Excess Baggage

February 16, 2011

6 min read


Is emotional baggage sabotaging your relationships?

Laurie’s facebook page reads like a dream. Handsome husband, two adorable kids, and she – an attractive mom, all smile together in a perfect pose. Photos of her latest exotic vacation keep her friends up to date. You’d think she lives the most fabulous life.

Well, think again.

Laurie emailed me and described an anguished existence.

She writes:

“I grew up in a dysfunctional home. My parents never made me feel loved. It’s not that there was fighting or arguing in our home. There was just …nothing. Silence. So I felt nothing. I was expected to take care of my siblings and the house, do my homework, and not cause any trouble. I was lonely all the time. All I wanted was to get out of the house and start my own life.

So here I am today. Husband, two kids, my own life, but I am miserable. I close my eyes and see myself as that little girl again always being asked to give. I do for my husband and my kids but inside I feel as if I am still doing for my parents. I’m tired of always doing for others. I’m afraid that if I keep giving I will lose my sense of me.

Yes, I’ve been to therapy. I’ve been told to just move on. But I can’t. What do I do?”

I told Laurie that she reminds me of travelers I see in the airport.

Some wheel in their luggage and easily check in. Others bring bulging suitcases that need to be reorganized because they are overweight. I watch as bags are shifted; packed and repacked, until finally the suitcase is zippered shut.

"You are carrying overloaded luggage and are unable to let go," I told Laurie. "Years pass, yet you keep carrying all that excess baggage wherever you go. You’ve been blessed with a beautiful family but instead of enjoying your blessings, you go backward in time. You've become a baggage shlepper!"

It's time for Laurie to sort through her baggage and put away the old wounds and hurts. She needs to start traveling light.

“Do you know what happens when you carry excess baggage?” I asked Laurie.

She was quiet.

“Everything hurts,” I said. “Your back hurts, your arms hurt, and your head hurts. You can’t figure out why you feel so out of whack. After a while you don’t even know why you feel so miserable because this has become your norm. You’ve got to let go.”

“But how?” Laurie asked. "I’m afraid.”

"What are you afraid of?"

“I am afraid of losing myself; becoming this person who is always looking away at my own needs because I am so busy taking care of others. That’s what happened to me growing up and I don’t want it to happen all over again.”

Laurie speaks for many of us.

Spouses and children don’t have the time to wait around for us to make amends with our past.

We carry old wounds and hurts that don’t allow us to live life to its fullest. We find it hard to let go. We are afraid of being hurt because of past hurts once suffered.

In the end, though, it is only the baggage shlepper that loses.

The individual who carries with him resentment and anger can never see life through the eyes of a joyful lens. He is stuck in the past, unable to reconcile his today with his yesterday.

Spouses and children don’t have the time to wait around for us to make amends with our past. We may stop living but they do not. It is only too late when we realize that a chunk of time has gone, never to return.

If you desire a life lived ‘baggage free’, then it is time to make a courageous decision. Resolve now that the moment has come for you to free yourself from the shackles of pain.

Take three steps toward letting go:

  1. Make a list of all your blessings; the people and times in your life that have brought you joy. Study the list; keep a copy in your wallet and your night table drawers. Close your eyes and picture each point in your mind. Commit your list to memory. Take five minutes and review it each morning upon waking and evening before you go to bed.
  2. Whenever you feel yourself focusing on the negative, push these thoughts away and replace them with your list of blessings. Allow yourself the peace of mind to recognize that you have been cared for by God despite the hurts and challenges that have marred your past. Imagine removing your excess baggage and finally being left with all that is good in your life. (And everyone has some blessing, we just need to think and appreciate it).
  3. Don’t be afraid to love. Loving another means that you will be giving, but that is what keeps us invested in those who really matter to us. It is not the ‘getting’ that builds relationships, but the ‘giving’ of ourselves and our hearts. You will not lose yourself; instead you will discover a world of tender devotion. Dark memories will be replaced with loyalty, dedication and a joyous heart as you nourish souls.

Sleeping in the D.P. Camp

I ended my conversation with Laurie by telling her something my mother shared with me.

As a little girl growing up in Bergen Belsen, my mother suffered the unimaginable. When the war was finally over, she was taken to a displaced persons camp along with her family. Despite all she had gone through, she was once again separated from her loved ones.

My mother could have chosen to relive the past horrors, focusing on the pain and darkness. Or choose to embrace the blessings and light.

She recalled the first night in the D.P. camp. Fear, nightmares, voices from the past whispered to her. Till that night she had been given a hard wooden board to sleep on; crammed with too many bodies and even more above her on the top bunk. Lice, vermin and terror had been her constant companions in Bergen Belsen.

This night she felt some solace as she lay on fresh hay.

Ahh, my mother recalls thinking, I am sleeping on delicious fresh hay!

And every night till today when she lays down to sleep, she recalls that first moment of comfort as she breathed in the sweet scent of dry grass.

My mother had a choice. She could have chosen to lie down and relive the past horrors over and over again, focusing on the pain and darkness. And no one would blame her.

Or she could choose to embrace the blessings and light.

That is a decision each one of us must make in our own way.

It requires strength and courage.

But if you do decide to live today and release yourself of yesterday, then you will finally be able to embrace your tomorrow.

Next Steps