By Jeff Gough on 13 November 2017
Have you ever noticed with guys we don’t talk about the serious stuff unless we are engaged in something manual? Working, cleaning, building, driving, kicking a ball around.
Even then we usually only provide one shot for people to delve into our stuff. If they miss it, if they don’t see the opportunity to crack the door open and see what’s inside, then it’s gone. Everything gets locked back up again and we move on. That’s the way of things with blokes, it’s part of our nature and probably our biology, we are a ‘physically’ oriented bunch of one-hint wonders.
I was talking to a good friend of mine recently. He’s been having a rough time of it lately, mind-wise. Getting over-loaded with other people’s issues while still trying to deal with his own not-so-insignificant ones. You know how it goes. We’ve all been there, are there, or will go there at some point in the future. My mate and I were partly mucking around with a car he’s building and partly engaged in an informal counselling session, commonly referred to as a meaningful conversation.
Anyway, my mate says, “I was sitting out here thinking the other day and I thought, your mind is a bit like a shed. You put all your stuff in there to store it for later. Then someone comes along and offloads all their unwanted stuff onto you and it goes in your shed too. Then someone else does, and then another. Before you know it, your shed is full of everyone else’s shit and you’ve got no room left in it for your own stuff.”
For me, as a psychology researcher, certified telephone counsellor, this insight struck me as being the most applicable analogy I had yet heard for how we hold onto life’s little parcels of imparted crud. It was really spot on.
We don’t store our joyful stuff in the shed, that’s either out in the yard where everyone can see it, or we’ve used it up fully and moved on. The shed is where we put all the stuff we don’t know what to do with, or the stuff we hold onto because it might be useful later. It’s the catch-all for our awkward, uncomfortable, confusing, deal-with-it-later junk.
“The thing I noticed” my friend continued, “is that, when your shed gets full and you ask the people who dumped their crap in there to come and take it back, they have a big meltdown.”
We all carry baggage laid on us by other people. Feelings, responsibilities, painful emotions and memories. They off-load them onto someone else, so they don’t have to deal with it themselves. That’s why they get shirty when you tell them to come pick it up because you want your shed back. It means they now have to face up to the painful, and undesirable things that they dumped in your shed, as a way to avoid facing them in the first place. They don’t want the responsibility, they want you to have it.
The problem was, my mate actually felt like he was responsible for it too. He was reluctant to push back out of fear it may break a few relationships. That’s the crux of it. We don’t like being uncomfortable any more than anyone else and to ask someone to do something they are quite loathe to do, or actively avoid doing, is going to be met with a hostile and unpleasant reaction.
“Well, the thing is” I said to him, “at some point you’re going to have to make them deal with their own stuff. There’s only so long you can keep shoving things in the shed and quickly shutting the door, before you open the door one day and it all explodes out. Then you’re screwed, because you’re never going to get it back in.”
He nodded thoughtfully. “And you can guarantee that they won’t claim their crap once it’s all fallen out either, that’ll all be your shit to deal with then. At some point mate, you need to make the choice to hand their stuff back and accept them getting the shits, or keep on filling the shed until it busts and you fall down in a heap.”
That was pretty much it. I could tell by the look on his face and the slow nod of his head that he’d fully grasped the entirety of his own analogy and taken it to its own meaningful conclusion.
Despite it being unpleasant, emptying the shed was necessary and over the coming months, there was going to be a few unhappy people who turned up at his place to dump more junk in his shed, only to find all their junk was lying out in the yard ready for them to pick up.
“Oh, another thing,” I added, “while you’re in there cleaning it out, keep in mind that not all your junk needs to be stored in the shed either. Some of it can probably sit out in the yard, or be gotten rid of all together.” He smiled and I saw a light go on inside shed as he realised that he was probably holding onto more of his own crap that he needed.
Personally, I really like the shed analogy, I think it’s bang-on for how we take stuff onboard. Then again, maybe I just like it because it aligns with another observation I made many years ago about the differences between men and women – women want intimacy, men have sheds.
I think there’s something in that for all of us.