Dealing with Baggage

There is a scene in the film Up In The Air where the protagonist talks to the audience about the things we keep in our mental backpack on a daily basis and how that weighs us down. Things in that backpack might include stuff we own, the people we meet — be they casual acquaintances, the relationships we have with our friends and significant others, our parents, extended families, etc.

It could be our situations in our past relationships, our feelings of anger, resentment, guilt towards others, or things others might have said to us that we hold onto. We tend to carry these negative emotions towards others from past situations, which they may have long forgotten (or not), but we still keep it in our minds.

In other words, we carry emotional baggage from past relationships. We let our negative experiences from the past affect our current relationships. We carry others’ mistakes with us and punish ourselves for their mistakes while continually replaying them in our mind. We carry guilt and mismanaged expectations from unresolved situations and make others the center of our lives long after the situation has passed. We carry all that weight on our shoulders and we weigh ourselves down until we can’t even move. Why do we put so much burden on ourselves? What would it be like if we removed the backpack from our shoulders? How would that feel?

There are times when I find myself thinking about situations in the past with people I loved, which for one reason or another, didn’t work out (mostly due to value differences). For the most part, I have moved on with those relationships, but there are times when I think about them. For instance, not too long ago, I had a fallout with one of my closest friends over a situation that seems almost laughable in hindsight. That made me question if my relationship was even strong to begin with in the first place. Of course, you could argue that the fact that I am still thinking about it now is because I still hold on to it. I have neither fully accepted it nor have I let it go. I feel conflicted. One way or another, I need closure so I can move on (regardless of whether my friend has or not). Otherwise, it’s one of those things that keeps gnawing away at your mind because you haven’t decided what to do about it.

I think of baggage as a set of negative experiences that have happened in our past that continues to affect us in our present relationships. I am using the word “relationships” in a broad sense here. I think of a relationship as someone I want to keep in touch with, be it friends, family, or partners. It’s just that I don’t use those labels any more when thinking about relationships.

It’s not uncommon to have baggage from one group affect the other groups in your network. For instance, you might carry baggage from your partner, and that may affect your interactions with your parents or siblings or vice versa. Regardless, avoid justifying your current problems with your past issues from others.

It’s also possible that your partner may carry a lot of emotional baggage from their previous relationship, which will likely affect your relationship with them. Sooner or later, you may have to part ways unless they somehow learn to deal with it. It might also likely affect you in your future relationships with others.

It’s completely okay to admit to the other person in your relationship that you have baggage. It might even put them at ease to share their own experience of past baggage. Maybe it could give you both the chance to start your relationship anew.

It can be hard to forget our negative experiences from the past, but we must do our best to not let it affect our relationships in the present. Here are some ideas for doing that:

The most important thing we can do is exercise our power of choice. Remember, you have full control over your mind and the thoughts you have. You can choose to think differently about your past situations or not think about them at all. You can acknowledge those experiences and then move on. Get closure on it and let it go. Instead of being sorry about it being over, you can choose to be grateful that it happened. You can even tell that person that you were grateful to have them as part of your life for that period of time. Choose to part peacefully.

Learn to forgive others (in your mind). Forgiving others is more for you than for others so that you can move on with your life. Avoid holding grudges against others as it will only continue to keep them at the center of your life long after the situation has passed.

Sometimes it’s hard to deal with our baggage by ourselves, in which case we must not be afraid to get professional help. You can do that by getting therapy as it addresses baggage. There is no shame in that, but rather a sign of proaction.

Sometimes it’s best to take time off before you start a new relationship. Think of it as a period of transition that allows you to warm up to the idea of starting a new relationship and gives you the space to move on from your past experiences. It’s easy to be pessimistic, but we must not give up on it. Just because one didn’t work out doesn’t mean others won’t. Be optimistic. No one gets into a relationship hoping it won’t work out. It just doesn’t happen. As someone wise has said, there are no friends or enemies in life, only teachers. It’s up to us to learn and move on.

Here’s the thing. Life is too short to carry all that mental weight on our shoulders. Doing this only slows us down and eventually stops us entirely. Baggage can weigh us down only when we refuse to set it down. You don’t have to carry all that weight. You have a choice. Thinking about the negative experiences in your past will only affect your relationships in the present, but you have the power to choose how you think about it. Sometimes you have to abandon your old friends and family in order to let go of emotional baggage and live a healthier life. There is nothing wrong with that.

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