What is "Baggage"
You"ve heard the phrase before, and maybe you"ve said it yourself: He"s/she"s got baggage. Perhaps you"ve even noticed the impact of your own baggage on relationships. Les Parrott, acclaimed marriage and family counselor and author of several bestselling relationship books, says that baggage is the "residue of early years that impacts us today." Simply put, baggage is a collection of unpleasant memories from the past that continue to negatively affect our perception of and behavior in the here and now.
Some may carry a full matching set from a more challenging life or just a small a carry-on bag from an isolated incident or two, but no one goes through life unscathed by baggage. As participants in this collection of experiences called life, we travel through picking up observations and "notes-to-self" that we file away for later use. No one would argue that it’s a good thing to learn from past mistakes. Indeed, history can serve us well by teaching us better ways to approach similar situations should we encounter them again. The problem occurs when memories of events replaying over and over again in our minds develop into fears of experiencing similar negative situations in the future, and this overshadows any positive lessons that may be learned. This developed "baggage" becomes a roadblock to the goals we would really like to achieve.
The Mechanics of Baggage – How It Works in Our Lives
Baggage may only feel like an insulator against future pain, but it’s only the perception of self-control that makes as feel protected. In fact, holding onto these fears and hurts really just weighs us down and keeps us from moving forward. You may have had high hopes in a past relationship or marriage that this person was the "one" but you had no self-control over the eventual downfall of the relationship. As a result, you may find yourself wanting control of current and new relationships coming into your life in an effort to thwart the same kind of disappointment and pain you experienced in your past. In addition to being able to transform negative feelings of anxiety, depression, anger, fear and resentment that you may be walking around with into happiness and understanding, unloading your baggage will also help heal and prevent future consequences of toxifying perfectly good relationships.
You could meet a really great person with whom you are deeply compatible, but the baggage from your past could inhibit you from seeing that person in a realistic light. The consequences of toxic baggage are evident in situations in which people walk away from someone wonderful or end up driving that person away. Being overly protective of yourself and others can leave you closed off and distant from other people in the intimate parts of ourselves that need to be nurtured. Furthermore, baggage jeopardizes relationships by forcing us to step into a role from our family origins, like "healer," "joker/class clown," "problem-solver," etc., even though that role is far removed from who we really are and what we really need in a romantic partnership to be happy. We may have assumed that role to make our family happy, but what makes you happy is usually something far different.
The Good News—Shaking Free
The good news is that you can let your baggage go, whether big or small, and welcome a new perspective into your life. Once baggage has been unloaded, current relationships and those yet on the horizon are freed from the past and you can truly discover and enjoy real intimacy—and when you feel it, it’s like nothing else.
Follow these 5 Steps to Get Over It and Get On With Your LifeThe 5 Steps to Get Over It and Get On With Your Life.
- Identify – Ask Yourself a Few Good Questions. Before being able to get to the cause of your ill feelings, the first step is to find out what the baggage consists of. In other words, identify what your key problems are. Shaking memories of the past involves dealing with inner conflicts that may have left you feeling vulnerable from a miserable event or set of events, so it can be difficult to turn on your self-awareness. Sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint, but you’ll notice baggage creeping up in the form of underlying feelings of dissatisfaction in surprising areas of your life. Some people seem to walk around in what appears to be a constant state of self-awareness, but others face more of a challenge getting to the root of their feelings. No matter what your type, the key is to take your time to thoughtfully and thoroughly assess what your individual issues are. An easy exercise to help you identify your baggage is to ask yourself a few good questions about yourself, like a mini-autobiography. Where’d you grow up? What was it like being a child? What were your Mom and Dad like? Identify disappointments in relationships or experiences that had unexpected negative consequences or situations in which you felt you had no control, and list them out. Identify the impact of your parents’ dysfunction (as well as siblings, ex-wives and husbands, ex boyfriends and girlfriends). Did these interactions cause you to feel oversensitive to anxiety or depression in other people? Did it foster self-doubt and anxiety about yourself? Once you’ve got your list, rank the issues you identify in terms of most damaging to least damaging. You can self-assess how damaging an issue is by how it makes you feel or how it might impact other people. What are the things that are most hurtful to your romantic relationships? For example, do you find someone guilty on the basis of your fears alone? Do you yourself feel guilty without having done anything wrong in certain situations? It’s important to understand that this first step is a big one. Although painful and somewhat vague for some people at first, it is a big, positive step in the right direction.
- Write out your intention. After you’ve identified and ranked your list, next write out your desire to rid yourself of this baggage. A great way to phrase your intention is in this format: "This is something I really want to do because it will have the following positive benefits: ______, ______ and ______." Here’s an example: "Forgiving my ex for straying and violating my trust is something I would really like to get over because it will have the following benefits: (1) I will not carry around the same hurt and anger, and sometimes depression when I blame myself – and that will be nice to truly feel okay with everything, and (2) I will not be suspicious of current or potential partners entering my life out of fear that they, too, will hurt me the same way because I won’t be giving them a fair chance."
- Understand the source. Once you’ve committed to taking on your specific issues in Step 2, next it’s time to determine why the people involved in memories and scenarios behaved in that particular way. This is a difficult step, but it will help to pinpoint for you the cause of your baggage and help you to come to and understanding so that you can move through it. Like an impartial observer, realize your role and you’ll see in many cases that you were not at fault and it was the learned habits of that particular person involved in the situation that caused your confusion and pain. This will help to absolve you from any guilt or anger. Even with past abuse, you can work through it by correctly labeling what happened and understand that another person or people were to blame. It’s important to isolate the involvement of other people from yourself. In the cases where you did have a hand, though, own your own faults and role in the situation and then come to terms with it and move on. In the end, blame will be irrelevant, and understanding will be everything. Work to heal those hurts that are unresolved in you. You certainly don’t have to forget your experiences, but you must come to accept them in order to move on and enjoy the happiness you deserve.
- Wiggle free of the old baggage. Wiggling free of old baggage is like shedding an old skin. You’ll begin to see that the memories of painful scenarios and events are just that, and you’ll take comfort in the reality that "that was then, this is now." You’ll begin to see the authentic goodness of who you really are, and you’ve made a conscious decision to move beyond it. Changing your mindset will change the way you experience the world. If you find yourself feeling not quite ready to fully wiggle free, revisit Step 3. You must fully understand and master Step 3 or you may find yourself revisiting the baggage over and over. And remember, if the wiggle feels too big, break it down into smaller parts.
- Step out in faith into the present. This is the best step of them all. Truly knowing that your life will be different because you’ve chosen to break free of your past baggage not serving you any longer puts your focus on your positive attitude about future days ahead. You’ll rid yourself of the expectation that every relationship will be the same. There is some risk in approaching current or new relationships differently, but it is worth so much to you to get ready to deal with the good repercussions – as opposed to negative that you’ve been used to – of choosing to move beyond the pains of your past.
For more help on assessing your baggage, take the self-assessment test "Checking Your Baggage." It corresponds to Issue 10 of the "Finding the Love of Your Life" CD Series available in the eHarmony Bookstore.