Like many I inherited luggage from my parents. A couple pieces when they got new ones, and the new ones when they passed. Heck, a couple of pieces my mom inherited from her parents too. My mom really believed in a good set of luggage! Strong, sturdy, functional, with lots of compartments. Eventually though, some wore out, and even better luggage became available.
Like many, I inherited luggage from my parents. Some fear around confrontation, some packing down of emotions, and a smidge of improper ways to cope and manage life were the baggage I was given. It is this kind of luggage I am going to speak to here.
Whether you inherited it, or got it yourself, or a combination of both, so many of us travel around through this life with this baggage. In it we carry the clothing, toiletries, shoes, and accessories of all the hurts, pains, unfairness, arguments, troubles, fears and yes anger that has hit us over the paths we have taken. Yes, it is our emotional baggage. For many, that bag is huge, seeming almost limitless, but it is an almost invisible heavy burden many carry around.
Oh, in the beginning it’s no so difficult to carry, and eventually we get used to the extra weight. As time passes we pack more in. A hurt here, an argument there, and oh that fear will fit nicely in this side pocket where all the other fears go. And we move on. The baggage is just only slightly heavier, so we barely even notice.
As time passes, and the luggage gets even heavier, causing even more pain in our daily lives and relationships, we find new ways to deal with the carting around. Of course switching hands works nicely, but only for a bit. Perhaps we try to numb that pain with drugs, or alcohol. Maybe we distract ourselves from the pain with entertainment, TV, the internet, sex, exercise, work, religion/spirituality, politics, even diving into and dedicating ourselves to our children’s lives or some just cause will deter us from having to actually deal with this heavy burden.
“Oh, I look at it, I know what’s in there. I see it everytime I open the bag.” And then we pack more in like we have actually done something about all that past hurt. Then we pick it up and lug it to the next destination, continuing to ignore the new pain it all causes. Maybe we even swallow it all in the next bag of chips, hoping that will make it go away.
Sometimes we even develop new habits, somewhat dangerous painful ones like cutting to help create actual real physical pain so that the emotional pain that is trying to burst out of the “invisible” baggage because it is packed so full, and so tight won’t seem as bad. We dance, sing and tell jokes so that no one will actually SEE that 75 pound piece of luggage we are dragging around.
Sometimes people see our baggage, and think, “Wow, they are such a strong person!” It gives us a little energy to keep going. Maybe we even use that to our advantage to help others with their baggage. Maybe, they won’t see that my huge baggage is so full that I actually can’t bear the weight of it any longer. Their gratitude is just another numbing device. It works for a bit, but that wily old bag of our own is still there.
And in moments when that luggage sits there taunting us to finally deal with it, maybe we get online or out to the stores and buy new things or experiences to hide that baggage so we don’t have to look at it. Maybe, we just hide out in our den, and then no one can see our bag.
Then something happens. Something breaks inside, and maybe we realize we have to DO something about this luggage we are carrying. We “sort of” talk to a doctor about it. They understand, and give us some pills to take. Like a new set of 360 degree wheels and a nice longer handle, they make it SO much easier to roll the luggage around. “The burden has been lifted!” we think to ourselves. We can go anywhere now with this luggage, and the pain IT caused is gone. But yet, the bag is still there. Each and every little piece of emotional hurt is still there, still packed tightly into the bag, still just as heavy, only now, we don’t notice it as much.
Unpacking all that just seems too much. And it is a LOT to unpack and deal with. And if we do not, it will always be there, dragging right behind us everywhere we go. As a therapist it was my job to help you unpack those bags. I know how difficult and sometimes gut wrenching it can be to unload each emotional hurt, look at it, and finally deal with it the best way you can.
Self help is for backpacks. It can’t replace a professional emotional bellhop. And ignoring it? Well, I’ll let the wisdom of one of the top professional emotional bellhops, Brene’ Brown speak from her book Rising Strong:
Stockpiling hurt: Stockpiling starts like chandeliering, with us firmly packing down the pain, but here, we just continue to amass hurt until the wisest parts of us, our bodies, decide that enough is enough. The bodies message is always clear: Shut down the stockpiling or, I’ll shut you down. The body wins every time.
So, how YOU doin? Depression, anxiety, deep fear, self imposed isolation and physical pain are ways that our bodies try to tell us something. Even if you have diagnosis for those causes, the weight of the emotional baggage only exacerbates it all. Professional help in therapy is NOT a bad thing. It is the BEST way to unpack and deal with all of that. I can’t emphasize this enough.
It can be very scary, and quite a bit of work, but in the end, it will rid you of the bag, the anxiety, and all the other habits that may have formed. I unloaded my bags long ago, but still work on that whole confrontation thing (it’s a bugger!). I hope you find your way to unpack, and unload that baggage – before it’s too late.