How To Talk About Your Baggage So You Don't Freak Everybody Out |
Baggage. We all have it. And most of us hate it. Why can't we be these angelic beings, with squeaky-clean pasts and crystalline insides?? No muss! No fuss! Just a regular Barbie or Ken doll.
Cause isn't that what everyone wants in a friend or lover? Some precious, un-complicated, more perfect than perfect non-human??
But good luck to those people, cause I don't actually know any un-touched cherubs of perfection. We all got baggage. You. Me. Barbie. Ken. Skipper, definitely. Just look at those crazy eyes.
(Keep in mind that when I say "baggage," I'm really just referring to anything about us or our past that carries emotional weight, pain, fear, or shame. Baggage is heavy. Hence the term "baggage". I would love to just call it "our humanness", but for the sake of common understanding I'm using the b-word.)
When it comes to talking about the uncomfortable depths of our humanness? Sheesh. Introducing baggage is a subtle, scary, careful art form.
Revealing a dark past, a painful story, or a current wound too soon, or without doing your homework first can seriously hinder a budding romance, new friendship, or initial spark.
On the converse side, waiting to drop a baggage bomb until you're well into a safe and secure relationship can really send the whole thing reeling.
Basically: Don't fuck it up. No pressure or anything!
Today I want to share some advice for the confusing, baggage-claiming area of relationships. Here are some helpful, tested methods to influence how your baggage is revealed and received, no matter how big, scary, or bejanked it is.
1) Showcase some intelligent discretion, will ya?
There's a time and a place to talk about your abandonment issues and a first date at The Melting Pot probably isn't one of them.
I want to trust that you're a smart person who easily recognizes this, but maybe you're of the mindset, "I just like to get everything out there in the open! Why hide it?! I'm not ashamed! He/she can either handle it or he/she can't! Whateverrrr!!!"
If that's the case case, I have a profound question for you:
What makes you think this person is worthy of your inner world?
Who we open up to and share our secrets and pain with needs to be a thoughtful, discretionary process.
Meaning: these individuals need to earn our trust. They have to show us that they can handle our ugly. They need to display that they are caring, thoughtful, intelligent, and invested enough to listen in on our less-than-pretty business.
So please, do not cannon-ball into the baggage-bearing waters.
Ask about his or her family. Mention that you have a complicated relationship with Parent X or Sibling Y, and see how they respond. Does he want to know more? Can she empathize? Does he immediately change the subject? Take all of this in. Don't ignore any of it. If they seem open to more, and you're feeling comfortable, wade a little deeper. Get a sense of the current.
If a budding relationship has legitimate legs, there's no need to rush into anything. Take your time, and pay attention.
2) Acknowledge that you're uncomfortable.
If you're nervous to share something with someone, it might just be a sign that you're not ready to share yet (again, utilize intelligent discretion).
So please, proceed with caution. Test it out a little. Keep one ear heavily focused on the inside.
But if you done been nervous, and this person continues to showcase that they are caring and trustworthy, and it's time to open up the frickin' vault, please do both of you a favor and acknowledge those damn nerves. Aloud. To the other person.
"I feel kind of uncomfortable talking about this, but I think it's important..."
"I don't want this to be a big deal, but I do feel like I should talk about it with you..."
"Is it okay if I bring up something that's a little heavy for me?"
LET THIS PERSON KNOW WHAT'S UP.
Clue them into the fact that this is hard for you. That it's uncomfortable. A big part of being very vulnerable is acknowledging that you're feeling vulnerable.
Don't just blurt out your pain and suffering. Don't dump your history or shame at someone's feet and expect them to know what to do with it. Brene Brown calls this "floodlighting"; blurting baggage is like shining a big, bright, honkin' light right in someone's eyes.
And what do they do? They wince. They shield themselves. They back away. Because it's way too much all at once. They don't know how to process it. Their eyes never got a chance to adjust.
Try cracking a door to shed a little light on things first. You can do this by acknowledging that sharing this story or personal information is a little nerve-racking for you.
Be transparent. Seek permission: "I've been wanting to share this with you but it never feels like the right time - does now work?"
If they are emotionally intelligent, available, and not a social numbskull (fingers crossed), you will both have an easier time talking it through. You will probably feel more at ease almost instantly. I know, such irony that stating when you're uncomfortable can actually make everything more comfortable.
Because what's really uncomfortable is when someone unloads a ton of heavy shit and acts like it's nothing.
What's awkward and freaks all of us out is when suddenly, we're getting someone's life story and we can't tell what's good, what's bad, or what's ugly.
Help others understand. Be upfront about your emotions. Open up about your discomfort.
3) Your stuff needs to be your stuff, and it doesn't have to be a big, huge, scary deal (unless it is a big, huge, scary deal).
When I was in the midst of a terrible-ish depressive episode right out of college, I started dating this great guy. He was a real Wally Cleaver type; genuinely good, excessively kind. My mom still misses him.
I remember feeling petrified to talk to this clean-cut, boy next door about the fact that I was seeing a therapist, or that I was dealing with depression at all. How could he possibly understand?
So when I did open up about it I made a few things very clear, and it made all the difference. I expressed:
- That I was already getting help and working through it.
- That I knew my mental well-being was my job, and while his support and understanding would be great, I didn't expect him to fix it or make it all better (because he couldn't).
- That this wasn't meant to be a huge deal, that I was stable, and that he didn't need to worry. I just wanted to be honest with him about it.
I remember sitting on his couch rattling all of this off, wondering what he was thinking. He listened quietly and kept his eyes on mine throughout the entire conversation (good sign). I could feel myself getting sweaty and emotional, which is a truly delightful combo.
He cut me off, took my hands in his, and said, "It's okay, I get it. I really like you. Thank you for being honest."
HUGE MOTHEREFFING SIGH OF RELIEF.
When we're already doing our work, seeking help, facing our demons, and getting support elsewhere, enlightening someone to our big, bad, baggage isn't such a big, bad, deal.
I am still incredibly thankful to that man for being generous and understanding with me in that moment. He taught me that there are people who can handle tough topics, and they might surprise you if you let them.
NECESSARY CAVEAT: If something is a big bad deal, and you aren't doing or haven't done your work on it, or if this relationship is the first time you will have ever talked about this issue, do. not. downplay. Be honest. Let them know where you are. Transparency is an essential ingredient for intimacy and trust in relationships. If you share with someone that you "used to" take anti-depressants, or "used to" have an eating disorder, when it's still a very real issue, that's unfair to you and to them.
ALSO IMPORTANT TIDBIT: I should share that I once had a similar conversation about my mental health history with another guy I (briefly) dated and it did not go well. He didn't get it, was not okay, and he probably wishes I hadn't been honest. Aka, not my type of guy. ONTO THE NEXT!
You may have noticed that in order to implement any of these appraoches, one must be pretty emotionally in-touch and knowledgeable about where they stand "baggage-wise".
If there are aspects of your past that are influencing your current lifestyle or emotional well-being, and you haven't taken the time to look at any of it or do your own inner work, I highly recommend you begin that journey.
There are fabulous therapists, coaches, and many other professionals in the well-being community who want to help. Who want to listen. Who understand how essential this work is.
Please, befriend your baggage, because (like it or not) it is a part of your story. It doesn't have to own you, it doesn't have to define you, but it does need to be addressed, seen, heard, and felt. When we can put words to our secrets and our struggles, their power and scare-factor starts to disappear.
Because the baggage will always be there, but I promise, it really doesn't have to carry so much weight.