I was preparing the house for visitors the other day, and had decided I needed to thin out the “stuff” around, on, and in my desk. As I sorted into shred, recycle, file piles, I reflected on how much “stuff” I have, how much comes in each day, and how it seems to be harder to dispose of than to accumulate. These experiences aren’t just restricted to miscellaneous paperwork, or material items. They also occur emotionally. How much do I hold on to that is neither necessary nor helpful?
I grew up feeling like I needed to always be prepared to defend my feelings and behaviors. I gathered evidence and stored in memory details of nearly everything, in case I needed to explain something later. Imagine an 8-year-old CSI agent. It wasn’t ok to take a position without being able to explain why, so I learned to present my cases in a way any jury could understand. Sometimes I overwhelmed others with my explanations of why I liked something. I remember as a new professional trying to identify accurately and completely why I didn’t like some wallpaper sample suggested by a designer for my new office. Finally she said, “I don’t need to know why. I just need to know if you like it or not. It helps me narrow down the selections to offer.” What a concept! My likes and dislikes provided information about me. It wasn’t a contest or a test. There were no right or wrong answers. I did not need to justify my preferences. They were … my preferences. I began to let go of the explanations and the attempts to justify, and began to recognize and accept that I had preferences. It was ok to recognize and express them. It was actually helpful to be aware of what I liked and didn’t like. It saved time when sorting through options.
When it comes to stacks of emotional paperwork, I used to have a more difficult time sorting them than with actual paper. It was difficult to let things go. Painful, hurtful memories were as likely to be held on to as were the moments of joy, peace, and belonging. A loved one of mine often kept her painful reminders readily available, literally as well as virtually. At times of distress, she would say, “ Did I ever share that terrible hurtful letter my neighbor sent me long ago?” She would remove it from an envelope in her desk and read the hurtful shaming remarks again – reopening her wounds. Why would someone do that – relive the injury? Perhaps to feel the pain anew as punishment or as a reminder to not be “too happy,” or as a reminder she was alive, or as a way to feel something again- anything, even if only shame. I don’t know her reasons. I’m pretty sure the process reinforced her critical view of herself. I know there must have been a better ways to emotionally care for herself.
Re-living slights, shame, or emotional pain does not necessarily help us grow or thrive. We have to learn to sort through and discard experiences that do not support our health and wellbeing. It is difficult to do without practice. It’s like going through your sock drawer. Black socks might be good to have – but do you need 6 pair, the pair with the heel torn out, the pair that no longer fits, or the pair that hurts your feet whenever you wear them? You get the point. Keep what is useful, keep what you love, and keep what helps you become the person you strive to be. Recycle or discard the ones that no longer work for you. Let go of them after they have served their purpose.
Holding on to your pain may be helpful for a while, but when it has outlived its usefulness, let it go. Many processes have been developed for releasing negative energy from your life. They include things like burning the items and watching the concrete and material become air, burning paper with the items identified on it, Casting the virtual items into the sea or the wind, creating a vault where they pain can be locked inside and then buried, releasing balloons. You probably have releasing visualizations/ rituals of your own. The important action is to intentionally release the pain and its associated memories. Thinking negatively is a habit that requires an effort to change.
Hold on to your moments of peace, belonging, and recognizing all is right for the moment. Keep them available to you to draw from when you are distressed. Practice breathing, holding on and letting go of the breath. It will make a difference.
Remember, this forum is not intended to be therapy. I have no way to view your body language, hear your tone of voice, or see if your words and your displayed emotions are matching. These are essential to effective communication and great tools for the therapist (and for the consumer when reversed.) I will attempt to be as helpful as I can. I will refer you the best I can to needed services. Even though I will not be your therapist, I am a health care professional bound by law and ethics to act to protect persons from harm. I am required to report my concerns of harm to self or others, and suspected abuse of children and vulnerable adults. I am located and providing these services in Washington State.
Again, I am open to communicating directly with you here. If you have questions or concerns, please leave a comment. I will attempt to address the content if I can.