“The past has no power to stop you from being present now. Only your grievance about the past can do that. What is grievance? The baggage of old thought and emotion.”
— Lao Tzu, Chinese philosopher
“Now that is one amazing piece of luggage!”
“I know,” replied my wife. “It’s called spinner luggage.”
My wife and I have owned wheeled luggage before and it has made moving through a busy airport much easier. Spinner luggage takes the idea one step further. It doesn’t just roll — its wheels turn like casters to allow you to move through crowds with ease.
“I hope it doesn’t get lost,” my wife said. “Like our leopard print bag.”
“To be honest,” I replied. “I didn’t mind losing that ugly suitcase.”
My wife feigned indignation then we both burst out laughing.
This got me thinking.
Wouldn’t it be great if we could simply lose our emotional baggage the same way some airlines lose our luggage?
If only there was some simple switch we could throw that would turn off all the negative emotions, anxiety and heartaches from the past.
There are many definitions of emotional baggage but the one I find most applicable comes from American best-selling authors and relationship experts, Dr. Les Parrott and Dr. Neil Clark.
“History is what has happened in our lives. Baggage is how we feel about it.”
I have yet to meet anyone who is completely free of emotional baggage — myself included. I have, however, met a great many people who have worked diligently to unpack their emotional baggage by building their self-esteem and enhancing their level of self-awareness.
While some people carry baggage resulting from trauma, physical and emotional abuse, other people carry baggage in the form of unrealistic or unfulfilled expectations, disappointments, an ungrounded sense of entitlement and even early programming as children.
Without awareness you may not even realize the extent to which you’re burdened.
You may have a sense that your life and relationships eventually fall into predictable, unhealthy patterns.
You may have a vague notion that something inside prompts you to react in a destructive manner. And worst of all you may seem unable to transcend these undesirable behaviours.
Wondering if you’re carrying some baggage? Ponder these common scenarios.
— You project your anger or frustration at others.
— You’re unwilling to acknowledge or accept criticism or responsibility.
— You’re judgmental or prone to making unfounded assumptions.
— You have expectations that are constantly unfulfilled.
— You’re untrusting or needy, or you’re too trusting and forever being hurt.
— You constantly compare yourself unfavourably to others or, conversely, you put down others and look for faults in order to feel better about yourself.
The truth is, everyone has a story — a past — and an emotional response to it. It is only through awareness and the sincere desire to learn and grow that we can begin to unpack the past. Without such a commitment, the past is certain to impede our personal growth.
According to Drs. Parrott and Warren, we can never feel profoundly significant at our core unless we make peace with the past — unless we unpack our emotional baggage.
Note both Parrott and Warren, an emotionally healthy individual will consciously choose to unzip the baggage and begin to rummage through it. Such individuals have willingly explored their personal history in order to find out what they feel and why they feel it.
Say Parrott and Warren, the simple act of honestly exploring, identifying and then labelling emotions from the past can serve as a stepping-off point to personal growth, self-insight and emotional maturity.
They acknowledge that in order to get beyond our past we sometimes need to get into our past.
Want to start unpacking your emotional baggage? Here are some ways to get started.
Admit how you feel.
The first step toward freeing yourself of a negative pattern is to admit it’s there.
Stop running away from it or attempting to resist it.
Remember, what you resist will persist.
Maybe you can’t accept it right now.
That’s OK. Start by acknowledging its presence.
Explore the origins.
Research how the pattern was born.
Become an investigator of your life.
Your mission will be to explore your past with a critical eye, make notes and draw conclusions.
Choose an alternative.
Focus on how you’d like to feel. This takes practice.
You know what you don’t want.
Turn it around and focus your attention on what you do want in your life.
Examine your triggers.
What types of people or situations send you in a downward spiral or down the same disappointing path that you’ve travelled in the past?
Train yourself to acknowledge and unplug old, negative thought patterns.
Put some space between yourself and the button-pushers.
If no physical space can be created, set some firm boundaries.
Let go and forgive.
Remember that forgiveness is not just something you do for others — it’s something you do for yourself.
Seek out help to unpack the past.
If you deem it safe to do so, talk to family and friends.
If you’re unable to do so, get unbiased help in the form of a coach or therapist.
Look for the lesson.
It’s not always easy but it’s worth the effort. Looking for the good in the past will help you to reclaim your personal power.
Stop playing the victim role.
Ha Jin, the contemporary Chinese-American poet and novelist once wrote, “Life is a journey and you can’t carry everything with you.”
I attended a workshop once on emotional baggage.
The facilitator commented that few of us would relinquish all of our emotional baggage. His advice was to make the remaining baggage as easy to manoeuver as possible.
We all laughed we he suggested we try putting wheels on it.
To demonstrate, he strolled effortlessly around the room with a small wheeled suitcase.
When it comes to baggage, unpack what you can. As for the rest — do what you can to lessen the burden.
You might even imagine your remaining baggage with spinner wheels.
Murray Fuhrer is a self-esteem expert and facilitator. His new book is entitled Extreme Esteem: The Four Factors. For more information on self-esteem, check the Extreme Esteem website at www.extremeesteem.ca.