What You Can Learn About Someone by Going Through Their Trash

“Our trash is our testament; what we throw away says much about our values, habits, and lives.”  This is a quote from SAGE’s Encyclopedia of Consumption and Waste.  On the website of Drew University’s Department of Sociology is this tidbit – “Garbage is the other side of culture. Our garbage and our waste can be considered a mirror in which our actions and our values are reflected back to us.”  

I don’t know about you, but I’m not going to sign up to pick through someone’s garbage can and record everything I find – or would I?  It recently occurred to me that sometimes in my work as a therapist, this is exactly what I do.

Meredith came to see me in a broken condition. Her heart was broken, her marriage was broken and her spirit was broken.  Her husband had pitched her into his garbage dumpster, that is, he threw her away, walking out on her and their children.  Meredith sat across from me, peppering me with questions:

  • What did I do?
  • How could he do this to me?
  • What is wrong with me?
  • What am I going to do?
  • Will anyone ever want to have me again?
  • Will I be alone the rest of my life?
  • How will I survive?

Since many of her questions were related to exploration, I decided to approach her as someone else’s garbage.  I asked her to think about what it said about her soon to be ex-husband that he discarded her.  What could we learn about his “values and habits” by using her as a mirror?

You see, Meredith had made the common mistake of feeling like she “was” how she was being “treated.”  “If I’ve been thrown into the garbage, then I must be garbage.”  However, the truth is that how people treat us says more about them than it does about us.

Bouncing my reframe of her situation back and forth between us, Meredith came up with an interesting list of her “ex’s” traits.  When she looked at her own positive traits, traits that he had “thrown away,” this is what she suddenly saw:

  • He doesn’t value devotion.
  • Having a wife who is committed to being a good mother is not important to him.
  • He has a distorted view of what loyalty looks like.
  • Compassion and sensitivity toward others have little value.
  • He dislikes gentleness.
  • A passionate heart means nothing to him.

If someone has ever thrown you away and you’ve felt like the spoiled leftovers at the bottom of the trash can, stop looking at yourself and shift your focus to the one who threw you away.  You might learn that you’re better off with out them.  Hey, you might even thank them for throwing you away!

One thought on “What You Can Learn About Someone by Going Through Their Trash

  1. Good one, David. I have a couple of friends over the years who needed perspective on being divorced by wayward husbands… a hurtful time. Karen

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