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Signs of ‘toxic gratitude’ and how to overcome it, from a career coach

BusinessSigns of 'toxic gratitude' and how to overcome it, from a career coach


It may seem like a good approach to see the positive in every situation, but you should be cautious that you’re not spewing “toxic gratitude” to yourself and others.

Simply put, toxic gratitude is when you’re implementing self-gaslighting, says Elizabeth Pearson, career coach and author of “Career Confinement: How to Free Yourself, Find Your Guides, and Seize the Fire of Inspired Work.”

“This can look like somebody saying ‘Oh, I’m not quite as happy as I feel like I could be’ maybe in your job or in your relationship, or maybe it’s even where you’re living. But then this voice comes in and says, ‘Nope, just be grateful, everything’s fine,'” Pearson tells CNBC Make It.

Toxic gratitude can keep you in living situations that are negatively affecting you, jobs you’ve overgrown and even relationships that aren’t right for you, she notes.

“Gaslighting is such a hot topic, and I’m like we’ve got to look at ourselves. We are gaslighting ourselves.”

Here are some signs of toxic gratitude, according to Pearson, and ways you can overcome it and validate your needs.

3 signs you’re practicing ‘toxic gratitude’

  1. You’re getting signs that something isn’t working for you anymore, but keep dismissing your desires.
  2. The gratitude that you’re expressing is invalidating your feelings.
  3. You’re using gratitude as an excuse to stay in a situation that isn’t serving you. This is likely due to fear that you may not be able to achieve better, Pearson says.

Some internal thoughts about work that are examples of toxic gratitude are:

  • “I’m getting paid. A lot of people are out of work right now, so I should just really be happy and grateful that I have a job.”
  • “I don’t want to be greedy. I don’t need to negotiate for more money at work.”
  • “I should just be grateful that I get to work from home now, so then I don’t need to ask for these other things that I need.”
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In romantic relationships, your mind can play even more tricks on you, says Pearson. Toxic gratitude in your personal life can look like:

  • “Well, I really should just stay. Nobody’s perfect.”
  • “Maybe this person forgot my birthday or doesn’t make my coffee for me in the morning, but it’s better than being alone. It’s better than nothing.”

How to overcome toxic gratitude

If you notice that you’re practicing toxic gratitude, Pearson suggests picturing your younger self and contemplating how they would feel about what you’re excusing.

Ask yourself if they would be sad and disappointed or excited and fulfilled by your current situation, she says. The emotions you think your younger self would feel are what you should use to determine your next steps.

“The opposite of toxic gratitude is really having a deep confidence that you can trust your instincts and your emotions,” Pearson says.

Here are some ways that you can overcome toxic gratitude and honor your feelings:

  1. Treat your emotions like a GPS, and follow what feels good: Aim to go after the things that will benefit you long-term, says Pearson. “Follow what feels good in your thoughts but also in your current reality,” she notes.
  2. Visualize the better outcome: Allow yourself to have “daydreams of having a wonderful job [or] a supportive partner to wrap their arms around you at the end of the day and share a meal with.”
  3. Be honest with yourself about what your gut is telling you and trust it: If you’re unsure, track your happy days and unhappy days as it relates to what you’re having doubts about, to see if the good outweighs the bad.
  4. Set a date for when you’ll walk away from what isn’t serving you: “Once they have that date in mind, of ‘this is the day,’ magic happens,” says Pearson. “All of a sudden, they feel like they have freedom, like they have the keys to the cage. And they’ve decided I’m going to let myself out of this cage in six months.”
  5. Develop a plan to take action: Set yourself up for success when you exit. If you’re leaving a job, this can look like personal branding and working your network before quitting, she says.
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Most of all, Pearson wants you to remember this: “You’re never trapped. The door to the cage has never been locked. You can leave any time.”

“I think you can really look and see if toxic gratitude is one of those bars that you’ve erected in your cage to keep you where you are, and [decide] if it’s time to let that bar go down.”

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