Ep #236: The Gratitude Trap

The Widowed Mom Podcast Krista St-Germain | The Gratitude Trap

Widows are constantly being told that we’re supposed to be grateful and that we should count our blessings.

We’re being sold the idea that gratitude is the “fix,” and I don’t buy it.

Join me to hear why the gratitude trap is problematic, how it might be doing you more harm than good, and the difference between true gratitude and forced gratitude.


Listen to the Full Episode:

I have a brand-new live workshop coming your way on Thursday, December 14th 2023. You’re invited to attend How Widowed Moms Can Create Rock-Solid Self-Confidence (Without More Therapy, Depressing Grief Groups, or Positive Thinking) so click here to apply!

If you want to create a future you can truly get excited about even after the loss of your spouse, I invite you to apply for Mom Goes On.


What You’ll Learn from this Episode:

  • What the gratitude trap entails and why it’s problematic.
  • Why gratitude is not necessary for you to truly love life again.
  • The difference between true gratitude and forced gratitude.


Featured on the Show:

  • Leave me a review in Apple Podcasts.
  • Interested in small-group coaching? Join us in Mom Goes On. Click here for details and next steps.
  • Join my free Facebook group, The Widowed Mom Podcast Community.
  • Follow me on Instagram!
  • If you are a Life Coach School certified coach, I’m working on an Advanced Certification in Grief and Post-Traumatic Growth Coaching just for you. If this sounds like something you would love, email us to let us know you want in on the interest list to be notified when it launches!
  • I send out several pick-me-up emails each week including announcements and details for free live coaching sessions. Enter your email in the pop-up on my home page to sign up.
  • The widows in my coaching program shared their advice and encouragement for new widows in this new book, Dear New Widow. Get your copy here!


Full Episode Transcript:

Welcome to The Widowed Mom Podcast, episode 236, The Gratitude Trap.

Welcome to The Widowed Mom Podcast, the only podcast that offers a proven process to help you work through your grief, to grow, evolve, and create a future you can truly look forward to. Here’s your host, Master Certified life coach, grief expert, widow, and mom, Krista St-Germain.

Hey there, welcome to another episode of the podcast. Before we get into it, did you know that I have a new live workshop coming up? It’s going to be Thursday December 14th, you are invited. It is application only. I will explain that in a second. But this workshop is for you if you are a widowed mom who wants to increase your self-confidence. It’s called How Widowed Moms Can Create Rock Solid Self-Confidence (Without More Therapy, Depressing Grief Groups or Positive Thinking). That’s what we need, rock solid self-confidence.

I want to invite you, go to coachingwithkrista.com/rocksolid and that’s where you’ll find the application. It is application only and it’s not because I’m trying to be exclusive. This is a free training. It’s because I want to make sure that you are in the right place. That what I offer you in this training would actually help you. If you know what it’s like to be in early acute grief, and unfortunately we can’t use timelines to measure this, but if you know what it’s like to be in early acute grief when you can barely function, it’s really hard to process things, you can’t remember things very well.

Your grief fog might be intense, it’s just you’re not back to functioning yet. If you wanted to go back to work, you couldn’t yet. It’s not for people in that space of grief. This is for people who are back to functioning but their self-confidence isn’t where they want it to be. This is for people who are being told all the time that they look so strong, but they don’t feel so strong. But they can understand why people are saying that because they’re back to functioning. So coachingwithkrista.com/rocksolid. You will find all of the information. You will find a quick little questionnaire that you fill out just to make sure it is a good fit for you.

Assuming that it is, we will send you all the details and you can come to the workshop and learn for free, how widowed moms can create rock solid self-confidence without more therapy, depressing grief groups or positive thinking. That’s what we’ve got going on Thursday December 14th, so go get registered.

Alright, last time I did a podcast episode I told you I was about to do coaching on the couch. I just want to report, it was amazing. I’m going to do definitely more of these events. It’s just for women who are in or have done Mom Goes On. So sadly I can’t do that for everybody but it was wonderful. I had 10 Mom Goes On or Mom Goes On alumni members come to my house, plus Suzanne who’s on my team. And we had breakfast catered in and we just sat in my living room in our comfy clothes and coached all day and it was fantastic. And then we had lunch delivered.

And then we went out for dinner. And there was just a lot of honesty and vulnerability and really deep connections that were made, so fun for me. But also just really enjoyable to watch everyone connect with one another. And people came in from all areas of the country. And I also just tend to forget that sometimes the growth, it’s not always in the coaching, sometimes the growth is in the traveling, it’s in the planning, it’s in the committing to yourself that you’re going to do something like this and the doing it.

For some women it’s, they haven’t traveled on their own since their person died. Maybe they have not gotten a rental car on their own since their person died, not that you can’t get an Uber. But it’s those kinds of conversations that you have to have with people that maybe push you in ways that you haven’t yet pushed yourself but that help grow you. So I loved it. It was amazing. We’ll do it again.

And then of course I recorded the podcast episode a little bit early, that today, if you’re listening to this on the day that this episode airs which is December 4th, my partner’s oldest, the boyfriend’s oldest, is getting married today on a Monday, interesting. Getting married today so we are going to be celebrating that this evening and it’ll be a quaint small touching ceremony. I’m really looking forward to that. So that’s what I’ve got going on in my life.

I want to talk to you about the gratitude trap. And the reason it came up is because I love learning. I love expanding my skills as a coach. And I happen to be in another coaching program right now that I’m getting a lot out of. But one of the things that we were talking through as a group didn’t sit well with me. And I think it didn’t sit well with me because of all the conversations I’ve had with widows like you, who are being told, sometimes explicitly, sometimes implicitly but we’re being sent the message that we’re supposed to be grateful or that somehow gratitude is ideal.

That it’s better to be grateful, that we feel better when we’re grateful, that we should count our blessings. We should be grateful for what we had. And it’s just rubbing me wrong. And it’s not because I’m anti gratitude, I’m not. I think gratitude is amazing. It’s really because I’m anti shoulds. I don’t like shoulds. I like options. I like ands. I like nuance. And so what I mean by the gratitude trap is that pressure, that message that we hear from others and then put on ourselves, that we’re supposed to be grateful even in grief. Or that somehow if we’re not grateful, we won’t be truly happy again.

That we have to be grateful for what happened in order to truly love life again. And I just think that’s nonsense. So I want to normalize it. I want to kind of prepare you for where it might be popping up in your world so that you don’t feel forced to be grateful and you have some alternatives to that. Alright, so let’s jump into it.

I think this message is everywhere. I tried to go back and remember the first time it really hit me. And what I remember is watching Oprah, I may have even talked about this on the podcast. But I remember watching a segment on Oprah and I’m pretty sure this was in the late 90s, early 2000s maybe. And I remember Oprah saying something like, “You can’t be sad when you’re grateful.” And I am paraphrasing that and probably butchering it, so please don’t go quoting Oprah based on what I just said, but it was something like that.

And the message I heard from that, whether or not it’s what she intended or not but the message I took was, yeah, all those other feelings, those bad feelings, I don’t want those. And if you can’t feel sad or bad when you’re feeling grateful then grateful is better, grateful is desirable. Grateful is the goal because it is the fix for the other emotions, which are bad, undesirable, negative. Now, I obviously didn’t realize that at the time, but I was very much buying into happiness is the goal, ‘negative emotion’ is a problem, gratitude is the fix.

And I do think that there are a lot of us buying into that and because we are well-intentioned, because we don’t want to see other humans experiencing suffering or hurting. Then we give them this gratitude ‘fix’. And I use fix in air quotes. The idea being that if we focus on the good stuff, we won’t have to feel the bad stuff. And I think that’s problematic for a few reasons. One, it totally dismisses what we’re actually feeling. When we tell ourselves that what we’re feeling is a problem to be solved. Guess what we don’t get to do? We don’t get to feel it.

Instead, what we do is, we avoid it and we think it’s a problem. We try to force ourselves to find a silver lining, to force ourselves to find the hashtag blessed moment. But it doesn’t come from an abundant place when we’re forcing it. It comes from a place that says, I don’t like what I’m feeling. I can’t handle what I’m feeling, so I’ve got to feel something else. I’ve got to figure out how to not feel this. So I will just thought swap myself, force myself into this grateful place that isn’t really very genuine. But I don’t really know how to deal with what I’ve got, so I’m going to try to get myself in a different place.

And then we don’t actually get to feel what we’re really feeling. And feeling what we’re really feeling in my book is a pretty important part of grief. It’s a pretty important part of being human, not just grief. We need to be able to allow ourselves to feel what we are feeling so that it flows through. But when we weren’t taught that feelings aren’t problems to solve and we weren’t taught how to allow them, then it makes sense why we would jump to gratitude as the fix.

And now, because everybody, well, not everybody, a lot of people, if you get on social media you will see this, have adopted the idea that gratitude is better, superior, ideal. What are they putting forward? They’re putting forth all of the blessings. They are creating an illusion showing us the perfect life that they’re living. The perfect grateful life, which is why hashtag blessed is both a joke and also everywhere. It’s kind of become the way that people put their best foot forward is by showing gratitude.

And I’m not saying there are no benefits to gratitude. Please don’t hear me say that. There are well documented benefits of gratitude. But what I’m talking about is forced gratitude. I am talking about the kind of gratitude that says you should be grateful and if you aren’t grateful, there’s a problem. And if you don’t want to feel emotions that are a perfectly normal part of grief and of being human. Then the answer to that is finding gratitude as an escape. That’s what I’m not on board with.

I also think it adds to our stress at a time when we already have enough stress and we don’t need anymore. At a time when there’s already an emotional roller-coaster happening, let’s not add more stress. Let’s not add another should to our plate by telling us that we should be grateful. And if we aren’t grateful, then decide that that means that we’re doing something wrong. It just makes it harder to feel how we feel. It makes it more stressful to be on the walk that we’re on and we just don’t need any more shoulders. I think it’s doing more harm than good. So hopefully you’re with me.

Now, if you have a gratitude practice and you love it and it feels good to you and it feels honest and genuine and the reasons you’re doing it, you’re in love with, you can disregard everything I’m saying. I am talking to you, if you are telling yourself you should be grateful. If that is you and you’ve been buying into this and you’ve been thinking, you have to be grateful, you should be or you should just be a little more grateful. Maybe you don’t have to be totally grateful but you should just be a little more grateful. That somehow gratitude is the morally superior option.

If that is you, I give you permission and I hope, not because you need it for me, but because I hope you will give it to yourself, to put that nonsense down. You do not need to be grateful. You can be grateful if you want to and if it feels good to you. But you are not doing anything wrong if you aren’t counting your blessings or finding reasons to be grateful. I am not grateful that my husband died and I have still figured out how to love my life. Those two things can peacefully coexist. You do not have to be grateful for what happened to you, to love your life, to do anything next.

So if you’ve been buying into that, I give you permission and I hope you’ll give it to yourself to just put that down. I believe in making room for everything we’re feeling. I believe that feelings aren’t problems to solve, they’re just experiences to allow. I believe that our body knows how to deal with feelings. And of course we can learn. If that’s not something you feel super confident about, I love helping people with that. So we can treat it like a skill like we would any other too, if that’s not something you have a lot of experience with.

But imagine what would change with this whole gratitude nonsense is the word I want to say, this forced gratitude nonsense, this trap of gratitude that we’re falling into. Imagine what would change if we stopped seeing emotions as good and bad, as positive or negative. If we stopped seeing them as problems to solve we wouldn’t need gratitude as a solution because we wouldn’t have a problem to solve in the first place. Instead, the answer in my book is staying connected with ourselves as a feeling flows through.

Instead of seeing it as something we have to get away from and go find gratitude so that we can disconnect with what is actually happening for us, which is an emotion, perfectly normal human emotion. And if we could go for the and, like I just did, there are things I’m grateful for and there are things I’m not grateful for. There are things I feel sad about. There are things I feel mad about. And there are things I feel happy about and things I feel hashtag blessed about. But it’s not a monolith. It doesn’t have to be one or the other.

It doesn’t have to be black or white, it can be and, it can be nuanced. We can make space for all the feelings. We can make space for things that we just absolutely love but we don’t have to love at all. And if we don’t love it all, we’re not bad or wrong or failing at grief. And we’re not on a road to not genuinely loving life again if we don’t choose to see every little thing that’s happened to us as a blessing or a gift. You can, I’m not saying don’t, I’m saying check your reasons, make sure you like them.

If you want to find a gift in something, if you want to see something as a blessing, check your reasons for that. Make sure it feels really good to you and it’s not coming because someone outside of you told you that you’re supposed to or you have to or you should. It is totally okay to not feel grateful all the time. It is totally okay to not find a silver lining, to not find a blessing. There’s nothing wrong with you if you’re not doing that gratitude, in my opinion, is not morally superior.

And I will say this 37,000 times, feelings are not problems to solve. They are just experiences to allow and however you feel is okay. Tell yourself that, remind yourself that. That’s what I have for you this week. Go get registered or go apply, I should say, coachingwithkrista.com/rocksolid. And let me help you create rock solid confidence. We don’t need more therapy to do it. We don’t need depressing grief groups. We do not need positive thinking or toxic positivity, any of that.

I’m going to teach you in this workshop what we do need, coachingwithkrista.com/rocksolid. Remember, whatever you’re feeling, even if it’s not grateful, especially if it’s not grateful, I love you and you’ve got this. Take care and I’ll see you next time, bye bye.

If you like what you’ve been hearing on this podcast and want to create a future you can truly get excited about even after the loss of your spouse, I invite you to join my Mom Goes On coaching program. It’s small group coaching just for widowed moms like you where I’ll help you figure out what’s holding you back and give you the tools and support you need so you can move forward with confidence. Please don’t settle for a new normal that’s less than what you deserve. Go to coachingwithkrista.com and click Work With Me for details and next steps. I can’t wait to meet you.

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About your coach

I created a new life using small, manageable steps and techniques that made sense. The changes I experienced were so profound I became a Master Certified Life Coach and created a group coaching program for widows like us called Mom Goes On. It’s now my mission to show widowed moms exactly how to do what I’ve done and create a future they can look forward to.

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