Do you have baggage?
Making a case for psychotherapy
I was raised by a Cuban father and a Mexican mother on American soil and I had one hell of a time forming my own identity. My father, or Papi as I called him, stressed to me that I should be fiercely independent. He pulled me aside when I was ten years old and said, “Mija, don’t get married and have children until you have an education and a career and your own money. Don’t depend on anyone, ever.” His words scared the hell out of me because I was still playing with Barbie dolls and couldn’t imagine getting married, ever.
When I hit adolescence, my mom took over. Mami had very different ideas of what I should be focused on. “Mija, when you get married, your duty is to your marido. Iron his pantalones, make sure he’s fed and keep the house clean, otherwise he will leave you. Ay Dios Mio, que horror.” She also mentioned that I must work to help with the bills because that’s how it’s done en los estados unidos, raise a bunch of kids and God forbid I gain weight and become undesirable to my husband.
Developing my own perspective was not encouraged. Pursuing life as an unmarried childless woman was completely out of the question. Therefore learning to develop self-esteem or a healthy level of confidence was shoved aside and altogether forgotten until experiences in my life made me realize that the lack of self-esteem and confidence had ruined my chances of having a healthy relationship or finding a fulfilling career for years.
Coño, I remember thinking. I have baggage.
For most of my dating life, I had avoided anyone who had baggage, a term I’d heard in my early 20’s and had come to understand as crazy exes, a screwed up childhood, lack of employment, too much debt; someone who was too emotional or too closed off or too damaged, which basically ruled out a good portion of the human race. Most ironic, however, was the fact that I’d come to perceive myself as someone who did not have baggage although I fit into at least 4 of these categories. Not only did I realize that I had baggage, it occurred to me that we are all carrying something.
I see baggage as this enormous suitcase we’re all given shortly after birth. It’s too big for us at first, so other people get to pack all kinds of stuff into it, like our parents or the people raising us. They use whatever tools they’ve acquired to provide us with love, safety and security. As we get older and develop awareness, we have experiences that provide us with insight, wisdom and resilience, tools that we pack ourselves. We have unpleasant and scary experiences that get packed into our suitcases as fear, panic and anxiety. Some experiences produce beautiful memories that make us laugh or smile.
Sometimes our parents or the people on whom we rely add things in a hurry, which makes a mess of what’s already there. They add stuff we don’t really want, like their own thoughts and beliefs, their own perceptions of the world and how we should live our lives. And because we tend to trust our parents, we let them pack things like cynicism or racism or sexism or homophobia, tools they believe we need to have so that we remain safe in the world they’ve come to know. All of which makes it difficult for us to make some space for our own values, perspectives and beliefs, our own sources of self-worth and confidence. In fact, sometimes they do such a good job of packing these things that we forget where they came from and assume we packed them ourselves.
Our suitcases affect how we show up in our jobs, friendships, families and relationships. I know we’d like to think that a new friendship or new relationship is a clean slate but in reality we’re all carrying something. Some of us carry suitcases that wear us down, some of us have tons of different tools and some of us have space for days. But when our suitcase is filled-to-the-max with stuff we don’t know about or don’t understand, it tends to burst wide open and wreak havoc on our journey to happiness. We hurt people who may already be hurt. They hurt other people too. And here we are, in 2020 America, with too many people hurting people.
Relationships and friendships add depth to our life because they allow us to have experiences that are rich with joy, peace, love, safety, validation. Our lives are a never-ending journey of opportunities to bond with others, to open our suitcase and share what we have, to help someone piece together their busted suitcase so they can carry on. But we can’t do any of this until we’re aware of everything we’ve got, until we’ve thrown out what we don’t want and we’ve forgiven those people who packed our suitcases with the things they believed would help us.
Here is where I make my case for psychotherapy. Go ahead and admit it: you think people who see therapists are crazy. Or your parents don’t “believe in it” so neither should you. Well, crazy is just another word for human and last I checked, mental health is not a religion.
Therapy may not resolve all of your problems, but it will provide you with a safe space to unpack your suitcase and take a good look at all the stuff you’ve been carrying around. And then you can decide what to cherish, what to share with others and what to discard.
Who you were taught to be is an unfair expectation. Who you are is a decision.