If we have a home with a yard we may want to cut away the underbrush when bushes are overgrown and choking off new life. We cut back the trees at the end of the summer to allow a fuller expression of their beauty the next year. We do a clean sweep of the lawn before winter so that the leaves don’t prevent the grass from “breathing” and strengthening their root systems. We say “Just get rid of it!” when we are cleaning out our basements and see that we have been hanging on to things we should have thrown out long ago.
There are many examples of healthy cleansing and letting go of things.
Nature has its own ways to cleanse. Wetlands are a natural purifier. As dirty water moves through a marsh, the bacteria attached to rocks & plants consume pollutants in the water while other toxins get trapped in the mud. After this the water flowing out of the wetland is cleaner than what came in. Even the layers of the soil serve as a natural filter to purify water before it moves into an aquifer. When trees and bushes become too overgrown, it is a part of the natural life of a forest for a major fire to sweep through an area. For forest ecosystem health, fire is necessary to remove dead and diseased trees, to allow new plants to sprout and to return nutrients to the soil.
Our bodies in their infinite wisdom tell us we need to release something that is toxic to us. We spontaneously vomit or have diarrhea after we have eaten something contaminated with harmful bacteria. A health condition we have may require us to actively detoxify our body using a variety of helpful protocols.
When Purging is Less Helpful, or Harmful
However, sometimes we purge things from our lives simply because we don’t want to “deal” with them anymore. We break up a relationship when we are frustrated by the task of negotiating differing needs. We abruptly “throw out” a roommate we don’t want to live with any more. We quit a job in the heat of the moment and stomp out of the workplace.
We stop talking to people who say things we don’t like to hear. We hit the remote and change the channel when we are uncomfortable with the viewpoint of the speaker. We delete voice messages that cause us to feel anger without hearing the entire message. When our inbox is full and we feel anxious about responding to all those emails, we start unsubscribing and deleting without responding.
Sometimes we throw things out as a symbolic gesture. People who struggle with their weight may throw out their “fat clothes” in a symbolic gesture of commitment never to overeat again, hoping that it will further motivate them to stay on their latest diet or exercise plan.
We may at times be ashamed of something we have done and want to get rid of the consequences. After overeating someone may purge out of fear of weight gain or for emotional soothing.
There are many examples of ways we may purge and delete to avoid or cope with problems in our lives.
A Way to Cope
Rejecting and purging behaviors may eventually become a routine response to things we don’t like, including our own feelings. We may favor taking some action to feeling the sadness, anger, shame or guilt that lurks under the surface. Although it is sometimes very appropriate to ask someone to leave, end a relationship, resign from a job, walk away from or refuse to participate in something, often this type of behavior doesn’t work well.
The Down Side
When the momentary flush of feeling “empowered” by our ability to delete someone else’s words that angered us by erasing a voice message, we are left with the same amount of “power” we had.
Overeating behavior does not change after purging, nor do the emotional issues that drive it.
After ending a relationship our mood can change and we may find ourselves scrambling to make amends.
We realize we need to reference that email we deleted in haste.
We change our minds about how bad that job was.
Perhaps we apologize. Perhaps we are forgiven. Sometimes we are not and we may sincerely regret our actions which, once taken, cannot be erased or undone.
While these avoidant and rejecting behaviors may bring immediate satisfaction to us emotionally, they never address the root cause of the disharmony, nor do they help us grow more mature.
Pushing the Pause Button
When we move from reaction into contemplation we can understand the true motivation for our behavior. When we bring our attention back to ourselves and feel our emotions rather than act on them, we can respond more thoughtfully. Taking time to think things through allows us to appreciate the complexity of an issue and devise the best solution, avoiding recriminations or regrets.
We can also reflect on what our rejecting behavior means. When we angrily push others away, there is often a feeling of sadness and hurt that came first. We may be trying to punish the person and make them feel as bad as we do. Is that what we really want? Does that improve the relationship? Does it make us feel better?
No. We are simply catering to a part of us that is less mature and which will not grow simply by having its own way. Making good decisions takes time. Thinking through, feeling through and praying through an issue brings us to a very different place than where rejecting and impulsive actions leave us.
So, the next time you feel the urge to delete, purge, avoid, evict or destroy, take a deep breath. Feel your reaction without acting on it. Wonder what else you are feeling. Walk away and take time to find your center and your deeper truth. You may find you like yourself better and can stand by your decisions with greater confidence. You may find value in the thing you so wanted to get rid of and come to a deeper appreciation of the other person’s perspective. You may even find a more sustainable sense of your own personal power.
So, just push the pause button. If nothing else, it will buy you some time to avoid actions you may later regret.