“I can’t believe I hung onto this for so long.”
What does that mean for you?
I've been working with a client, we’ll call her Nicole, on and off for several years. We've organized and coached together, and she even attended one of my retreats. She's put in great effort to make some big changes in her life, and I really admire her for her diligence and hard work.
Last fall, she and I worked together in her garage going through everything. There was a lot of purging and organizing to do, and we were both determined to get everything completely done before winter set in. We were determined that this would be the first year in a many that she would be able to park her car in her garage.
Nicole’s garage was filled with the typical house, yard and driveway maintenance stuff, as well as seasonal and holiday decorations. While all of that was due for some organizing, it was her parents' belongings that presented the bigger challenge. Nicole's parents had passed away several years earlier and she and her siblings had gone through the daunting and difficult process of emptying their parents’ house so it could be sold. What remained from her parents' house was stored in Nicole’s garage, and since then, she had simply run out of energy to deal with it.
Conveniently enough, one of the extra items in her garage was a dining table. We moved that table to the middle of the garage to create our “sort central” for the many, many days and hours to come. Yes, many, many days and hours.
I don’t recall at what point it happened, or what she held in her hands at the moment, but I think it was one of best moments I've witnessed with her. It was the moment that it all solidified for her. It was when she looked at the item she held and said:
“I can’t believe I hung onto this for so long.”
I could see in that moment that something BIG had just happened.
Nicole had been working on purging things from her house for several years, and while she recognized that her house felt a lot better afterwards, this was the moment that sealed the deal for her. Nicole had truly moved past her need to hang onto physical objects as tokens of happy memories or people she loves.
Thinking about her statement afterwards, I realized how many things – beyond physical stuff – that can apply to in life.
Take a few minutes to really ponder these questions…
Now ask yourself…
What do I gain by continuing to hang onto that?
What would it be like if I stopped carrying that around and simply let it go?
With what new belief could I replace the old belief?
Is it possible they didn’t realize they hurt or offended me?
What would it be like if I forgave them?
It’s easy to hang onto our painful stories when we choose to continue ruminating and reiterating, repeating internally and/or with anyone who will listen. What that does, though, is keep us stuck in the past and cut off from the future we actually want.
Yes, of course, use your voice to let your stories out as a way to process and release emotions. Keeping difficult emotions bottled up inside tends to result in creating even bigger issues down the road. However, it's equally important to be able to recognize when it’s time to move on from that story.
But, how do you know when it’s time to move on? And how do you move on from such a painful memory?
You can begin by looking at what you get out of hanging onto the story. Have you begun to enjoy (whether consciously or subconsciously) the attention that you get when you tell the story? Are you attached to the drama? Is it more comfortable to remain in a victim role so you can justify not taking action toward your dreams and goals? Think about it. For example, is it much safer to swear off dating after a heartbreak than to risk a repeat?? Or can you decide to release the attachment to the story and begin to forgive?
(If you find you are unable to resolve the issue, it may be helpful to consult with a therapist to help you work through it.)
When it comes to forgiveness, it’s important to remember that forgiveness is entirely about you. It has nothing to do with the other person. Forgiveness is part of your journey. It's up to you whether you think it would be productive to talk with the other person, however, you can forgive someone without ever talking with them. Sometimes that’s a faster way to healing.
Try this powerful visualization exercise:
Close your eyes and visualize standing face-to-face with the person involved. Feel yourself hanging onto a suitcase or bag of some kind that is filled with the story and emotions that go along with it. Notice the weight of the suitcase. Then look the person in the eye and thank them for the opportunity to grow. Share that you're ready to move on. Then set the suitcase down, and see yourself – and really feel yourself – walk away. Feel the power you have over your life.
We're all working to figure things out. We're each on our own journey and we’re lucky enough to cross paths with each other. Whether we assign a positive or negative value to our interactions, relationships, activities, belongings or anything else is entirely up to us. There are lessons for us in each day, and often the lessons are found in whatever generates the strongest emotions within us.
Can you see where some of these lessons may be showing up? Can you see a pattern? Is it possible that this situation was presented to you so that you could finally find your voice? Or so that you can get clear on what you don’t want so that you can become clear on what you do want?
And it's okay to change your beliefs about anything. For example, think about all of the beliefs you adopted growing up about how your life should be as an adult. It’s pretty typical to learn that one goes to college, finds a good paying job with benefits, buys a house, gets married, has a baby… Sounds familiar, right? Those were my adopted beliefs, too, until they became terribly uncomfortable. I figured out that I needed my own beliefs, but I had to ask the questions before I could see what I had to stop hanging onto. By releasing the old beliefs and getting clear on my own beliefs, I was able to make space for some pretty incredible stuff to show up.
What I've experienced in my own life, and what I've seen for so many years working with my clients, like Nicole, is that letting go of what doesn’t serve you can be hard work. But, it's always, and I mean always, worth the effort. It does not have to take years of therapy to get there either. It's possible for it to happen in a moment – in the moment that you decide to let it go. And you may end up pretty amazed by the good stuff that shows up in its place.
Whether it’s physical stuff, emotional stuff, or a bit of both, what do you think could show up in your life if you freed up some space?