February 7, 2018

When Holding On becomes Emotional Hoarding.

I never considered myself to be a hoarder.

I don’t have stacks of newspapers and magazines piled up and blocking the door of my home. I don’t accumulate junk for the sake of ownership. I don’t collect anything that overwhelms my house. In fact, over the last few months, I’ve been slowly donating and dumping things that I don’t need in an effort to have fewer meaningless possessions.

Of course, I’m by no means a minimalist, but I do try to focus less on things and more on experiences. So when I realized that I am, in fact, a hoarder, I had to reevaluate the way I look at my life.

But here’s the thing: I don’t hoard possessions. I hoard feelings.

I’m a grudge holder, from way back. I even have a mental list of all the people I’m still pissed at for one reason or another. I don’t obsess over it on the daily, but if it comes up, I have more than my fair share of righteous fury on the subject. This is not an attractive quality, but I’ve never cared much about what other people think.

And it’s not just anger either. I hold on to love and to loss. I hold on to sadness and feelings of not being enough. I hold on to moments of happiness, squeezing so hard because I’m afraid I’ll lose them if I don’t. As much as I would love to be this “Zen” girl who lets go and lets God(dess), I’m not. I don’t let go easily. I don’t take life’s casual comings and goings with ease. I’m afraid good times won’t last long enough, and I hold on to the hurt long after I should have laid it to rest.

I’m hoarding my emotions like they’re going out of style and then wondering why I have no peace.

I’ve watched what happens to someone—a family member—when anger has consumed them throughout their lives. Do I, too, want to age with my anger, never letting go of something that happened decades ago?

While tenacity is a good trait, as is being headstrong, holding on to a grudge is no way to live. It’s taken me too long to understand what everyone has been telling me: we don’t practice forgiveness for the ones who wronged us; we do it for ourselves.

It’s too easy to point to anger and call it a bad emotion. Most of the time, we’re justified in how we feel. A family member bought my car with the promise to make payments, and then never paid, leaving me in a financial bind as a single mom of two kids. Being angry about this is fully justified—but it taught me that I have to stop giving more than I can afford. I learned that I need better boundaries, and in my situation, I can’t give away an asset or loan money to others.

This was a lesson, and the anger is righteous, but while I will never let go of the debt, I can start to let go of my anger surrounding it—slowly, in stages. And it’s time to forgive. Not the debt, but myself, for making a poor choice. And my family members, too, for putting me in this situation.

And the sadness, the grief? How long do we carry around our little losses? We deserve lives that feel so much lighter than this, but we hoard our sadness like it is somehow a comfort to us. We don’t seem to grasp that the only moment that truly matters is the one we’re living right now. And as long as we’re hoarding the emotions of the past, we can’t truly embrace a mindful existence. We’re losing more time because we can’t free ourselves of feelings surrounding events that have already happened.

And I don’t think that we can just let it all go. I don’t even think that’s realistic.

But maybe we should address it in the same way that physical hoarders do. I recommend reading this article, titled “Methods for Addressing Hoarding,” to help deal with our unfinished business, and address the way we hoard emotions, too.

To summarize, we can practice ridding ourselves of emotions (from past or current events) that we’re hanging on to. We can even experiment to see which specific actions help us let go the best. Some of the tools include understanding ourselves better when it comes to hoarding, finding motivation to let go of the weight we’re carrying, coming up with a plan to address it, balancing how we think about this problem, making the necessary changes, and rewarding ourselves for the progress we make.

It’s strange that I used to pride myself on the ability to accumulate and nurture my feelings. Perhaps, as a writer, it does have a place in my life.

But I’ve come to the point that I don’t want it to weigh me down anymore. I don’t want to mourn lost loves forever. I don’t want to feel anger toward a former coworker who caused me to lose my job. I don’t want to sit around and nurture sadness and grudges. I don’t want to hold on to past moments of joy like they’re the only ones I’ll ever have.

If I must accumulate at all, I’d like to hold on, gently, to joy.

To keep the past moments but not at the expense of creating new experiences and new happiness. To open myself up to experiences that make me feel lighter but then let them go when they’re done. I’d like the memories I nurture to be the ones where I laughed so hard I cried or spent the night holding on to someone who loved me in that moment, but I want to hold them softly—-where they mean something to me, but not everything.

I want to give my time and attention to creating joy now that I can look back on later. I want to make my life all about focusing on love, happiness, friendship, and adventure. Not to the exclusion of the present moment but to add to it. To make my happiness an incandescent part of my life, shining out of my eyes.

And it’s so hard to nurture joy when we’re mired in sadness or anger we’ve hoarded along the way. It’s so difficult to be open to new a love when we’ve twisted ourselves around the memories of one that’s gone. We keep tripping over those emotions because they are crowding our minds. Perhaps if we look at that as something to address, we can make room for all the joy that we deserve.

We can learn how to hold all of our feelings and experiences gently—letting them come as they wish and go as they please. We can learn to keep the memories, but not to let them become the wall we’ve built around ourselves and the present moment. We can start, a little at a time, to allow ourselves to focus on only this moment. Then the next. Until our desire to hold on to them all becomes something else we can let go.


Author: Crystal Jackson
Image: Karolina/Pexels 
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Copy Editor: Travis May
Social Editor: Travis May

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