The complicated relationships between addicts and co-dependants can be summed up this way; two people with unmanageable baggage become friends/lovers/family, don't ever get it under control, a toxic reaction to their own baggage and each others creates a perfect storm for two absolutely miserable people who can't seem to ever break free from their past. Sounds fun right! Well of course not and if you're reading this then it's likely you might have stopped here because you're trying to figure out how to get off the roller coaster to hell. I've been stuck in this place myself. My relationship with my partner was once completely unbearable. Luckily it didn't stay that way and making some adjustments to how we dealt with emotional baggage was significant to helping us learn to live in peace.
I think we can all agree that it feels like everyone has some baggage and indeed that is true, but just like many other things in life that seem initially to be negative, not all baggage is bad. Baggage is also part of an important process of growth. It's an important to the process of learning to become an emotionally intelligent person. That process though is key to understanding what and how you should react to your own baggage and that of others around you.
First let’s understand how something with such a negative connotation can actually be a good thing. Best selling author and relationship coach Sharon Pope describes it this way.
"Emotional baggage implies that we’re bringing all the bad stuff — the pain, the distrust, the jealousy. But we also bring the growth, the lessons, the things we might do differently having hindsight and truth in our corner."
Framed another way we could say that baggage is life experience. What is important then is not whether or not we have life experiences but how we have chosen to react to them.
Acclaimed life coach, writer and friend of Oprah, Mastin Kipp describes psychological disorders as responses. Learning to shape those responses into a positive thing is about learning to listen to our own bodies physical responses to psychological trauma and learning to regulate them. This can give us the benefit of hearing the warning signs that we may have ignored in the past to keep us out of trouble. It’s not an easy feat admittedly, but the knowledge exists that can help navigate you through this process. Pope weighs in and says;
"Our past experiences make us a better partner in future relationships. We should keep the lessons and the growth, but leave behind the pain."
Second to understanding what might give us a positive relationship to the idea of emotional baggage is understanding what is and isn’t our own responsibility to handle. If the goal is turning emotional baggage into valuable life lessons and learning to within that framework regulate our physical responses, then we must accept that carrying the baggage for someone else not only is not good but just can’t work. Not only are we not the ones who get the very important signals physically needed to do this, we are not the ones who would otherwise have a negative relationship with those past emotional traumas. It’s impossible for us to actually do the work for another and instead what we are doing is harming them and ourselves in trying. We are depriving them of the lessons they need to learn and we are taking on pain that we have no control over mitigating. Trying to carry someone else's baggage is quite literally a lose/lose situation. The path to discerning what is your responsibility and what is not is a healthy understanding of boundaries and what loving detachment looks like. If you missed my previous article on Loving Detachment I’d suggest you start there.
Lastly let’s take a look at some of the techniques you can use to change your relationship to the emotional baggage in your life.
- Reframe the experience. When you are still looking at an experience only from the negative you won’t be able to see the good that could be done with what has happened. Yes divorce is bad, but sometimes it can be the only way for a person to grow emotionally. Yes developing a substance abuse problem is bad, but if you have overcome one then that experience has made you a strong person, because it sure as hell isn’t easy.
- Reclaim your body. Past emotional experiences affect your physical body in a way that can hijack your mind and body again and again in the future. PTSD doesn’t always look like a complete mess of rage and anger from loud noises. Sometimes it’s shaky hands, sometimes it’s a tightening of your muscles all over, sometimes it’s a racing heart, sometimes it’s a subtle feeling of needing to flee the room. You need to learn to identify your deep emotional wounds and the physical triggers that reminders can bring up and learn to calm your bodies reactions to those triggers. I’ll be adding more articles diving into detail on some of these items in the future.
- Retell the story. Learn to say your story out load and retell it with a new found positive spin framed by those life lessons you were able to gleam. This can help you let go of that negative past and let the goods part be your today and tomorrow. Many people I know seem to get past it best with a sense of humor and humility. I have learned to be profoundly proud of my own resilience in life. My stories have not become gruesome tales of struggle but instead a testament to my own strength to overcome circumstance.
- Reintegrate the lessons. Make sure that you really use the lessons you have learned every day. I’ve integrated those lessons back into my daily routines. This is actually giving them the respect they deserve by remembering how hard a battle it was to have gained the knowledge in the first place. This has helped me hold onto the positivity of those experiences over time and not slip back into old patterns of feeling a victim of emotional baggage.
Hopefully this provides a good starting point for those of you looking to move thru life a little easier even if you had felt bogged down by your past. Coming next in our series will be an expansion on these four key topics, so you can dive a little deeper if you’re feeling inspired.