Coping Challenges: cultivating gratitude as spiritual self-care


I am spiritual, not religious.  I accept and respect all religions as valid and real and beneficial to those who believe in their religions.  I do not believe in organized religion and am not going to discuss it here.  I am going to discuss how cultivating gratitude helps me recover from spiritual aspects of trauma.  That said, here are my definitions of religion and spirituality.

My definition of Religion

Religion is a type faith based around an organized belief system with creation stories, redemption stories, sacrifice stories, and rituals to support, educate, inspire, and bring together its followers under a hierarchy of appointed leaders.  The organized religion has rules to obey and specific practices to learn.  Religion often cannot be practiced alone, but sometimes can.   Individuals and groups can be expelled for questioning or disobeying leaders too many times.

My definition of Spirituality

Spirituality is the belief in a higher power that offers connection, comfort, support, hope, education, respect, gratitude, compassion, and acceptance of the self and others.  The higher power can be God, Goddess, a panacean of spirits and gods/goddesses, nature, elements, individual spirits, a Greater Power, the universe, or anything else.  It stays on the inside and is always close by – like a soul.  Spirituality is based on faith in something that cannot be seen, heard, touched, tasted, or scented in typical ways.  But it exists.

Some background

I was born Christian: one parent was Protestant; the other Catholic.  I was raised Mormon from age 6 to 15 by the cult who “took care of” me for the parents.  Members of the Mormon sub-cult who practiced ritual abuse (sexual, physical, etc.) on children were not all Mormon.  But they were lapsed or angry with their original religion and came to the Mormons as seekers.

Taking with members of Christian, Protestant, Catholic, Hebrew, and Seventh Day Adventist religions in college helped me realize that I was not raised Christian after all.  Only parts of what I learned matched the New Testament and Bible.  Hardly any matched the Old Testament.  And not much at all matched Jewish traditions.  But there were enough similarities to scare me away from claiming any organized religion as my faith.

A literature class re-introduced me to the concepts of Buddhism, Taoism, and spirituality.  That brought back memories of my grandfather (an acknowledged Protestant who also continued to practice his original beliefs) and how he taught me that Chinese ideas of religion and spirituality were not like Western views.

In Buddhism, one can still acknowledge, accept, respect, and practice other faiths.  Taoism and spirituality have similar practices.  The lessons are more like homilies and questions or statements meant to provoke thought and inspire respectful, acceptance of life through self-reflection, compassion, and peace.

Why I Cultivate Gratitude

Shame has been a major factor in my trauma.  So has lack of respect and acceptance for anything outside of my family’s worldview.  My reality was appropriated, turned inside out, and violated with lies and deceit to keep me under their control.  I was taught that the only way to live properly was to treat people with condescension, manipulate them to get my own way, and be mean to them because that would bring joy into my life.

And maybe if I actually believed that, I would have stayed with the family and become what they wanted.  But even as a child I knew that I was different.  That being mean and hurtful was wrong.  Having to act like that while in survival mode damaged me a lot.  I don’t regret it, but I do feel shame and guilt about about what I said and did during those years.  I also feel shame and guilt about not getting out sooner, not standing up for myself more, not being able to protect myself better, etc.

Example of Gratitude Practice

This is where cultivating gratitude comes in.  The ever-changing list reminds me of how far I’ve come and what my past has taught me.  Instead of feeling shame and guilt over the memories, I feel gratitude for the lessons that shaped who I am now.  The practice goes something like this:

  • I feel grateful for being alive
  • I feel grateful for being physically, emotionally, and spiritually healthy
  • i feel grateful for being safe
  • I feel grateful for shelter to keep me warm in winer and cool in summer.
  • I feel grateful for the lessons my past taught me
  • I feel grateful for the acceptance of my friends and support network
  • I feel grateful for escaping toxic people
  • I feel grateful for learning compassion
  • I feel grateful for the gift of written communication skill

Some people prefer: “I am grateful for…” instead of “I feel grateful for…”.  I started out suing the first phrase, but it did not feel as right as I learned more about emotions and feelings.  And since I experience gratitude as a feeling, the word “feel” is more appropriate than “am” here.

Thank you for reading.