Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Your Life's Baggage: What are you carrying?

Think of your life journey as a trip. When people take a trip they think of where they are going, how they are going to get there and what it is they are going to take with them.

I want you to think about the baggage you take with you on your life journey. The baggage I am talking about carries 1) beliefs about yourself, others, and the world, 2) feelings you value and/or the feelings you experienced that you have held onto because it wasn’t safe to express them and 3) the skills you developed that help you to live with others and to achieve your goals.

Think about what it is you are carrying and whether or not you need to consider repacking your bags.

What I am asking you to do is look at the bags you travel with. Unpack them and look inside.
What are you carrying? How long have you been carrying them? Who packed the bags? Do these bags still serve their purpose?

To begin this process, think about the exterior, the shell of your bags. If you were to describe them, what would they look like?
Perhaps your bags are of brown paper that easily tears or disintegrates in the rain. Maybe they are sturdy hardback bags or soft medium size bags. They could be as small as a purse or as large as a trunk. That which shows itself to the world, the shell, is just that, an exterior. That exterior represents your defenses, built to protect, hide and contain beliefs, feelings and skills.

What best describes the exterior of your baggage?
Knapsack - Trunk - Overnight Bag - Hardcover - Paper
Softcover - Tattered - Colorful - Faded - With wheels

How else would you describe your bags exterior?
Metaphorically, what does that mean to you?
How might you want to change the exterior of your bags?
What would that change reflect?

This is an important start to letting go of what may be sabotaging your health and happiness.

Now go inside your bags and take a look at the beliefs, feelings, and skills you may be carrying. These are beliefs about yourself, others and the world, and feelings you’ve experienced and have held onto either because you value them or because it wasn’t safe to express them. Lastly, you can identify skills you’ve developed that help you to live with others and to achieve your goals.

Cognitive Baggage
Let’s look at the bags that carry your beliefs about you and the world.
Are you carrying beliefs that say:

  • I am strong, capable.

  • I can ask for help if I need it.

  • People are trustworthy.

  • I am trustworthy.

  • It is okay to take risks.

  • I deserve respect

  • I deserve to be happy

  • The world has many wonderful things to offer.

Or are you carrying beliefs that say:

  • I can’t trust other people - they will take advantage of me.

  • No one will listen to me.

  • Take what I need.

  • The world is scary.

  • It’s not okay to make a mistake, something bad will happen.

  • Good things only happen to others.

  • I don’t expect much from me.

  • I’m inadequate, insufficient. I can’t do anything right.

  • I need someone to take care of me.

  • If I show people who I am, they won’t like me.

  • The world owes me, I am entitled.

In addition to any of those you identified from above, what other beliefs might you be carrying?

Emotional Baggage

  • What are the feelings you carry with you?

  • Do you carry memories of laughter, happy times, feelings of pride?

  • Do you feel loved? Loving?

  • Do you have so much fear in your life that you have one whole bag designated just for fear?

  • How much anger, or how many resentments are you carrying?

  • Do you have a bag of loneliness?

  • How large is your bag of hopelessness, disappointments, sadness, or guilt?

  • Are there other feelings you are carrying?

And a very important question to ask yourself is, ‘do you find yourself carrying other people’s bags as well?’ Are you carrying your mother or father’s fears, their guilt, their shame? Do you take on your daughter or son’s disappointments or angers?

What often goes unrecognized is that in your luggage, you are carrying a tool bag, a bag of skills. Some people have a large bag of tools filled with variety and abilities, while others may have but one tool, or different versions of the same tool, and are limited in skills.

Do you have a variety of tools or a limited number and type of skills?
Identify the tools you are carrying:

  • ability to ask for what you need

  • ability to listen

  • problem solving skills

  • ability to see choices available

  • negotiation skills

  • healthy expression of feelings

  • ability to set limits

  • clarity around what is important

  • ability to make decisions

  • self care skills, eating adequately, basic hygiene skills, appropriate clothing, proper rest, exercise

In addition to those you identified from above, what are other tools you have in your bags?

As you review the beliefs, feelings and tools you carry, think about what you want to continue to carry with you, what you want to let go of, and what you want to add to your baggage.

Now let's look at how carrying painful feelings, negative beliefs and few tools, or just one kind of tool, you often end up needing a cart for your bags.

While it is not true for everyone, the more you come from a history of childhood trauma and loss, fueling unresolved painful feelings, limited skills and negative beliefs, the more likely it is that your bags will continue to grow as you move through adulthood.

New bags may come as a result of divorce, being passed over for a promotion at work, being arrested, a financial setback, inability to stop smoking, and/or the pain that comes with compulsions or addiction. The negative beliefs you have only become heavier and your feelings become overwhelming as your tools are less and less effective. This is a process that takes time and you probably don’t even realize it is happening.

You develop a tolerance for emotional pain and are able to maintain that for a period of time and then, through no fault of your own, your tolerance lessens and you feel an unbearable heaviness. You need help to carry your baggage, so you seek out a baggage cart of some sort to help you continue to carry everything.

These carts are often addiction related. It could be you’ve dumped all your beliefs, feelings and skills into a bottle, a pill, or a syringe. Or perhaps you’ve a gambling addiction, sexual or spending addiction; or an eating disorder and you’ve put your bags into a vat of chocolate, sugars or starches. It could be your cart is depression or anxiety where all of your feelings have accumulated into despair and hopelessness.

These carts do make things seem better for a while. You don’t seem to feel the weight as you once did. But if you think about it, a cart just allows you to pile on more and more baggage. The load gets heavier and heavier and eventually you need a bigger and bigger cart!

Do you think you are using a cart?
If you are, you need to address the cart as this is the first step in letting go of excess baggage.

You’ve had a chance to identify your beliefs, feelings, and tools; to look at whether or not you have a cart, and now you can begin to look at what you want to carry with you on your life journey.

The fear of feelings may have you immobilized and pushing around an out of control cart. It is the accumulation of feelings that leads to trouble. There are safe people and places in which to explore feelings. Nothing bad has to happen as you learn healthy ways in which to express feelings.

What feelings would you prefer to be carrying with you?

To be able to let go of unneeded, unwanted baggage, it’s necessary to challenge the beliefs you operate from.

  • Are your beliefs hurtful or helpful?

  • Do they support the way you want to live?

  • What are new beliefs that would be of greater support to you?

  • What tools are you carrying that are useful to keep?

  • Do you need to acquire some new tools you have never had before?

Remember to periodically stop and take a look at what you are carrying. As you take on more responsibility for your emotional self, as you develop more positive beliefs, it is easier to recognize the skills you have acquired along the way, and/or to go in search of a greater variety of skills.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you, Claudia. This is a very enlightening post. I find your approach very helpful and practical.Best wishes.