Everyone has seen pain and heartbreak in their lives. Even if we had a happy childhood, experiencing heartbreak starts from the moment we are brought into this world.
Unless we recognize this pain from an early age (which is not easy to do), it follows us into adulthood, and into our romantic relationships.
Even if we are not directly focusing on our past moments in pain, these experiences add up to make us the person we have become today. We keep our pain with us, carrying it like we would carry – you guessed it – baggage.
Opening this “baggage” and addressing past heartbreaks can be very scary, but is crucial to learning more about ourselves and living a free, happy life with our partner.
What Is Baggage Exactly?
“Baggage” is the pain or loss that we have felt in past relationships.
Let’s focus on the first relationship that we ever experienced – the relationship we had with our parents or guardians. Our caregivers are the first people to teach us how to love, providing for us even before we were brought into this world.
Their influence goes farther than we can consciously understand. Our unconscious mind has packed baggage that we do not always see. By recognizing that we have this baggage, however, we can begin to unpack it and truly see into ourselves.
The Type of Baggage We Carry
We carry three sets of baggage with us throughout adulthood. The contents of our baggage are heavily influenced by the way that our caregivers met our needs (or didn’t), and how we responded to that relationship.
Unmet Needs: No parent or caregiver is perfect. Even the best parents can’t successfully meet their child’s every need. When our caregivers failed to meet our needs throughout childhood, we packed these needs in our baggage and brought them into adult relationships. We look for partners who can satisfy these needs.
Lost Parts: Just like our caregivers are not perfect, we also fail to meet certain needs for our parents. There are parts of our personality that may have been rejected by our parents. As we learn that these parts are not acceptable, we start to hide them in a second set of baggage.
Although we grow up repressing or hiding these lost parts, we are not whole without them. We look for partners who reconnect us with those lost parts. Once we learn to accept and embrace these lost parts, we can live our lives out as our whole selves.
Protective Behaviors: When our parents threaten our wholeness, we hide our lost parts, but we also develop protective behaviors. These behaviors helped us cope with the pain of not being fully accepted.
Protective behaviors are always defensive and adaptive. They allow us to restore a sense of safety and to continue living and being accepted by our parents, who we adore and love unconditionally, despite the pain, as infants and young kids. But they can also create problems when their ability to defend and protect is mistaken for an attack.
We look for partners who make us whole, shedding the need to use any protective behaviors. When we can release these protective behaviors in our baggage, we are able to live a freer life.
Although we categorize our baggage into three separate areas, know that all of our baggage is very closely related. Our protective behaviors are developed from our unmet needs and lost parts. By failing to embrace all of the parts of our personality, our caregivers fail to meet certain needs.
We can’t always unpack one type of baggage. This process can get messy, confusing, and disorganized. But the benefits of unpacking our baggage and opening it up for our partners to see and understand will have unbelievable benefits on our relationship and our lives.
How Opening Our Baggage Deepens Our Relationship
Remember, we unconsciously look for a partner who can meet our unmet needs and make us a whole person. Once we have found someone we want to spend our life with, we have to make the conscious effort to unpack our baggage and see how our partner can address our needs and build us into the whole, free person that we were meant to be.
This relationship isn’t just a one-way street. Your partner has the ability to meet your unmet needs, but there is potential for a more symbiotic and beneficial relationship here. As they go on this journey with you, you can give them the opportunity to grow and embrace their lost parts.
The reverse process can happen for you. As you make the effort to learn about your partner and meet their needs, you grow. This development allows you to embrace your lost parts.
As you two meet each other’s needs and recover your whole selves, you eliminate the need to exhibit protective behaviors. What a beautiful and deep way of connecting with your partner.
So, How Do We Open Our Baggage?
This process does not happen overnight. We may not even fully understand the unmet needs and lost parts that have been packed away from our childhood. After all, we start filling our baggage before we even have the ability to spell the word “baggage”!
The best way to unpack your baggage is to be honest with your partner and to be curious about them. Have intentional dialogues, and focus on understanding what your partner is saying. When you have gotten a good grasp of what your partner is communicating, dig deeper. Ask questions about their childhood or their parents.
And when your partner asks you why you are upset about something, tell them honestly. Talk through your fears and your disappointments, even if you are afraid it will hurt your partner.
Dig even deeper with the help of an Imago Relationship Therapist. Imago therapists understand how heavy our baggage can be, and how our parents helped us to pack this baggage from an early age.
They are also trained in how to uncover this baggage and share it with your partner – even if you didn’t know it was there in the first place. Let’s find ways to unpack this baggage together, allowing you and your partner to build each other up into your best selves.