Twenty years ago the medical community rallied around the idea that stress played a big role in disease. Campaigns to reduce stress became common in society. Today the focus is on gratitude, that if patients can tap into feelings of gratitude, faith, and spirituality, they can rally to overcome health issues. I believe gratitude can have a positive effect on healing. However, there are major limitations that must be acknowledged when using gratitude as a tool for healing. In a nutshell, gratitude is not always accessible to patients as a tool for healing.
Gratitude and Chronic Pain
In my experience treating patients with chronic pain (including both physical and emotional pain), when the pain is severe and relentless it is difficult for the patient to elicit feelings of gratitude. This is most obviously seen in patients struggling with major depression. I would venture to say that it is nearly impossible for someone with major depression to feel true gratitude or faith. Something about the nature of depression (and chronic pain) dampens our ability to tap into feelings of faith, spirituality, and gratitude. It’s a double indignity – the very feelings that would help lift us out of this painful state become unavailable to us just when we need them most.
I have seen people with a strong faith in God and powerful feelings of gratitude face a crisis of faith when subject to physical or emotional illness. They want to tap into the faith and gratitude they had before, but seem unable to access it. Then, if they are lucky enough to heal from their illness, their faith and gratitude miraculously return, strong as ever.
Fake It Until You Make It
One key to surviving through an ordeal like this is to fake it until you make it – act like you have faith even when you don’t. Recount all that you are grateful for, even when you don’t feel grateful at all. Force yourself to go through the motions of saying and feeling the right thing, trusting that God will restore you. Over time, these lucky ones start experiencing true feelings of faith and gratitude, as if waking from a deep sleep. It can take months, and sometimes years, to waken from such an ordeal.
As healthcare practitioners, we must know when it is appropriate to suggest our patients keep a gratitude journal and when not. The last thing we want to do is overwhelm struggling patients with a challenge they cannot meet. The danger with promoting gratitude as a healing modality is that it may be inaccessible to the very people it is designed to help. There is no doubt in my mind that the concept of “gratitude healing” was developed by high functioning, healthy people, not by struggling, disabled patients.
The Bottom Line on Gratitude Healing
If you are struggling with chronic pain or depression, don’t try to manage on your own. Seek help from friends, family, or healthcare providers that can offer real solutions. Tapping into your faith, spirituality and feelings of gratitude can help tremendously. But you may not be able to access these feelings at the moment. Pretending, or going through the motions, of faith and gratitude are not deceitful – they can be useful tools in your healing process. Faking it until you make it is a legitimate method for getting to where you want to be.
At Raleigh Acupuncture, we specialize in treating chronic pain conditions. Chinese medicine heals at the physical, emotional, and spiritual levels, and often chronic pain conditions require intervention in all three. If you are curious about acupuncture and what it can do for you, book a session online.