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Survive, Transform, Soar! - Issue #88
Life After Toxic: Grateful For Gratitude
A Thanksgiving Message
Article by: Dawn Aegle in SurviveTransformSoar.com | Friday, November 16, 2018
This article is the proof that it’s possible to find happiness and joy after a toxic relationship. The avenue is gratitude and that’s something that you control completely.

How do I know? It’s in front of my face every day now…since I started living with my mother again. She’s 90. She exudes joy and everyone loves her. She’s had two long-term toxic relationships and been ‘solo’ for 40 years. Everything material she ever had has been scammed from her or given away from her generous heart…the same way she gives love and acceptance to anyone around her.

Her secret is gratitude. I hear her express it to others every day and she tells me, too. You might expect she would feel grateful that I have moved in to take care of her, but she’s the same way with everyone and she glows when she talks to you. 

Most of us in the U.S. celebrate Thanksgiving next week and Canadians did the same last month. I think these holidays have endured because they speak to something deep within the human spirit. If we can access it, then all of life becomes a celebration because we either learn to see value in ‘the bad stuff’ or the bad stuff pales in comparison to the rest of life. This is what differentiates us from a pathological partner. We can learn and we can feel.

What’s All The Hoopla About Gratitude?
I know how difficult it can be to find gratitude when you feel the damage a toxic relationship has caused. And I know how much difference it makes when I focus my attention on what I’m grateful for instead of what was done to me or the damage I see in myself.
Gratitude is a gift you give yourself.
In case you haven’t noticed, there’s also a growing body of research about how gratitude makes us happy that encourages its acknowledgment and expression. This article in Forbes Magazine summarizes seven ‘scientifically proven’ benefits, writing that Gratitude:
      1. Opens the door to more relationships (Emotion, 2014)
      2. Improves physical health (Personality and Individual Differences, 2012)
      3. Improves psychological health (Robert A. Emmons, PhD)
      4. Enhances empathy and reduces aggression (University of Kentucky, 2012)
      5. Leads to better sleep (Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being, 2011)
      6. Improves self-esteem (Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 2014)
      7. Increases mental strength—and may play a major role in overcoming trauma (Behavior Research and Therapy, 2006)

Those of us who have experienced pathological relationships have learned that we cannot place our happiness in the hands of another person; it must come from within us. One of the things we have complete control over is gratitude. It may take some practice to overcome the negativity bias that our expert Rick Hanson has taught us about, but ultimately, all it takes is for us to make a choice.

Growing Gratitude – A Dramatic Example
There’s a new book out—Thanks A Thousand by A. J. Jacobs—that describes his journey across the world to thank 1000 people that were involved in bringing him his morning cup of coffee.

Jacobs describes research that shows gratitude “can lift depression, help you sleep, improve your diet and make you more likely to exercise.” Gosh, those are things all of us need to do to recover from a toxic relationship! He continues:

Heart patients recover more quickly when they keep a gratitude journal. A recent study showed gratitude causes people to be more generous and kinder to strangers.

Another study in Scientific American finds that gratitude is the single best predictor of well-being and good relationships, beating out 24 other impressive traits such as hope, love and creativity. As the Benedictine monk David Steindl-Rast says, “Happiness does not lead to gratitude. Gratitude leads to happiness.”
The more you learn to love yourself, the more you will have to give away.
An exchange that Jacobs has with his son and describes in the introduction to his book helped me realize something. Although expressing gratitude has great benefits for ourselves, think of the change we bring to the world when we express that gratitude to others. How different would your relationship have felt if you heard some genuine words of gratitude occasionally? Your pathological partner may not have been capable of that, but you are! In that one simple way, you have the power to change your own world…and the world for many others, too.

What’s On My Gratitude List Right Now
I’ve been having a tough week, but it always helps me to shift my focus toward gratitude. Here is what I am appreciating today as I write. How about you?

• Music…and especially this week, my life’s theme song, Moon River, and the voices of Audrey Hepburn and Andy Williams to sing it.

• That my mom is still with me and is such a great example and that I am still learning from her.

• Not yet do I feel grateful for experiencing a pathological relationship, but yes for the ability to learn and grow from its role in my life. For the greater compassion for others I experience because of it. For the appreciation it has catalyzed in me for many things I had taken for granted—such as the ability to change and the ability to love and the ability to sleep without interruption. 

• Meditation and the awareness it brings and the joy that brings. Another reason to be grateful for the toxic relationship, without which I may have never been motivated to learn to meditate.

• The embrace of uncertainty…the ability to live without knowing, to accept the flow of life, to see it all as a great adventure and to look forward to the unexpected as a benefit rather than a threat.

• And certainty…knowing I will never go back, knowing I will never give myself away again, knowing for sure that I will learn and grow, even from ‘the bad stuff.’

• This moment—right now—when I sit with sore back and cramped legs after a day of computer malfunctions…I am grateful for the ability to write myself out of pain, to think and process information, to get up and walk without a wheelchair, to have so much knowledge at my fingertips through the Internet…and to have ice cream in the refrigerator.

• Choices…I am so thankful for having so many choices and for my ability to choose…for that is really what freedom is all about. For a long time, I made choices that did not serve me well. Now, I am willing to choose what will enhance my life and fill my spirit. To focus on gratitude rather than resentment or despair. To choose life and its fullness.

Um, Do We Have To Do That Again?
One last note: Thanksgiving kicks off ‘The Holiday Season’ here in the United States—shopping, parties, presents, family…and expectations. And where family and expectations meet up, there are often ‘issues.’ Especially if getting together with family feels like entering a dark forest of “narcissists and sociopaths and psychopaths, oh my!"
Make it a season of healing. Do what makes you happy. Do what brings you peace. Your time alone may turn out to be what you are most grateful for. 
 Whether your memories of holidays are wonderful or terrible or a grand mix, they will be coming up over the next few weeks. How will you handle the season?
      • Handle the family dynamics?
      • Handle a toxic ex showing up—whether with flowers or fight?
      • Handle the kids needing to spend time with their other parent?
      • Handle the busyness?
      • Handle the financial pressures and expectations?

How do you find and prioritize the joy, closeness and love the season offers?

No matter what comes at you this holiday season, I hope you will face it with a mindset of creation. That means deciding who you are, what you value, what you want. Yes, it’s a season of giving, but giving can only come from abundance so you have to ‘pay yourself first.’

Creating an abundance of love for yourself will eventually allow it to overflow to others. That is what your recovery is all about. That is what will turn your toxic relationship into a gift to yourself and make you into a gift to others. Try to grow your gratitude while honoring your own needs to make this season a part of your healing rather than a slip backwards.

In an upcoming issue, we’ll look at what to expect from a former toxic partner during the holidays…ah, that “most wonderful time of the year.” In the meantime, I wish you all a day of thanksgiving, every day of the year, no matter where you are in the world…and all of the benefits that come from it.
*  *  *
Dawn Aegle is the publisher of "Survive, Transform, Soar!" After surviving a 10-year relationship with a narcissist, she is learning to "turn trauma into tremendous."
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