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Blog Short #146: 6 Types of Emotional Clutter that Debilitate You

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Everyone knows on some level that clutter isn’t good for you. Yet most people think of clutter as something material or physical. It’s the unused stuff you keep around your house that piles up and creates a messy environment. That is one type of clutter.

Another type is emotional clutter, which you likely don’t think about often or at all. We don’t associate the word “clutter” with emotional baggage, but it is and does act like clutter. It’s a type of debris that siphons off your energy and eats away at your resilience. Left for extended periods, it can lead to mood disturbances like depression or anxiety that build up, but you just live with it. You don’t recognize the toll it’s taking.

Today I’ll review six types of emotional clutter that can be debilitating and give you some ideas about how to begin clearing them out.

Think of it as emotional spring cleaning!

#1 Hanging On to Mistakes

Some mistakes are bigger than others. You might be able to let go of small mistakes or errors that don’t have significant repercussions. But mistakes that affect your life trajectory, or those that harm others and create remorse, are much harder to work through and let go of.

Constantly replaying them in your mind with what ifs long after the event’s occurred keeps them alive and prevents you from forgiving yourself and letting go.

Try this:

Pull them out one at a time and make peace with them. Focus on what you’ve done to repair or change your behavior, and if you haven’t changed your behavior, work on that now. You don’t have to forget, but you do have to forgive and allow yourself to move forward. Otherwise, there’s a constant emotional drip that erodes your well-being.

#2 Worrying About What Other People Think

If you’re someone who puts great emphasis on what other’s think about you, you aren’t free to relax into who you are and pursue your interests, talents, and personal assets. You’re too busy worrying about how you present yourself and how others will react to what you do. Someone else’s judgment becomes the yardstick by which you measure your worth.

Excessive concern about other people’s perceptions constricts and keeps you from your true self.

Try this:

Take some time to define your values, desires, assets, and goals. Decide what you truly want to pursue. Make friends with who you are. Let go of people who don’t appreciate you, and befriend people who do – just as you are.

#3 Lamenting That Life Isn’t as It Should Be

One of the keys to mental health and emotional stability is learning to field what comes your way.

We tend to move towards sameness and reliability. Of course! It’s easier and more comfortable for things to move in the direction you want with ease and to rely on what’s going to happen. There’s nothing wrong with liking that, but it’s not how life always is, and staying flexible and making the best of what you’ve got from where you are makes life better.

Try this:

Go ahead and create goals, make plans, and pursue what you like. But at the same time, remain flexible and ready to pivot when something doesn’t go the way thought it would. Your reaction is what you can control and use to your advantage. Keep in mind that sometimes moving in a new and unexpected direction works out to your benefit.

#4 Persistent Anger and Bitterness

Remaining angry and bitter about past experiences and even current situations is a waste of you. The amount of emotional energy you pour into ruminating about what isn’t going right or didn’t go right just holds you in idle and sometimes shoots you in reverse. It also pushes other people away and prevents you from experiencing closeness and love in your relationships.

Try this:

If you’re feeling the effects of trauma and can’t move past it, see a therapist and actively work on it. If something in the present is causing your distress, take thoughtful action to change it. You might need to do this in steps, but getting started will move you toward resolution instead of festering.

#5 Avoidance and Fear

Avoiding things, situations, or people you need to attend to feels like a persistent horsefly that buzzes around your head, then flies off and comes back again. Over and over. It’s an awful feeling.

Sometimes it’s just a list of things that need doing, like a house repair, work assignment, or appointment you need to make. These don’t feel as intense, yet they still hang over you and take up energy.

When the thing you’re avoiding is serious and has a greater impact on you, the emotional drain is significant and can wear you down. These are things like friends you’ve ignored for too long who may feel rejected or a difficult conversation you need to have. It could be checking into a nagging health problem you’re afraid might be serious or facing a bad habit like overspending that’s become painful.

This type of procrastination or outright avoidance creates an undertow of low to medium-voltage anxiety that floats just under the surface but taunts you regularly when it comes up for air. The drain is significant and can leave you tired, moody, and discontent.

Try this:

Make the list, and then start with the easiest thing. Do it and move on to the next. Keep going until you’ve checked it all off. With each item you accomplish, you’ll feel better and gain a little more momentum so that you won’t fall back when you get to the more challenging things.

#6 Relationship Woes

Relationships are messy – even good ones. And that’s because emotions are involved, and they can hurt us.

Emotional clutter that comes from relationship issues falls into three categories:

1. Toxicity

These are the relationships you feel trapped in, which are overall more negative than positive. They undercut your sense of self, break your trust, fill you with foreboding, give you much less than they take, and tear you down. Staying in a relationship like this drains and damages you. This goes for friends as well as partners.

Try this:

For a relationship to be viable and healthy, it has to offer both people more positives than negatives and room for growth. If that’s not the case, think it over or get some help, or if you know already, get out of it.

2. Blurred Responsibility

This is for the caretakers. You take over others’ responsibilities regularly and feel the burden of carrying them. It’s easy to do this in intimate relationships like with partners, your children (and especially children), and close family members.

The responsibilities get blurred because the boundaries are blurred. And the upshot is that you can feel emotionally overwhelmed by worry, overextension, and resentment all at the same time.

Try this:

Give those responsibilities back to the people to whom they belong! You can be a support but not do the actual work. You have to be able to let others learn their lessons, and that’s likely hard for you. But it’s better for you and for them. If you can’t do it on your own, seek help.

3. Difficult Relationships

These are relationships you want to stay in but need work. It might be a marriage in disarray, a parent-child issue, a conflict with a family member, or even a work situation. Your distress comes from not knowing what to do or how to fix things.

Try this:

Therapy is an obvious choice, but you can also research or read to get more information and find ideas you might want to try to improve things. For example, you could enroll in a couple’s course. Or maybe take a parenting class. Books are available for every kind of relationship issue, as are many blogs and articles. Get started so you don’t feel defeated or fall into despair.

Last Note

That’s my list, but there are other types of emotional clutter. If you want to read more on the subject, Google “emotional clutter,” and you’ll find more ideas that might be helpful.

That’s all for today.

Hope you have a great week!

All my best,


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