QUESTION: I have been told I have emotional baggage. Please explain what this means.
ANSWER: My friend, Nancy Scruggs, tells a humorous story of three East Texas women who went shopping in a nearby town. They spent an enjoyable evening and embarked on their journey homeward. They hadn't been on the highway long when they noticed a dead cat lying near the shoulder of the road. Being notorious cat lovers, they decided to stop and pick up the poor creature, take him home, and give him a proper burial.
Now they were faced with a dilemma of what to wrap the cat in. Certainly they didn't want to just flop his carcass onto the floorboard. After some thinking, one of them decided to empty her purchases from an elegant department store bag and use the bag as a transitional casket.
With the expired feline resting in the department store “casket” on the back floor, the trio resumed their journey.
Passing a fast-food restaurant, they were reminded how long it had been since they had eaten and decided to stop. After considering the condition of their dead passenger, they chose to place the bagged cat outside the car while they ate inside. They simply didn't feel comfortable leaving him shut up in the car. He didn't smell like daisies, and the car would be airtight on a hot Texas night. So they propped the “casket” against a tire and entered the restaurant to enjoy their meal.
Not long after they were seated and eating, an elderly woman entered the restaurant carrying a department store bag that was strangely familiar.
The trio exchanged concerned glances and then looked out the large window.
Yes, the bagged cat was gone.
The poor woman holding the bag must have thought she had retrieved some valuable find that someone had accidentally left. As the lady stood in line to place her order, she decided to glance into the bag for the first time.
Bad move for a heart patient! She immediately dropped the bag and gripped her chest. Soon surrounding customers noticed her distress and alerted the manager, who promptly called an ambulance. Since the hospital was only a block away, the ambulance arrived quickly, and within minutes the elderly lady was loaded into the emergency vehicle.
The conscientious paramedics, making sure they included all of the lady's belongings, threw the bagged cat in the ambulance near the gurney.
That was the last those cat-loving shoppers saw of their feline friend.
Emotional baggage is the bad memories, scars, and issues we carry in our hearts that, more times than not, other people have dumped on us or we have picked up from other folks. This baggage is usually full of destructive habits or behavioral patterns that can cause all manner of chaos in our lives and the lives of those we touch. Like the poor lady who picked up the department store bag, too many times we hang onto our baggage, thinking we need it when in reality it will lead to our own destruction or the end of relationships.
Many times the coping mechanisms associated with baggage seem attractive, just like the department store bag's alluring label. But in the end, the coping mechanisms can be fatal in many ways: physically, emotionally, or relationally. Often people who are addicted to hard drugs got there because they took drugs to mask their pain. In other words, their emotional baggage drives their drug addiction. Eventually, drug use can kill. Other people resort to less physically destructive behavior, but their coping mechanisms create havoc interpersonally and eventually destroy relationships. For instance, if a person felt out of control in his or her childhood because of bad choices forced on them by irresponsible parents, then that person can become over-controlling in marriage as a way to compensate for the traumatic childhood. An over-controlling spouse can destroy a marriage.
If people are telling you they think you have baggage, listen. Ask them why they think you have baggage and what they see in you that makes them believe that. Rather than go into hot denial about the issues, take a hard look at your life and be honest with yourself. If you feel the observations are valid, then seek out the help of a counselor or pastor. Often, we can be as blind to our own baggage as the poor woman who picked up the department store bag was blind to the dead cat inside. And unfortunately, the stuff in the baggage can lead to our own demise if we don't get some help.
The author of 54 books, Debra White Smith holds an M.A. from U.T. and is the featured relationship specialist on the Fox News Radio Show, “Plain Jane Wisdom.” She and her husband, Daniel, co-pastor Palestine Church of the Nazarene. For more information, visit www.debrawhitesmith.com. Got a problem? E-mail Debra at email@example.com