I love the anticipation of vacation while I’m packing my suitcase — it carries so much excitement and promise. The baggage is good because it serves a purpose, to carry my belongings. But I don’t want to carry the suitcases around each day on my trip. It’s an inconvenience that will just weigh me down. Instead, I open the baggage, take out what I need, and leave the rest behind.
Our lives are similar. The baggage of our past serves a purpose. It has the power to teach us and shape our futures if we take the time to unpack it and analyze the situation. We can then carry with us the good and leave the bad behind. Unfortunately, too many people carry their baggage, filled with good and bad, through their lives. It’s almost as though we’re in a grudge match with ourselves — and the baggage is the boxing ring.
We want to overcome the bad while holding onto the good. Who we are fights with who we were. Who we want to fight with who we are. Both sides want to win and will stop at nothing to prevent change from happening, including trapping you with the bad baggage, pulling out stress, worry, anxiety, and negative memories that make positive change even more difficult.
Imagine, for a moment, a life without those negative emotions. It’s possible to learn how to set aside the grudge match, make peace with your past, and experience a life filled with excitement, hope, and promise.
5 Steps to Unpacking Your Baggage and Making Peace with Your Past
1. Decide you’re ready to unpack.
The baggage serves a positive purpose on your vacation until you get home. I can’t be the only one who, for the few days to weeks after vacation, finds myself getting dressed in the clothes that came along on vacation and spent the entire time in the suitcase. Not long after, though, the suitcase gets in the way, I start to trip over it, and it becomes a nuisance and inconvenience. The baggage has reached the point where it no longer serves a purpose.
However, I still need the clothes and belongings wrapped inside the suitcase. I unpack and put each item where it belongs, tuck the suitcases back into their storage until the next trip, and can immediately see and feel a positive difference.
The baggage you’re carrying around does the same in your life. It becomes a roadblock that either makes you stumble along the path you’re taking in life, wears you down and makes you weary along your trip, or forces you to take a completely different path. In your grudge match with the old you, it encloses you, keeping you from seeing all the promise outside of its walls. That baggage becomes a part of you until the moment you realize it no longer serves a positive purpose in your life.
Are you ready to experience life without the weight of the past on your shoulders and mind? If you want to forgive your past without forgetting it, follow these next steps.
2. Find a creative outlet
Frida Kahlo overcomes polio as a child. Then, when she was 18, she was in a bus accident that nearly took her life. Recovery took more than two years and the pain lasted until she died. She was in a full body cast. She wore a prosthetic limb.
Kahlo had two options: allow the physical and emotional pain to consume her life and make her life even worse, or to shake hands with her painful past and find a way to move forward. She chose the second. She turned to “fashion to give her emotional strength to overcome her physical challenges.” She used her unique style to make her memories a more positive part of her, from covering her prosthetic limb with tall laced boots covered in embroidery to turning her full-body cast into a sculpture.
Your outlet doesn’t have to be art. Maybe you find your release in music or dancing. One of my favorite steps to unpacking and moving on from my past is through writing. I see my pen as the proverbial olive branch between the me I want to be and the me that I was. I lose myself in the words so that I can find myself in my life. From freewriting to telling my life story, I’ve learned that I can effectively unpack my baggage, put every emotion in its place, reconcile my past and future, and forgive myself and others, just by putting my pen to paper.
3.Find a way to forgive
Forgiveness is key to looking your baggage in the eye and agreeing to part ways. There are three separate matters that often require forgiveness:
- Life: Bad things happen to good people. While they’re usually the consequence of a decision taken by an individual, there are other times when we can’t see any rhyme, reason, or cause to why that specific incident had to happen. As a result, many people end up bitter, hurt, and angry at life. They’re unable to see the greater joys and the tiny, momentary pleasures. If you want to find that hidden excitement, you need to forgive life for what has happened to you.
- Others: When you can pinpoint exactly who caused the hurt you’re feeling, you might also experience pain and anger when that person comes to your mind. Learn to forgive – not for them, but for you. The other person or people may not even realize that their decisions or actions hurt you, so they are enjoying life while you suffer. Forgiveness happens when you choose to release the anger and hurt, when you let go of the grudge, and when you realize that the joy of living far outweighs the pain of that incident.
- Yourself: Now, do the same for yourself. Whether you realize it or not, you may be holding a bit of a grudge with yourself. Most people are harder on themselves than on others, letting poor decisions from decades ago still reign supreme in their lives today. Try writing down the words or actions you wish you’d done differently or would love to take back. Do this exercise every week as a way to remind yourself that you, too, deserve forgiveness.
4. Be willing to learn
Just like unpacking your suitcase reveals your favorite pieces and new items you purchased on vacation, unpacking your baggage reveals emotions and revelations you may not have realized were inside. The grudge match between you and you ends when you decide to learn from your past and carry that into your future. Go into your unpacking process willing and open to learning from the experience. You might find a bit of momentary pain as you analyze and dig deeper, but you’re also opening yourself up to a new hope-filled future and promising life.
Freewriting is a great way to handle this. As you let the words of your life flow from your brain to your hand, you’ll start to see recurring themes and trends. Some will be expected. Others will surprise you. Push yourself to understand what they mean in your life and apply those lessons to your future.
5. Choose to become the protagonist in your life story
Many people suffer from so much baggage because they’ve become victims, allowing life to write their story. If you want to make peace with your past and move forward, you need to become the protagonist in your own life, writing the story you were destined to tell.
“We carry our past with us, to wit, the primitive and inferior man with his desires and emotions, and it is only with an enormous effort that we can detach ourselves from this burden. If it comes to a neurosis, we invariably have to deal with a considerably intensified shadow. And if such a person wants to be cured it is necessary to find a way in which his conscious personality and his shadow can live together,” wrote psychiatrist Carl Jung in “Answer to Job.”
When you become the protagonist in your life, you’re taking your conscious personality and your shadow and forcing them to meet and make amends. You stop the grudge match. At that moment, in that handshake, you’ve taken the steps to move past your past and step into the bright light of the rest of your life.
6. Tell your story
Now that you’ve shaken hands in peace with your past, you can share your story with others. This is a great way to cut any final chains and set your baggage free. Telling your story serves two main purposes.
- You’ll gain confidence in your decisions and will empower your inner protagonist to learn more about (and be compassionate for) yourself, which will help you do things you never would have been able to have you continued carrying the baggage.
- You’ll change the lives of others as they see the multiplication of positive changes in your life, and they may benefit from your hard-learned wisdom, all because you made the decision to unpack and put away your baggage.
1. Work through these steps
Most people are carrying around some level of baggage. Give yourself permission to unpack yours, shake hands with what you find, and move forward. In doing this, you’ll create a better, more optimistic future, along with a life story that will positively affect people around you.
2. Seek professional help where needed
You may come up against some challenging situations. There’s no harm in seeking the advice of guidance from a trusted friend, mentor, or professional who can help you work through the emotions and feelings to truly let go of your past.
Your baggage-free and grudge-match-free future might seem far off, but it’s closer than you realize. The peace and relief you’ll feel will give you a brighter outlook on your daily life. You’ll see more opportunities for growth and may even find a completely different course for your future. You’ll appreciate baggage for what it is — a vehicle that gives you growth and change — and will be able to unpack and put it away, stepping outside of its walls so that you can get back to life happier than you were before.