Offering thanks and appreciation to a person, either for what they have done for us or simply for being in our lives, is an act of gratitude. Underneath that act is the feeling itself: an earnest acknowledgement of the importance of another and a desired response to reach back to them, with kindness, with warmth, with love. However, there are many ways that we can dismiss gratitude and many reasons that we make for not wanting others to reach back to us.
We might have been the recipient of having our gratitude dismissed, and the messages that we have received probably hit a similar note: “You should be more grateful,” “You are selfish,” “Of all that I have done for you, you aren’t even thankful,” or “This is the thanks I get?” The receiving end of these messages can burn unspoken messages, possibly deeper, into us: “You don’t really care enough about me,” “You shouldn’t bother,” “You don’t really love me.” These deeper messages can hurt both our relationships and our sense of identity, for if our true expression of thanks and gratitude isn’t enough, then we aren’t enough.
That is on the giving side of gratitude, yet it is in the act of dismissing that I find a fascinating psychological mirror for a person to see their own character. In dismissing gratitude, we may have our own personal reasons. Those reasons may be entirely valid for us, and we may feel more deserving of gratitude, wanting more thanks, more appreciation, and are better than others. Our reasons may also be cultural and bound up with familial hierarchies and power dynamics, wherein the gratitude of others can only be one-directional and is never enough. Familial and cultural teachings may galvanize those reasons and can make accepting gratitude seem immodest, yet there is a relational stance to be examined when gratitude is dismissed. Age, culture, and religious differences can all flavor the dismissal of another’s gratitude in different ways, yet the taste remains.
However, that is the bind in dismissing gratitude: to dismiss gratitude and call another person selfish and ungrateful for not being more appreciative is in its own way an act of selfishness, and an act of putting oneself above another. In dismissing gratitude, we are demonstrating a lack of gratitude for another person and a looking down on another person, simply from looking at one’s own self-worth and not looking at another person’s emotions. Therapeutically speaking, it is neither good nor bad to dismiss someone’s gratitude, for it is simply a relational stance and a choice.
Have I dismissed the gratitude of others and thought that they weren’t truly thankful or appreciative? Yes. Have I felt less than and inadequate when my gratitude has been dismissed? Yes. Have I tried to express gratitude, not from a place of feeling less than deserving, but from a place of mutual appreciation and understanding? I’m still working on that.
Is having a more even sense of gratitude, that neither degrades nor elevates others, then the ideal? Is being able to offer and accept gratitude without dismissing it or hierarchically looking above or below oneself then the better way to be? Very simply; that’s not the point for me. Whether we think ourselves better than others and dismiss their feelings, think of ourselves as equals and empathize with the feelings of others, or think of ourselves as less than others and strive to improve, we have a greater capacity to see ourselves and see how we hold ourselves in relation to others when we examine our response to gratitude. That is the point for me. In exploring gratitude and how it tastes when it is offered, and how it is accepted or dismissed, we have an opportunity to examine how we are with others, change our interactions, and mindfully shape our character.
Whether we dismiss a thank you, a kind act, a gentle word, or not, we have a choice in how to respond to others when they reach out to us.
(Originally written November 28, 2012)