What It Really Means When Expressing Gratitude Gives You Serious Anxiety

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Why Expressing Emotions Like Gratitude Causes People Anxiety
Self

No, you're not just a narcissist.

This week's crop of notifications about my Facebook memories reminded me that it has now been three years since I took on the shorter, though also anxiety-inducing, 5-Day Gratitude Challenge that went viral in the Fall of 2014.

There have been a variety of permutations of that practice, but in essence, it was based on the scientifically-backed concept that the more people express their feelings of gratitude, the happier they are.

In agreeing to participate, I agreed to write one Facebook post every day for five days, in which I would list three things for which I am grateful. That seemed like it should pretty easy at first blush, but in reality, it was far more complicated than I'd been expecting. I figured I would compose my list every evening so I could use the experience as an exercise in reflection.


RELATED: 3 Steps To Show Gratitude EVERY Day (And Not Just Holidays) 


Even on the worst of days, finding three things to be grateful for really shouldn't be all that complicated in a life as admittedly blessed as mine is, right?

And yet, it was.

That number — three — was both an opportunity and a limitation.

If I said I was grateful for X, Y and Z, did that mean I was ungrateful for D, E and F? And what about poor M, N, and O? I didn’t want to leave anyone or anything out.

I also wanted to make sure my expressions of gratitude were written in a way that others could appreciate, or, at the very least, not feel annoyed by. This was a public challenge on social media, after all, not something I jotting down in a personal journal and then tucking neatly in some bedside drawer.

Because of that, I felt like my gratitude statements couldn’t be too long, because then they would bore people. They couldn’t be too personal to anyone in particular, because then someone else might feel hurt that they went unacknowledged. They couldn’t be too grandiose, because then I might look arrogant.

Who made up all of these ridiculous rules for this stupid freaking challenge anyway?!

Oh, that’s right. Just me. In my own head. 


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Remembering the ridiculous amount of stress I put myself through back then got me wondering why it is that gratitude is such an easy emotion to feel, yet it so difficult for many people to express.

One of the most significant issues I used to see when I was working with men and women going through divorce was that within their marriages, one or both partners never felt appreciated. When we would dive deeper into the conversation, I would commonly find that all along both spouses had felt grateful for the many ways the other supported and cared for them.

The real problem was that either one or both of them would miss the boat — over and over and over again — in regard to actually stepping forward to say to the other something as simple as, "Hey, Babe. Thanks. I really appreciate that."

We all have a tendency to get defensive when someone asks us why we didn’t express an emotion we knew we felt at the exact moment we felt it. We're not always sure why we didn't, and we don't want to be the "bad" one, so we respond with dismissive retorts like these:

  • “I shouldn’t HAVE to say it to her all the time! You should just know.”
  • "You just did what you are supposed to do in a relationship! Why should I thank you for that?"
  • “When was the last time YOU said 'thank you' to ME?!”

But why is it so damn hard to simply say instead, “You know what... Thank you. I did truly appreciate that. And I appreciate YOU”?

The reason, in my opinion, is because sharing that kind of appreciation with your partner makes you vulnerable.

The thing is, it really doesn’t.

The definition of the word vulnerable according to Merriam Webster is “1. capable of being physically or emotionally wounded, or 2. open to attack or damage.”

It makes sense to me to be afraid of that. I know I don’t want to be physically or emotionally wounded, so I am certainly not going to stand on my own personal high horse and tell you that you shouldn’t be afraid of being vulnerable either.

But here’s the catch. You already are vulnerable. We all are. All.The.Time.

Any one of us could be emotionally or physically wounded at any given time. If showing gratitude doesn’t make you vulnerable in the first place, it certainly doesn’t increase your vulnerability.

In fact, expressing your feelings to the people who matter most to you actually offers you a form of protection.

I can’t think of a single person who has ever told me they received a negative response from someone they expressed sincere gratitude towards. I'm not saying it can't happen, but frankly, if someone does get mad at you for telling them you appreciate them or something they've done for you, that person has some deep issues going on. I would suggest thanking them silently for making you aware that they are not a safe place for you, and then moving on.

At the end of my own gratitude challenge I did feel brightened.

Life can be difficult for all of us, and as much as I hate to admit it, corny sayings like “count your blessings” are still out there in the universe because they hold truths. Any given day during which I was participating could have been a truly awful, but after sitting down and forcing myself to jot down my three things I was thankful for, I could then climb into bed smiling about something I appreciated each night.

Take a moment to consider what YOU are grateful for today. Now, why haven’t you shared that with anybody yet? You’re already vulnerable, remember?

Go do it. 


RELATED: 5 Ways Anxiety Affects Your Life (That No One Ever Talks About) 


Senior Editor and happily-former divorce coach & mediator Arianna Jeret is a recognized expert on love, sex, and relationships (except when it comes to her own life, of course) who has been featured in Cosmopolitan, The Huffington Post, Yahoo Style, Fox News, Bustle, Parents and more. Join her Sundays at 10:20 PM EST for answers to ALL of your questions on Facebook Live on YourTango and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

This article was originally published at Good Men Project. Reprinted with permission from the author.

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