(Meaningless) Gratitude

July 19, 2023

In self-improvement and generally in positive circles, there is a lot of emphasis on gratitude practices. I don't think it's a bad thing in itself, but I have extreme trouble with the concept and even the word. Even seeing it written just infuriates me. "Thankfulness" or being "thankful" doesn't trigger me however. But gratitude, dammit. I hate that word.

"Gratitude". It starts the same as "grating", if we don't take into account the pronounciation. "Grateful", however, starts indeed exactly the same as "grating", and has the same grating effect on me when I see it visually. I feel it scraping my skin, clawing me. It doesn't want me to feel good. It tries to claw something out of me. It's subtly forceful, it's manipulative, I don't like it. It looks like a horrible shade of yellow-orange, the toxic positivity, flowers and butterflies and rainbows kind. And it has a disgustingly saccharine font on top of that. Either hippy flower power bullshit or the "live laugh love" type of font that's been going around since 2013 or so.

"Gratitude" shouldn't be such an angering word, but for me, it is. It doesn't inspire positivity in me. It inspires "be grateful you have parents, a roof over your head, you don't live in a war zone, you have nothing to complain about!" said in an extremely rude tone. It reminds me of all the times my pain has been minimized. All the times it "wasn't so bad", I "had everything to be happy", "shouldn't be so sensitive", and I'm "ungrateful". Yes, kids in Africa are starving, and kids in Syria live in fear of being bombed, but is it relevant here? It wasn't like I was crying about spilled milk or whatever. I was in unbelievable pain from having my emotional needs not even acknowledged or hardly (only when there was a truly shitty circumstance, and even, not always), feeling like I hardly had any existence and will of my own, having suffered parental separation, bullying, loneliness, friends stabbing me in the back, a plethora of issues that aren't just "first world problems" or complaining that your parents won't buy you the latest iPhone. My suffering was valid. It was invalidated over and over again.

When I try to remember who triggered me like this for the first time, I get my brother in mind. I don't remember a distinct moment when he said that or if he even did, but it sounds like one of the things he would've told me as a child, when I started to self-deprecate and seek comfort. I want to point out that it's abnormal if a child does this, even for "attention". It's a sign the child doesn't trust the parents to attend to their emotional needs and thus makes a detour to get it. It's not a sign of a healthy parent-child relationship. But apparently, this didn't ring a bell.

Now let's get to the part that illustrates what the gratitude thing brings back to me.

Actually, the idea of this entry came because not only people in another server I'm in have suggested a gratitude channel, but also, I have this song stuck in my head since I woke up this morning. Here's a translation for those who don't understand French. I had forgotten about it for many years up until today, for some reason, it popped back up. I know it's meant to be satirical, and the artist herself probably isn't an asshole, but it seems so mean-spirited especially when given to someone who is in literal psychological agony, and looking the artist herself up, sure she's super pretty but this has tainted any chance of me ever getting interested in her work. I like controversial stuff, except when it's straight up mean. And the memory of this song is something I cannot get rid of.

I got to know this song because back in 2012-2013, I was in a French furry Skype group with other artists and one of the guys, with whom I had a particularly bad relationship, sent it to me. I had been seeking help, I felt genuinely suicidal, and at 13, especially with a constant dose of trauma and a feeling no one's going to listen to you whether at home or at school, you're kinda intense about those things. I was often making a scene because I was emotional in quite a raw way and I felt that I wasn't listened to. Now I just want to hug this 13-year-old girl, because she really needed one, not another dose of bullying on top of what was happening at school.

When you're a kid, if you feel like people aren't hearing you, it can go two ways: you either shut down or you scream louder. You want to be seen. You want people to see how much you suffer, because it has been thoroughly invalidated over and over. You want proof that it's real. That you're worthy of help from your peers. That's how I came to self-harm. I do realize there was an attention-seeking thing, but it was, most importantly, wanting to be validated. That it's not just all in my head like I was told. For someone to say "I see you, I see your pain, and it's okay not to be okay". Of course, I was naive then. Naive to think emotionally immature teenagers could grasp that. I learned the hard way that people, at best, will ignore you, and at worst, will either manipulate you or kick you when you're down. Some well intentioned people will try to comfort you but seeing that it isn't enough, that you keep getting worse regardless, they'll just assume you don't want to get better, when you're just suffering so much you cannot see much besides suffering.

The best thing is, two other girls were venting a lot more than me and they were always comforted, but people on this server straight up hated me. I wonder if my raw expression of emotion made them uncomfortable, because looking back, it may have seemed excessive, but it was very real, very... yes, raw. It's like Junko's danmaku in Touhou 15: she doesn't even bother to make her danmaku pretty, they're straight up meant to kill you. And perhaps it put them against their own suffering. We were, for the most part, teenagers, and many people don't like to acknowledge this raw and unbridled part of themselves. Teens also typically are assholes. But I couldn't hold myself back at this time. I had taken so much. I was losing it. It doesn't help I was never taught to handle my emotions in a healthy way either: I was often swinging between being extremely stoic and repressed and completely crazy in my expression. I still don't think it was worthy of such a song though. In his defense, the guy was then 16, I think. Still, he behaved himself like a dick.

He did pull the gratitude stunt on me. He also called me a mean person at the core when I, driven to my breaking point, started insulting him. It's his voice, it's his words, that I remember the clearest when I see or hear the word gratitude, the ones I have written at the beginning of this entry. He told me I should be grateful I don't live in a war-torn country, that I have food on the table, that I had my parents alive, the list goes on, many things that invalidate your suffering. YES. I do have all of this, but does that mean I don't have the right to suffer? Does that mean I should just bend over, take all of this in the ass and say thank you? You can have everything to be happy materially, but if your emotional and intellectual bodies are neglected, they suffer. They did the exact same as my family, except in a much more violent way: focusing solely on the material side when I was psychologically being destroyed.

Ten years have passed since then, and I'm feeling rage inside at these people. I never forgave them. I understand why they did it the way they did, but I still find this unforgivable. What would've happened if I had actually done the deed? They'd have blood on their hands for the rest of their life.

The gratitude thing made a comeback around 2017-18, when I got into more spiritual stuff and dabbled in the Law of Attraction. That thing is one of the biggest gaslighting, victim blaming and predatory teachings I've ever come across. The gist is: you attract what you are, so if your vibration is low, you attract bad things, but if your vibration is high, you attract good things. Billionaires, people who have everything in life, attracted all of this through their good vibes. That means the kids who were abused, the Africans and Syrians I've mentioned, the people who go through trauma, brought this upon themselves by thinking bad thoughts and having a "low vibration". Yes, even babies who get murdered at birth. And don't you have bad vibes, because you'll just attract a worse life for yourself. I can't believe I fell for that, but I was miserable and vulnerable.

I was trying so hard to find things to be grateful about, but it was all fake. I couldn't feel happy to have all that stuff. It felt like I was bypassing my own suffering (that type of thing is literally called spiritual bypassing) and trying to distract myself from it. People say the more you practice gratitude, the better you feel, but that simply wasn't the case with me: I was getting worse. I was feeling guilty about not being able to be grateful. I was ungrateful. A spoiled child. Those things are looked down upon: I judged myself. People blame you for your failures in the community. You didn't try hard enough, you didn't do it right, you're the sole responsible for that, or simply, "the Universe knows better". What's a better way to imply that you're too stupid to know what you want and that you're causing your own downfall? It reminds me of the reason why I don't trust organized religion. If you go after what you want, and assert your own power, it's bad. God knows better. You're a poor ignorant soul that doesn't know what they want and who is basically ruining their own life because they don't listen to God. I'm glad I'm out of here. Those things claim to empower you but in fact strip you of your own power. You want something? Go for it. Don't wait for the Universe to hand it to you.

One of the ways of "raising your vibration" was... gratitude! Be grateful! It brings good vibes! Except it's fake when you find nothing to be grateful about. It's fake when you've suffered for an extremely long time and are passively suicidal. At the time I was doing very risky and reckless stuff because I didn't care whether I'd live or die. But yeah, I should've been more grateful. Fucking pigs. Trauma and emotional pain are still not worth looking at, otherwise you're focusing on the lack/negative and you attract more bad things. I think whoever succeeds at this is privileged in the first place, as much as I hate the word "privileged".

Now, I would say I am grateful for my cats, for example. I'm grateful for the old Web and the fact it IS possible to have a small website and not partake in the social media insanity without entirely isolating yourself. I'm grateful for the classmate back in our... 9th grade equivalent? who told me it's okay to be a lesbian. I'm grateful for the moments I could sit next to the Ural or feed stray cats in Atyrau. I'm grateful for the fact my job will be in a nice setting and not too taxing. But that's it. I don't want to force gratitude. People say I could be grateful that I can still eat chocolate, but if it's for the really small things like that, it feels like I'm being grateful for every breadcrumb of good stuff I get. It just feels wrong to me. It brings me back to this "you should be grateful!" message. The violent tone, the harsh words. That same voice is the reason why I feel guilty for not liking it when my dad sends me a package with chocolate that would be perfect for my little sisters but that is too sweet and low-quality for a 23 year old: "be grateful he even remembers your existence". I think, at this point, there may be two types of gratitude. It's not that I'm ungrateful at all, I've just kinda proven it. I just... the concept of practicing gratitude feels so triggering to me.

I think what I've spent the last hour and half typing and rambling about is that I hate gratitude when it's used as a tool, or when it has something mean attached to it. There's nothing mean about the classmate, the old web, my cats... but about people giving me at least a bit of attention, all the invalidating stuff I've spoken about earlier, when it's about noticing every little good thing when it just feels meaningless.

...Meaningless? OH. EURÊKA.

It's meaningless gratitude that I hate. I think that's what it is. I think I should differentiate the two by calling the genuine one "thankfulness" and keeping "gratitude" for the bullshit from now on.