Handle Your Baggage

A little over-stuffed? Perhaps ready to burst?

Last time, I talked a bit about figuring out what you bring to the table in a relationship. That focused mostly on your particular self-image and how much you can give when you get involved with someone else.

There’s another component that everyone always complains about in other people, but few take the time to note similar things in themselves.

That component is commonly called “baggage.”

Baggage is the sum total of your accumulated bad habits, negative thought patterns, fear-based reactions, experienced trauma, and any other peculiarity that may lead to some sort of conflict with someone else. We all have it, to one extent of another. For some, it’s just a small carry on bag. For others, a fleet of FedEx planes wouldn’t be enough to transport it all.

The important thing is to be aware of what you’re carrying around with you that may grate poorly on others–especially those you care about.

Maybe it’s a history of abuse–either from growing up or from past relationships–that makes you a bit jumpy when it comes time to be intimate. Or perhaps you were attacked once (or spent time in a war zone) and have severe reactions of one form or another if someone sneaks up on you. Maybe you’ve just had a string of unpleasant breakups that have soured you on the idea of romance (or happiness in general) all together.

Baggage can also be more subtle than all that. It can be deeply connected with your beliefs and attitudes. Politics, religion, kink, those are all potential stumbling areas when it comes to interaction.

You become aware of your baggage (and the effect it has on people) by paying attention. In your day to day life, how often do you find yourself bristling in a situation that other people don’t seem to have a problem with? What kinds of things will set you into a passionate tirade? What makes you just want to curl up and vanish from the world?

All of those things can be indicators of baggage you’re carrying.

Know How to Handle It

Once you’ve identified it, you can start dealing with it.

How? One way for some of the more external sources (like trauma) is to tell people you trust the story of what happened. The more you tell some stories, the less impact they have on you. The strong emotions bleed away as you get used to the actual distance between you and the event. Sometimes this can be done with friends, other times you may benefit most from speaking with a professional therapist of some sort.

Another way of dealing with your baggage (especially the deeper seated things like politics and religion) is to sit down and critically examine why you feel the way you do. If you can understand your position from a logical point of view (instead of just a gut-reaction emotional one), you can better explain it to others.

By far the best thing you can do is tell anyone you’re involved with what your triggers are and how good you are at dealing with those buttons being pushed. That way, if they trip one o f them, they’ll be able to better understand why you’ve just left the room (to keep from arguing with them when you know they’re not the actual problem, or to postpone the discussion until you have a more clear head).

As with everything, a little self-knowledge goes a long way. It goes even further if you tack on some good communication practices.

Just remember, if you can’t handle your own baggage, there’s little chance you’ll be able to deal with anyone else’s–which means a relationship is probably not the best idea until you’ve got yourself a little more under control.

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