September 30, 2021

Unpacking Your Baggage

Everyone has baggage. This, I firmly believe. Well, let me clarify that - every adult has baggage. From what I’ve witnessed and experienced of this world, the majority of what we call “baggage” is created by our childhood experience - and almost no one gets through childhood completely untouched by some sort of trauma. It’s the byproduct of innocence - the byproduct of an emotional landscape that is in development and still very fragile.

Lashing out in anger, forgetting an important event, dismissing or invalidating young emotions - these are just a few responses from parents/caregivers that can crush the budding expression and raw emotion of developing children. Kids internalize and personalize so much of their young experience - they are not able to reason out that their angry screaming parent has issues all their own and that this behavior is completely inappropriate- instead, the child will take the full blame for that frightening response - as well as the shame that comes with it.

Many of those moments are buried deep within our subconscious and forgotten. Others continue to give us nightmares. In adulthood, all that we internalized from childhood influences and affects our relationships, responses, and self-image. This is our baggage. The baggage stuffed full of our hurt feelings, invalidated emotions, shame, unworthiness, and lack. Lack of love, lack of attention, lack of money, lack of affection….

And we’re expected to know how to relate to our partner with emotional maturity? How can we possibly do that? Where did we learn emotional maturity? Who modeled emotional maturity to us? Maybe you were one of the lucky ones - a kid with parents who were wise beyond their years and understood what validation and conscious parenting looks like. For the rest of us, this baggage we carry makes us react today, based out of the hurts from long ago. We’ve got triggers - buttons that activate old wounds - wounds that when pressed on, cause us to relive the emotional energy of that childhood drama and project it onto what is happening now.

As a Jewish matchmaker, I sometimes get a client who says he/she is looking for someone “without baggage”. I say, “good luck to you because you are likely carrying a pretty heavy burden of your own.”

If you want to stop the unhealthy dynamic that triggering old wounds has on a relationship, I do believe that is it possible to unpack that baggage and start living in the moment. And by that I mean to respond appropriately to what is happening right now without being “triggered” and responding in an overblown and out of proportion way.

A surprisingly effective way to unpack your baggage is through traditional talk therapy. I’m not, however, referring only to therapy with a licensed therapist. “Talk therapy” occurs anytime we share our experience, thoughts, emotions, and feelings with an empathetic and validating listener. Most of us did not receive healthy validation for our feelings in childhood - many times our feelings were dismissed or belittled. Recalling and talking about those hurtful memories is a way of looking at them, processing the emotion, and releasing it - emotion that has been trapped inside of you for decades.

In my experience, unpacking your baggage with an empathetic and validating listener has the effect of diffusing the pain. But you can’t just tell anyone about your pain and expect it to heal. Some listeners just won’t understand your pain because they don’t have a similar experience in their history. This is a stumbling block that I see with some therapists. Just because the person has a degree, doesn’t guarantee someone who can truly relate to your experience and validate it. Many therapists are focused on giving advice instead of listening and supporting. Sometimes a good friend is a better catalyst in your healing than a licensed therapist.

I have a cousin with whom I often discuss my childhood hurts. We did not know each other as children so she wasn’t a witness to any of my pain, but many of our childhood experiences of our parents are similar - if not in detail, most certainly in vibe or energy. I can relive a memory with her and she innately understands how it felt at the time and how it’s affected me for years. She gets it. She gets my pain. And the getting of it - i.e., the validation, starts the healing process so I can let go in peace.

If you’re carrying around emotional baggage that has contributed to the ending of past relationships and currently affects the way you relate to your partner and/or react to relationship stressors, I recommend seeking talk therapy. Whether a professional or not, choose someone who has proven to be a great listener and a great validator. Choose someone who gets you and gets why that childhood event was so traumatic for you.

Unpacking your baggage takes energy, work, attention, and emotional investment. There will be tears, there will be anger and frustration. You might need to heal some things with your parents, you might now. Most important is healing yourself so that you can finally relate to your partner in the here-and-now. No triggers, no buttons, no out of proportion responses. You’ll likely uncover the calmer, less reactionary, more laid back version of you - the you, without the baggage.