Get rid of emotional baggage holding you back – say goodbye and move on – we’ll show you how! By Kate Kelly and Sara Mould -contribution by Joanna Kleovoulou Clinical Psychologist at PsychMatters Family Therapy Centre
You can’t get over your ex, you wish you’d spent less time on the job and more time with the kids, you have a cupboard full of expensive clothes that don’t fit any more – but you can’t bear to part with them. What do these scenarios have in common? “They’re all emotionally draining and prevent us from living freely in the present,” says Joanna Kleovoulou, clinical psychologist and director of PsychMatters Family Therapy Centre Johannesburg. Some of the biggest culprits that immobilise you are anger, regret and longing – whether it’s a relationship that’s over or a body you no longer have. We asked Shape readers
and industry experts to share their tips on getting past unproductive emotions. The process isn’t easy, but it’s surprisingly satisfying, leaving you with room in your life for something even better.
Stop holding on to anger
While it’s normal to get upset with someone who wrongs you, it becomes unhealthy when you can’t stop stewing over it. “By being preoccupied by how others have wronged you affects your power, wellbeing and ability to focus,” says Kleovoulou. “It continually feeds the hurt from the past and keeps you from experiencing happiness in the here-and-now.”
That feeling is familiar for Sandra Lamb. “Several years ago, a friend took credit for
a huge volunteer project that I did,” says Lamb. “The same questions kept running
through my mind non-stop: ‘How could she do this to me? Weren’t we friends?’ I’d find myself obsessing about it when “By being preoccupied by how others have wronged you affects your power, wellbeing and ability to focus”.
I was supposed to be working or relaxing.”What finally helped her make peace with the situation was writing down everything that happened and how she felt about it.
“Being emotionally out of control keeps you in the right brain zone, so writing down your thoughts and hurts on paper shifts your mind’s focus to the left brain, creating objectivity, minimising the emotions and having more clarity about your pain,” says Kleovoulou.
Lamb says she felt a sense of release once her pen started flying. “My inner turmoil went away. I didn’t have this awful feeling in my stomach any more.”
Stop holding on to regret
Few people go through life without wondering about the path not taken or wishing they’d made a different decision at a crucial crossroad. “Although regret is part of the letting-go process, hanging on to regrets keeps you in the past, makes you feel guilty about the choices you’ve made and doesn’t allow you the possibility of experiencing the joys available in the present moment,” says Kleovoulou. If you find yourself constantly asking, “What if?” that’s a sign there’s something missing from your life, and you should consider listening to those daydreams. For example, if you’re kicking yourself that you settled for a stable job instead of pursuing your love of acting, try out for a play on the weekend. “By giving yourself permission to experience your interests or passions in a simple way, you grow the neurological pathways towards that passion on a bigger scale and bring back more balance to your life,” she says.
But not all remorse can be so easily overcome. Seven years ago, Babalwa Diniso decided to move to Johannesburg from Cape Town to pursue a career in PR. At the time, she was helping her sister take care of their mother, who was sick. So when she moved, all the caregiving tasks fell on her sister. “I feel really terrible about the way I handled things back then,” she says. “It was unfair to leave my sister with such a heavy burden, and I regretted putting it all on her shoulders.”
When reflecting on the past, remember that it cannot be changed, but that you did the best you could with the knowledge, skill and awareness at the time, explains Kleovoulou. Forgiving yourself and accepting the past helps you let go of the burden you carry. However, appropriate guilt allows for making different and more empowered decisions in the here-and-now and for the future. Babalwa is doing just that: she’s come up with a schedule where she uses her holiday time to go home for long weekends and help out with her mother’s care.
“The end of a relationship signifies the death of a fantasy – the longer the relationship, the worse the sense of loss”
Stop holding on to feelings for your ex
When Liselle Petersen ended her threeyear relationship, she found it almost impossible to recover. “It felt like a death,” she says. And that’s not surprising says Cape Town relationship coach Shelley Lewin. “The end of a relationship signifies the death of a fantasy – the longer the relationship, the worse the sense of loss,” she says. The problem is that, with your heart and mind consumed by your ex, there’s no chance of you finding the next amazing guy. The first step is to get rid of all the stuff you have that reminds you of him. “Clinging to mementos of your failed relationship is like poking a stick in a raw wound,” says Lewin.
Kleovoulou agrees. “Many people hold on to material possessions as a way to keep the memory alive,” she says. But you need to do distance yourself – no phone or Facebook contact and definitely no occasional sleepovers. This will give you time to experience the loss and open you up to the process of grieving your ex partner. “It’s quite common to idealise what you had and forget the pains in the relationship,” says Kleovoulou. But you can ask your friends and family for a realistic opinion. We tend to forget the negative and focus on the positive. But other people in our life don’t.
“It’s quite common to idealise what you had and forget the pains in the relationship”
For Liselle, it took time, but she was finally able to get over her ex. “I missed him so much, but I got to the point where enough was enough,” she says. She got closure by writing him a long email in which she listed the problems they had but also thanked him for the good times. “I felt much better after I sent it,” she says. “Beyond that, spending time with friends and self-reflection helped me focus on myself and start having fun again.”
How is this item of clothing adding value to my selfworth right now?
Stop holding on to clothes that don’t fit
You might think a cupboard full of clothes that are too small is motivation to lose 5kg – but it’s actually the opposite. “This is a common strategy people use as a motivator, but are often left feeling inadequate and in despair as it fosters shame about your current weight and a sense of failure about not being able to meet your high expectations,” says Kleovoulou. Keeping a set of “fat clothes” is equally demoralising, suggesting that you may gain weight at any point. The solution isn’t rocket science. She says you need to ask yourself, “how is this item of clothing adding value to my self-worth right now?” Be brutal. If the answer is that it’s not, donate it. By clearing out aspirational clothes, you free up space for pieces that make your current body look amazing. That’s just what Danielle Barr did. “I had clothes that were too big, too small, and out-of-date,” she says. “I pruned in stages, but I now have a closet that makes me happy. It’s emptier than ever before, but I feel as if there’s room for new things to come my way.”