. For instance, we have to basically brag about ourselves on resumes and job interviews so we can make an income to survive.
Humility is often seen as a sign of weakness when really, it shows a lot of inner strength. The dictionary defines humility as “a modest or low view of one’s own importance”, but Vicki Zakrzewski puts it amazingly when she defines it as “grounding one’s self-worth in one’s intrinsic value”.
One study found gratitude and humility to be mutually reinforcing. Expressing gratitude can induce humility and humble people have a greater capacity for conveying gratitude.
Truly humble people are empathetic and nonjudgmental. They find satisfaction in what they already have and demand less from others and from life. Rather than caring about how they look, how many likes they have, or making a ton of money, they place value on more meaningful things.
In other words, gratitude encourages internal validation and self-acceptance.
Gratitude increases self-worth and self-esteem
When you grew up with abusive parents, it likely took a big hit on your self-esteem and sense of self-worth. We often feel like we’re at fault for what happened or that we’re not good enough.
Practicing gratitude can increase your self-worth because it may help you recognize how other people have contributed to your life. And when you realize how others see the value in you, it might change the way you see yourself.
Additionally, as mentioned before, a grateful feeling tends to counteract feelings of envy. So grateful people typically don’t often compare themselves to others. They tend to feel grateful for who they are and don’t feel the need to be someone else.
Gratitude improves the sense of self
Lacking identity or a sense of self is another common effect of childhood abuse. However, practicing gratitude might help with that.
To practice gratitude, you learn about what matters to you and what makes life worth living. Doing various gratitude exercises like listing things you are grateful for teaches you about yourself. You gain a better understanding of who you are and what you want out of life.
And when you start to know what you value and what makes you happy, your sense of self slowly emerges.
Gratitude is a form of self-care
Being grateful is a form of self-care. And self-care is essential to healing.
When you’re practicing gratitude, you’re more likely to go out of your way to do things you personally enjoy. Being able to engage in your hobbies and interests gives you more things to be grateful for and it lifts your mood.
Having a grateful attitude also means learning to be grateful for certain things about yourself. It might be hard but if you can appreciate things about other people and your life, why can’t you also appreciate things about yourself?
We know we’re not perfect. But there are things about ourselves we can be grateful for, whether it’s a talent, skill, personality trait, or value we hold. Thus, gratitude also allows you to celebrate and magnify the good parts about yourself.
Gratitude teaches mindfulness
Mindfulness is another thing essential to healing. And to be grateful, you have to be mindful.
To truly practice gratitude, you need to be mindful of your life, your environment, and yourself. How can you be grateful for something if you’re not aware of its existence?
Cultivating mindfulness allows you to be more present in your life. It allows you to be more aware of your feelings, thoughts, and sensations. And when you’re practicing mindfulness, gratitude comes naturally.
When you take the time to be conscious of living, you’ll start noticing all the things you might’ve previously taken for granted.
Gratitude broadens perspective
Negative emotions like fear or anxiety typically narrow your focus on a particular challenge you might be facing. Meanwhile, practicing gratitude broadens your perspective, allowing you to see more possibilities.
When you are able to broaden your perspective, you are able to reframe it. You can reframe an obstacle into an opportunity, a loss into a gain.
The ability to expand your perspective also allows you to be more resilient. Rather than focus on what might be a small issue, you can look at the big picture to better gauge how bad or not bad a situation is. Thus, you can better cope with the stress or challenges that arise.
Having a broad perspective on things also allows you better acknowledge the good in life. You are able to look at life as a whole and see the positives in spite of the negatives. And just that itself can lead to more positive emotions and satisfaction in life.
Gratitude teaches appreciation
Gratitude allows you to appreciate the value of something and guard you against taking them for granted, which admittedly, many of us do. And when you appreciate the value of that thing, you tend to get more benefits from it.
Research on emotion shows that positive emotions on novelty wear off quickly. We adapt to positive life circumstances and things. So before long, whatever new thing we have in our life won’t feel so new and exciting anymore.
However, practicing gratitude means you’re able to appreciate what you currently have in your life rather than keep searching and waiting on the new or “better” to come.
With a grateful attitude, you can still feel positive about things that are not-so-new. Thus, you won’t take them for granted and are able to truly appreciate them. And this goes for big things, material things, relationships, moments in time, and even things about yourself.
Gratitude leads to more satisfaction in life
The benefits of gratitude are not just healing, but they can improve your life and well-being in general.
According to studies, people who practiced gratitude felt better about their lives as a whole. They also tend to experience fewer symptoms of stress or are better able to cope with stress because of their grateful attitude.
Since gratitude teaches appreciation, it leads to more satisfaction in life. Because when people notice the good things in their life, they tend to feel more content with their life.
A lot of people might not be satisfied with life because they want more or they don’t think it’s enough. I admit it’s something I’m guilty of sometimes, too. While we shouldn’t ignore what we want, it’s also important to not ignore what we already have.
Gratitude isn’t about ignoring the bad or forbidding ourselves from wanting things. We can still wish for more and have dreams. But we should also learn to be content with what we already have.
Again, I know it sounds hard, but it just takes practice. Once practicing gratitude becomes a habit, you get to experience all of its benefits. Your brain will be able to pick up little things in your everyday life to appreciate and savor. And this change in your mindset can make a world of difference.
Hi there, I’m Estee.
Having been raised by an abusive mother, I developed an interest in mental health to better learn, understand, and manage the effects the abuse had on me. My experiences inspired me to create Hopeful Panda.
In my free time, you’ll find me cooking, organizing, playing video games, writing, or spending time with my family. You can read more about me and my blog here.
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