Galen Pearl

Galen Pearl

Galen Pearl

Emotional Hoarding

The price of staying awake is giving up every reason you have to stop loving. ~Adyashanti

Do you know anyone who is a hoarder? I do. When I walk into her apartment, there are piles of newspapers and magazines everywhere. Boxes of unknown contents are stacked along the walls. Every surface is crowded with deals too good to pass up. There is little room to move, no space to cook or eat, and only one little corner of the couch available where she can sit and watch TV. Visitors are not allowed beyond the front room, so I don’t know where she sleeps. The apartment is impossible to clean. She acknowledges the negative impact on her life and even worries that there is so much weight in the apartment that the floor might collapse. She is miserable.

And yet she cannot let any of it go, even though she knows that her life would be so much better if she could. What is the nature of such an attachment that is so strong that the price of giving it up in order to have a healthier, more balanced, happier life is just too high?* 

Some of us might think that such an attachment is beyond our understanding. But what if we are told, as Adyashanti said, that the price of living an awakened life is giving up every reason we have to stop loving? Every judgment, every resentment, every hurt feeling, every unforgiving thought, every irritation, every criticism, every “othering”? What if we are told that all of these reasons, no matter how justified, keep us locked in an emotional state of suffering? And that giving them up, all of them, without exception, will free us to live a more integrated, harmonious, healthier, happier, awakened life?

Can we understand attachment a little better now? I know I can. 

Most of us, if we’re honest, can discover, if not an emotional apartment full of clutter, at least an emotional junk drawer we haven’t cleaned out in time beyond memory. We might not even know what is in it anymore. When we look, we might be able to toss some things, but there will be that one little thing that we hold in our hand with hesitation. “You never know when I might need that,” we think. 

Or there might be the emotional treasure that is displayed a place of honor on the mantel. Such a spot is often reserved for the big unforgiveness attachments we never forget – parents who let us down, lovers who left us, friends who betrayed us. Who can argue with those reasons to stop loving? No one. 

That’s the point, isn’t it? I can justify every reason I have to stop loving. I can hold onto it in perfect righteousness. And I can wear my resultant suffering like a cloak of justice. A heavy cloak that drags with the weight of accumulated wrongs I can’t let go of. 

So why can’t we just unfasten that cloak and leave it in the dirt? Do we hold on because of some fear of what will happen if we let it go? Would we feel grief or vulnerability? Or perhaps, if we look closely, we might admit there is some pleasure in sitting in judgment, in fantasizing revenge, in attracting sympathy for our injury.  

Whatever our reason, we will hold onto it until we want freedom more than we want to suffer. Because until we are willing to forego the secret delight of withholding love, we will be as trapped by our emotional hoarding as my friend is in her apartment. 

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. ~Matthew 6:21

*I understand that hoarding can be a mental health issue that isn’t as simple as just making a choice. I use the example of hoarding here only as a metaphor for holding onto emotional attachments that do not serve our well being. 

11 thoughts on “Emotional Hoarding”

  1. Thanks RCS. Like you, I don't think I have a mind cluttered with emotional hoarding. However, the quote about having to give up every single reason to stop loving has gotten me thinking about some of the mostly unconscious attachments I still have to resentment or anger over things long in the past. I am more motivated now to seek them out and clean house, so to speak. Thanks for commenting.

  2. I used to be fascinated by shows that interviewed hoarders and tried to help them be released from their difficulty. And I know I have some emotional hoarding that I find almost impossible to let go of. I'm thinking of some of our political leaders that are doing great harm to the country, in my opinion. How do I learn to love them?

  3. I don't want anything to get in the way of my freely loving others, Galen. You certainly gave a great example here of how we cling to what we don't need, or what isn't even is helpful to us, sometimes without realizing it. May we simply let go!

  4. You explained emotional hoarding well, Galen. I don't know why we hold onto those things that actually harm us, but it's not easy to release them. What surprises me is when something pops up from many years ago–especially those things that I thought were settled. Thanks for this post, Galen!

  5. You raise a great question, DJan. How can we love someone who causes great harm, whether in the political arena or elsewhere? Your question highlights one of our big justifications for holding onto unforgiveness — the recipient doesn't deserve it!

    For me, I try to keep two things in mind. First, the issue isn't about whether the recipient deserves it. The issue is about whether I want to be free from the shackles that unforgiveness binds me with. Another way to ask is who is the true recipient of our forgiveness? We are! And we do deserve the freedom that comes with forgiveness — it is our natural state.

    The second question is how much do we want that freedom? Because even if I recognize that I am the true recipient of my forgiveness, I still have to want that freedom more than I want to hold onto my judgment, anger, etc, toward the other person. As I mentioned, there is something attractive to us about holding onto that unforgiveness — otherwise we wouldn't do it. So we have have to want freedom enough to give up the pleasure of holding onto righteous unforgiveness.

    These are questions I have to remind myself of often, when I get fixated on my outrage or sense of fairness or justice. I hope this helps.

  6. I experience this too, Pam. Things cycle back through our awareness in need of further or repeated release. It is surprising, and at the same time so human, isn't it? Thanks for commenting.

  7. I did love your analogy; it was a good one. I enjoyed reading your thoughts on this one.
    Blessings and hugs!

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