Just like we can hold onto physical items that clutter our life, so too can we hold onto relationship clutter. Who we spend time with, the words they say, and the power of those words can affect not only our view of self, but also how we relate to other people. When is the last time you reflected on your current relationships and did some “spring cleaning” to clear out relationship clutter?
In relationships, there is a balance of giving and receiving. If you find yourself sacrificing your own needs, feeling drained, and perhaps even feeling a loss of identity, it may be time to address this. Wouldn’t you rather surround yourself with people who leave you feeling encouraged and energized?
It is important to have your own voice in a relationship and to have a sense of independence while also being able to depend on each other. If you don’t feel emotionally safe, and accepted for who you are then it is difficult to be authentic. One may not know if it is OK to share thoughts and feelings without fear of a negative response.
Relationship clutter may look like things held onto from the past that one just can’t quite “move on” from. It may take the form of anger—resentment in the form of holding grudges. It may look like family of origin issues that one has not been able to fully process—things like abuse and neglect, family secrets, parental divorce, or feelings of abandonment. Clutter may also look like things that one sees each day within their relationship but have gotten used to it being present—yelling, frequent arguments, blaming, shaming, controlling, or use of gaslighting.
Clutter holds us back. It weighs us down. Spending time with others who we consider to be “toxic” negatively impacts mental health. We may begin to question and doubt ourselves. We can start to feel insecure. Self-esteem and self-worth are impacted. Depression and anxiety are common along with associated symptoms such as guilt, feelings of hopelessness, and lack of control. Even though we may physically be in a relationship, it can feel more isolating and lonelier than being alone.
There are resources available 24/7 such as the Domestic Abuse Hotline that can connect you to local resources.
If you are recognizing patterns of relationship clutter in your life, here are ideas to help restore balance.
Learn to Let Go
Letting go is important not only with physical clutter, but also in working the emotional aspects of relationship clutter. Letting go is not easy, especially when you care for someone but recognize that the dynamics are toxic.
Listen to and connect with your pain. Ask yourself “What do I need?” Perhaps you need self-love or positive affirmation. Listen and allow yourself to receive.
Learn Healthy Communication Skills
Communication is a common area that brings individuals and couples to therapy. Learn how to clearly express your needs, resolve conflict, and communicate boundaries.
Work Through Grief/Loss
If you have never had space to process past events that continue to show up in relationship, it can be incredibly healing. Feelings are complex, especially when there are layers of abuse within close, intimate relationships.
Find Ways to Reinvest in New Relationships
As you begin to let go of unhealthy relationships, reinvest in new relationships. This does not mean to jump back into dating apps, etc. It is OK to slow down. Take time to get out and meet people who share similar values and interests. Reconnect with family or friends that are supportive. Joining a small group is a great way to get to know others as well as connecting with your larger community.
Get to Know Yourself
Who am I? This may seem like a simple question, but it can feel quite intimidating if your identity has been wrapped up with someone else and you no longer know who you are. Explore your identity and begin to connect with yourself.
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Written By: Charlotte Johnson, MA, LPCC
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