"How long would you have to keep punishing yourself to feel vindicated?"

The backroom space was a tangled mess. There was an exercise bicycle that was covered with a pile of clothes on hangers. There were cleaning supplies strewn across the floor. A third of the room was taken up by cardboard boxes and their contents. They blocked access to a stepping exercise machine. Wires laid across the floor, like tree trunk roots making trying to cross this space perilous. There were additional items in the midst of this big pile of things.

My client stood, frozen in fear at the entrance to the back room of her apartment. She said she never came back there because of the great distress it made her feel. The room felt angry and stuck.

I knew she didn't want to be back there, but I knew taking care of this would bring her a sense of joy that she hadn't felt in a while.

I started with the clothes on the exercise bike. She spoke in a whispered tone, saying that they were clothes that she wanted to donate, but couldn't seem to get herself to bring to the charity. When my clients speak in a whisper, they are often feeling shame. There's a feeling that if someone were to hear what they are saying, they would be chastised.

I asked her more questions about the clothes. She revealed that she loved them when she bought them, but pretty soon afterwards, she gained weight and could no longer fit in them. She said, "I'm so angry at myself for getting fat. I'm so lazy. I wish I could exercise so I could get skinny again. I don't know why I won't do it."

I said, "It's hard to watch someone yell at themselves. When you attack yourself, you're defenseless because your attention is on the attack, and you're not there to defend yourself. How long would you have to keep punishing yourself to feel vindicated?"

She was stunned to hear this. When someone is used to attacking themselves and an outsider stands up for them, it sheds a big light on their process. It can be very shocking. With this realization, she said, "I don't want to feel this way anymore."

I said, "Good. Kindness feels better and it's a restorative. It brings things back to a healthy equilibrium. Let's take the clothes off the exercise bike and put them in in a bag to be donated.

She decided to donate most of the things in the room. I rode with her to the Goodwill. I could feel the sense of relief she felt as she was letting them go.