“You’re overloaded. You have to stop.”

The policeman’s orders may cause unwelcomed stress for the driver of the overloaded truck or car, but they usually bring relief—and perhaps a smile—from other drivers who resent the highway hazard. We encounter these overloaded vehicles much too frequently. Representing risk and threat, they’re on the highways with us, usually in front of us blocking or impeding our progress. We don’t like getting stuck behind them for fear that their load will give way and come crashing back on us. Perhaps the legal problems and the financial penalties will motivate the “overloaded driver” to be more respectful of highway safety.  
Have you felt overloaded in your personal or relationship journey? Sometimes we travel along life’s roadway with an overload of stress simply because life has a way of getting quickly complicated and quite cumbersome. Life’s burdens become very heavy and we sputter along the highway of life wondering if we’ll be even able to reach the next rest area. Some of the stress we carry along with us is legitimate and logical; we just do our best to keep moving. However, some of our harmful “overload stress” is self-induced and self-maintained, particularly the emotional trash we choose to drag along with us. Safe travel as an individual or as a relationship requires a vital life skill:  unloading our trash!
 How much “trash” do we have that could be “unloaded” at this point in our journey through life? How overloaded are we? How heavy is the load? Suppose you could be the tractor-trailer rig that pulls into the next weigh station along life’s interstate. You drive up onto the huge scales and your load-weight is assessed. Do you get the green light that allows you to continue your journey? Or, do the scales show that you are overloaded and therefore must stop to do something to reduce the excess weight?
As we examine our personal trash, what do we find to be most painful or most prevalent? What creates stress and strain? Even a casual examination reminds us that our trash takes many forms and expresses itself in a variety of ways.           
  •  T:  Tension from past grudges
  •  R:  Resentment about past events
  •  A:  Anxiety from past fears
  •  S:  Shame from past secrets
  •  H:  Hurt from past losses
Each component contains the word “past.” By definition, “trash” relates to “stuff” from our past that we drag along with us through life. Which of these components currently show up in our personal trash? Okay, let’s be honest with ourselves. A careful trash review will probably result in a lengthy list of trash items which threaten to cause unsafe travel for us and for everyone else on the road of life around us. So, what can we do? What choices do we have? 
Our basic options are twofold.  We can choose to “take our trash with us,” or we can choose to “take out the trash.”  If our plan is to travel safely and healthily in our individual and relationship journeys, the choice is clear:  we must develop the habit of unloading our trash.
However, some people struggle with letting go of their emotional baggage. This struggle could be rooted in three possible issues. First, the issue could be AWARENESS—“I have no trash.” Secondly, the issue could be ATTITUDE—“I’m not willing to let it go.” Finally, the issue could be ABILITY—“I’m not able to let it go.” To travel toward better personal and relationship health we need to work on each of these issues. Our work involves clear choices. I choose to admit that “I do have trash.” I choose to “let it go.” I choose to find a way or develop the skill so I will be able to “unload my trash.”
As a professional therapist I’ve had countless sessions in which clients and I have discussed how they could “take out their trash” so that they could decrease their negative patterns (depression, anxiety, guilt, worry, stressed-out relationships, etc.) and increase their positive patterns (self-acceptance, inner peace, better relationships, etc.). We have to choose—and use—the tools and techniques that will work best for us. The following five strategies will provide some possible solutions we can consider.
(1) Focus on forgiveness. We can develop a process of forgiving other people who hurt us in some way, even if they are not penitent or apologetic. We choose to “extend grace” to them when they don’t deserve it. Practicing sincere forgiveness is perhaps the best way of all to “take out the trash” and to “let it go.” Forgiving someone usually helps us more than the offender is benefitted. From a spiritual perspective a Christian who has received forgiveness from God cannot withhold forgiveness from his fellow-man (Matt. 6:14-15; Eph. 4:32).
(2) Fill the garbage bag. Take a common black garbage bag and designate it as your “personal trash bag.” Make a list of your emotional baggage or personal garbage that you consider to be “trash.” Using a separate piece of paper for each item, write the trash item on the paper and then either crumple up or tear up the paper. Next, speak to the paper in an assertive manner with words like, “You are trash and it’s time to take you out. You are going into the garbage bag forever. I’m letting you go. Goodbye!” Throw the crumpled-up paper (or the torn-up pieces) into the bag. Experience the relief and peace of unloading that one piece of trash. Continue with the next item and repeat the basic process until all of the items have been unloaded into the garbage bag. When all the trash items are in the bag, it’s time for a final step:  take the trash bag to an outside trash can or dumpster. Allow yourself to feel relieved and thankful as you walk away from your trash. If the item you unloaded comes to your mind in the future, simply tell the item clearly and firmly, “You’re in the trash bin. Now stay where you belong!” Picture yourself slamming the trash bin cover down on the trash and heave a big sigh of relief. Then return to the activity in which you were engaged. To encourage and to expedite periodic trash removal, you may want to keep an empty trash bag hanging somewhere in your house so it will be handy for you to use whenever “new” trash materializes. Use this process as often as needed to keep yourself clean from trash buildup.
(3) Flush out the system. I recall being told once by my car mechanic that the car’s radiator needed to be flushed out to improve performance. He explained the importance of removing dirt and other impurities from the cooling system so that the car would not overheat. Similarly, we as human beings can “overheat” when our “trash” builds up and clogs up our emotional system. Regular flushings may be a workable solution. But how do we flush? Here’s one practical approach that is affordable and effective. Choose to believe that “trash belongs in the sewer.” With that in mind, designate a roll of toilet tissue and a magic marker or pen as your helpers, and place them somewhere in your bathroom. When you identify something as an emotional trash item, go to the bathroom, take a piece or two of the tissue, write on the tissue a few key words that capture the essence of your trash, and then flush the tissue down the toilet. Be sure to say goodbye (and good riddance!) to the trash. Take a moment to feel the relief and peace of letting go of the emotional burden. In using this “letting-go” tool you are flushing out your emotional system, a process you will want to repeat as often as you identify trash build-up within yourself.  Just like we need to flush out our vehicle’s radiator to clear away dirt or impurities, so we need regular “flushings” to keep our “emotional radiator” clean and functional.
(4) Fire up the altar. One overloaded lady decided to “take out the trash” by offering her emotional burdens up to God. She chose a suitable metal container as her sacrificial altar. She wrote down on pieces of paper the things about herself that she considered as her personal trash and placed the papers in the container. Then she said a prayer to God in which she asked Him to receive her burdens and take care of them however He deemed best. Carefully and safely she burned the papers and watched the paperwork being transformed into heat and light. As the papers disappeared in the flames, she imagined by faith that God was taking them upon Himself, relieving her of the burden. She prayed a thanksgiving prayer and asked God to help her in the “letting go” process. She repeated her spiritual ritual every time a new trash item became known to her. According to this lady, the altar technique provided an effective means through which she periodically would “take out the trash.” Her strategy could also work for us when our travel is hindered by trash buildup.
(5) Find a burial plot. Some people practice effective trash removal by burying the items in a selected spot. They will write the items on paper or will select some object that symbolizes the trash. The papers or objects are placed in a box or a makeshift “casket” that is buried underground in the back yard or in another appropriate location. The burial could be preceded by a brief but forceful “goodbye” message. Periodic interments are completed as new trash is identified.
As you consider these trash removal strategies, please realize that no one technique will work perfectly to remove 100% of our emotional trash. However, a reduction of 40-60-80% of our trash will enable and equip us to travel through life more safely and successfully than trying to move forward with the total load of trash on our shoulders.
Several years ago I was pondering this issue of emotional trash removal and was prompted to write a poetic description of the dangers of grudge-holding. As we consider the example of Negative Nash, let’s try to apply his experience with grudges to our own struggles with trash overload.
                                                   "Taking Out the Trash"

                                The story is told of Negative Nash
                                Who hoarded a grudge like hoarding his cash; 
                                               The grudges he made
                                               When he was betrayed
                                Were harbored and kept in his trash.
                              As years came and went his garbage pile grew
                             With grudges of old and some that were new;
                                                From garbage he saved
                                                His heart was enslaved
                             And days without bondage were few.
                             Through all of his life his garbage increased
                             With grudges and hurts he never released;
                                             The pains that he bore
                                             Were chains that he wore
                             In bondage until he deceased.
                            To Negative Nash we owe a big debt:
                            We learn not to hoard or worry or fret;
                                         The lesson from Nash? 
                                        “Let’s take out our trash!”
                             And try to forgive and forget.

                                                                 (Written by Dr. Bill Baker -- 04/29/2007)
The word “trash” suggests heavy hearts and health hazards.  Personal relationships are hindered and hurt by trash buildup.  Perhaps it’s time that we redefine the word “trash” to suggest a better way to travel through life. My preferred definition is this:
                                                       T.R.A.S.H.:  Trash Removal Achieves Stronger Health!

Our challenge is to develop and use effective skills in the vital work of trash removal. If we seem unable to complete this work on our own, we may want to get assistance from a professional mental health therapist. A community support group could be a helpful source of strength and assistance. As we practice the skills and thereby keep our personal trash at the lowest possible level, we will be able to travel through life more effectively. Our personal and relationship journeys will be more successful and satisfying.
I wish you the best as you learn to “take out the trash.” And I wish you the very best in all of your relationship journeys.

VIDEO:  To view a short television interview in which Dr. Baker discusses the impact of "emotional trash" on holiday joy as well as several practical trash removal strategies,  click here.

(To listen to an audio version of this blog entry, click the Play button below.)


     (Blog: MH#1304)

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