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Assessing the Role of “Things” in Our Lives

By: Margaret Reynolds, MA, LCPC, NCC

Many people seek therapy with a licensed counselor to deal with difficulty and conflict in their relationships, whether it is a relationship with a parent, a child, a partner, or with themselves.  Sometimes, it is not just these human relationships that require attention, but also one’s relationship to “things.”  

Think of all your possessions. Clothes, devices, décor, vehicles, heirlooms, books, etc.  What emotions do you notice as you think about your things? Pride? Stress? Desire?

In some ways, our relationships with things can be similar to our relationships with people. Things and people can be useful to us in various ways. Consider how,  without certain things, as without people, our lives might be much harder.  

Additionally, just as our human relationships can be unhealthy, so too can our relationships with things. In fact, sometimes our unhealthy relationships with things can also impede or damage our human relationships, leading to individual or family therapy to sort out the unhealthy behaviors.

Here are five ways that our relationships with things might be unhealthy:

  • Impulsive Accumulating/Buying (Process): Whether spending lots of money on expensive purchases or loading up on bargains and deals, when buying is no longer about getting things we need or truly desire, we may have a problem. Sometimes people accumulate things to maintain a kind of “high” and avoid negative emotions. When this is the case, talking with a counselor or financial therapist can help you establish a realistic budget and address better ways to manage your emotions and impulses outside of therapy.
  • Spatial Disarray/Disorganization (Function): We all make messes and have clutter at times.  However, when things hinder the way you function in your home and work spaces, you might consider reassessing the number and placement of things.  Here are a few questions to ask yourself: Can I cook, eat, sit, sleep, work, etc. without interference from my things? Can I find things easily when I need them? Do my things add to my overall functioning and happiness?  If the answer is “no” then talking to a therapist or counselor during individual or family therapy sessions might help.
  • Attachment/Sentiment (Value): People usually have some objects to which they attach special meaning and sentiment. Society also attaches special meaning to some objects, filling galleries and museums with art and artifacts. Problems arise, however, when people begin to value things above people. An example of this is when someone is glued to their phone while on a date or at a child’s game. If you find yourself attaching to things yet struggling to connect in your relationships, you might want to address this with a therapist or counselor.
  • Currency/Buying Affection (Power): Gift-giving is a human tradition and can promote feelings of wellbeing. The trap here is when things and gifts become a means of control between people in a relationship.  Instead of demonstrating affection, objects are used to buy affection. If you find yourself on either side of a relationship like this and it distresses you, it is worth talking about to a therapist or attending a family therapy session to restore balance.
  • Status/Novelty (Self-Esteem): Do you find yourself spending time and money trying to keep up with or impress others? Is your self-worth tied to having the newest, shiniest, biggest, or coolest things? If so, you might have a self-esteem issue that goes deeper and would benefit from therapy with a licensed counselor to address your self-image.  

Things can be lovely and useful, but if they create an unhealthy process, function, value, power, or self-esteem issue for you, then this is worth addressing on your own or with the support of a counselor. To set up an appointment with a counselor or arrange a family therapy session, please contact Symmetry Counseling through this website or call 312-578-9990 during regular business hours.

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