Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Are You An Emotional Hoarder?

This past decade has given birth to numerous ‘reality’ television shows. Most of us have watched Survivor, The Amazing Race, Big Brother, or one of the dozens of reality shows that have sprung up like weeds. Today, you can flip through the channels and find shows like Housewives of Atlanta, American Idol, Fear Factor, The Apprentice, America’s Next Top Model, Pimp My Ride, Deadliest Catch, and dozens more. Shows depicting tattoo artists, pawn shop owners, storage unit bidders, wife swappers, home remodelers, fishermen, singers, and dancers give viewers a wide range of choices when it comes to reality television. These shows have come a long way from what is commonly known as the "granddaddy of the reality TV genre," Candid Camera, which made its debut in 1948.

One of the reality-based shows that will usually grab my attention is “Hoarders.” According to the Hoarders website, this show takes a fascinating look inside the lives of two different people whose inability to part with their belongings is so out of control that they are on the verge of personal crisis.1

In each story they feature a house filled with personal belongings and garbage that has been stock-piled and hoarded for what appears to be many years. In numerous episodes, the house is so cluttered with possessions, trash, human and animal waste, and even dead animals that the house is in jeopardy of being condemned by the Health Department.

Have you ever considered yourself a hoarder? Not in the same sense of these people who hoard “stuff” to the point where they endanger themselves, but do you hoard emotional hurts and offenses from the past? Has your spouse, or someone close to you hurt you in the past and you’ve held on to that pain, refusing to forgive the offense? Are you hoarding issues or un-forgiven sin of the past that are not resolved?

Just as it is unhealthy for people to hoard possessions and useless junk, it’s equally damaging, if not more so, to hang on to grievances and offenses of the past. If you have unresolved anger buried in your heart, it has a tendency to fester and grow, and has the potential to prevent you from living a life full of joy and peace.

The Bible says in Ephesians 4:26, “And don’t sin by letting anger con­trol you. Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry.” Anger, or conflict, can have a devastating effect on your relationship. It causes us to be critical of one another and it is divisive. Additionally, anger often leads to an escalation of the current issue at hand.

Unresolved conflict can escalate minor disagreements into major problems and these problems can increase in both importance and intensity. Unresolved conflict can burn within you and cause you to harden your heart towards the person with whom you have the conflict. It can grow and multiply and before you know it, you have become bitter and angry, and you may not even realize why.

Similar to people who hoard possessions, once you harbor unresolved conflict or un-forgiven offenses, you begin to hang on to offenses more readily and tuck those memories away. The more conflicts and issues that you tuck away somewhere, the easier it is to avoid confrontation and resolution and the easier it is to ignore emotional pain.

For several years in the early stages of our marriage, Debby was what she calls a “stuffer.” She would stuff her emotions deep within her heart and would not talk about her true feelings. When I would do or say something offensive, she had a tendency to add that to her collection of past hurts and she would refuse to discuss issues with me. Basically she was an emotional hoarder.

Because of the way she handled disappointment and hurts, by stuffing and hoarding them away, we would not discuss many of our problems with one another until something triggered her and she couldn’t hold back any longer. All the past offenses and pain that I had caused, and all the emotions that she had stuffed away would burst forth and we would engage in horrific emotional combat, slinging insults and lobbing emotional hand grenades at one another. Proverbs 29:11 says, “A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control.” (NIV) We were acting quite foolishly during those times!

Usually our fights would last deep into the night and would expand to include so many unresolved issues of our past that we typically could not remember what had triggered the fight in the first place. We were in this cycle for several years and had one of these blow-out fights about once every three months.

We weren’t able to break out of this rut until we began to clear out all the clutter and emotional garbage out of our life. When we finally surveyed our stockpile of shattered dreams, shredded emotions, discarded needs and broken promises, we realized that we needed help. We needed an intervention. Like so many of the people on the Hoarders show, we couldn’t clean up our mess on our own.

We found a biblical marriage counselor who helped us step by step in clearing out the garbage and clutter from our emotional home. He walked us through the unresolved conflicts of our past and helped us find the courage to deal with problems as they surfaced, rather than stuff them away to be dealt with at a later date.

Today we continue to have conflicts, like all married couples do, but we have learned to deal with them immediately and directly and have moved our marriage from mediocre to amazing.

When Debby and I have disagreements with one another and we heed the words of James 1:19 which says, “Understand this my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to get angry,” we typically find resolution and compromise that we can both agree to and we are able to avoid additional conflict.

We learned how to communicate with one another and how to discuss our conflicts and problems. God’s Word has plenty to say about keeping our communication pos­itive and uplifting. Proverbs 15:1 instructs us to avoid words that stir up anger, “A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare.” When we have arguments or disagreements, we are to avoid say­ing anything that will add fuel to the fire of disagreement. Proverbs 13: 3 says, “He who guards his lips guards his life, but he who speaks rashly will come to ruin.” (NIV) We find in Proverbs 15: 4, “Gentle words are a tree of life; a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit.”

From watching the reality show, I’ve seen how difficult it is for people to part with their possessions and useless junk, and I’ve seen them fight to hang on to certain items they just can’t let go. One thing they all have in common is that they needed someone else to walk them through their mess and encourage them, each step of the way, to rid them of the excessive clutter that is damaging their very way of life.

In our interactions with married couples, we have talked with many people who think they are ‘just fine’ and can maneuver through life without guidance. Often these same people are experiencing a mediocre marriage, wherein they do not communicate with their spouse and yet they wonder why their marriage isn’t thriving and healthy.

Take some time and survey your heart. Are you hoarding offenses and hurts from the past? Are you stuffing disappointment and anger and refusing to resolve problems between you and your spouse? Open every closet door and look in the dark, secret storage rooms of your heart. Do a thorough house-cleaning. Take the first step in clearing out your junk and free yourself from the emotional baggage you are packing through life.

As you discuss an issue and resolve conflicts with your spouse, it is important to use phrases such as “I feel” rather than, “You make me feel.” This demonstrates that you are taking responsibility for the way you feel, rather than putting blame on your spouse for causing you to feel the way you do. This small shift may change the attitude of your spouse and have a positive impact on the resolution of the conflict.

We encourage you to seek biblical counsel and advice as you tackle emotionally charged conflicts from the past. There is no shame in seeking counseling. In fact, that may be just the step your spouse needs to see you take to begin the road to recovery in your relationship. If you need a marriage counseling referral, feel free to e-mail us at jason@youramazingmarriage.com.

~ Jason Coleman
“Discovering Your Amazing Marriage”

1 http://www.aetv.com/hoarders/