Last night as I was folding laundry Hoarders was on the TV behind me. As I listened to different hoarders argue, fight and justify keeping each little useless, cheap item in their massive hoards I realized we are surrounded by emotional hoarders. In all honesty, I used to be an emotional hoarder.
Emotional hoarding is collecting emotions and feelings, refusing to let them go, the inability to put emotional garbage in the trash where it belongs or, surrounding oneself with unhealthy amounts of stress, drama, anger, and bitterness. It is the act of protecting oneself from emotional harm by building walls and pretending these walls keep one safe. Essentially emotional hoarding is refusing to forgive.
Emotional hoarding is a natural occurrence post divorce. Think about the damage hoarding does to the homes of people who hoard possessions, their homes become infested with mice and rats, the walls and floors degrade, they expose themselves to additional health threats because of the unsanitary conditions, they lose friends and family because they isolate themselves, surrounded by their possessions.
Emotional hoarding does the same things to us, those negative emotions increase our stress levels astronomically, causing digestive disorders, migraines and heart problems. You lose friends and family because you turn into negative nancy only being able to see the negative emotions that are taking over your life.
So how do you know if you are an emotional hoarder?
You may have already identified yourself by now, just in case though:
How do you react when you know you are going to see your ex? Does your heart start to race, is there a noticeable physical response when he/she contacts you? Do you wish harm on your ex? Do you think the new love in their life is the devil incarnate? Do you have names you use to identify your ex and do you use those nicknames more often than their real name?
As you read this are you arguing with me about the many reasons you are right to feel these emotions? How he hurt you and you deserve to be angry? Do you need to let go? Are they healthy emotions? Make a mental image, give each emotion a box. Put the emotion in the box, do the next one and the next…. Grief, anger, hurt, jealousy….
Think about all those boxes towering, teetering all around you. You are in the middle of a mine field, one wrong move and you will be in danger. There are so many emotions involved in the end of a marriage you can’t help feeling completely overwhelmed.
Those feelings are valid. We believe we deserve to be indignant, hurt, angry, bitter and want revenge. However the truth is if we hang onto those emotions they turn into cheap, useless, damaging emotions. Our hoard threatens to destroy us.
Periodically we need to conduct an emotional cleanup/inentory, much like the way we clean out our closets. It’s time to check those emotions. Yes, your ex hurt you but step back and honestly evaluate if your anger (justified and understandable anger) is helping or hurting you? Should you put that anger in your keep, donate or throw away pile?
Keep Pile: Emotions you determine are good for you should go in the keep pile.
Donate pile: Emotions you can use to change for the better, you will use those as fuel to become a better person and soon the emotions will be gone.
Toss or throw away pile: This is where the really hard work begins. Forgiveness, giving ownership of the hurt back to your ex and letting go…completely. The vast majority of our emotions post-divorce belong in the toss or throw away pile.
Once you have evaluated an emotion you can start the work of embracing the keep pile, recycling the donate pile and turning a negative into a positive and getting rid of the toss or throw away pile.
Don’t expect a miracle overnight. The last two piles, donate and the throw away pile take the longest to work your way through. Don’t get discouraged. Take baby steps. Every time you feel one of those emotions surface work through the emotion. Own it, and choose where it belongs – every single time.
For my throw away pile I used guided imagery and symbolism to work on it. Every time I felt my very understandable anger surface, I did one of the following exercises:
1. In my mind I pictured a small wooden box, it was pretty and ornately carved. When my anger surfaced, I would take that anger and place it in the box. Lock the box. Walk along the beach and first I would toss the key into the ocean, then the box would follow and I would watch the box drift away and finally sink.
2. I would write down my anger on an actual piece of paper or type it out. Then I would take the paper rip it into teeny tiny pieces, then throw it away or burn it. With each tear, I would tell myself I was removing the anger from my heart. It was a cancer eating me. My survival demanded I rid myself of the anger.
There are other exercises you can use. I have recommend very religious people put the box at the feet of Jesus on the cross as a gift that you cannot take back, other people I recommend they offer it as a sacrifice to Buddha or whomever. You can alter the mental exercises to your personal beliefs. The most important part is the consistent mental effort to remove those emotions from your hoard.
If you are consistent, one day you will have a situation with your ex and later realize: hmmmm a few months ago that would have completely stressed me out, I would have wanted to yell at him, or my heart would have been racing… whatever your natural response is to the emotion you are hoarding. Instead you will handle the situation with peace and respect, very similar to how the homes of hoarders go from complete chaos to a healthy home.