Here is August’s installment of “Ask Shelby” from Chester County’s own Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Shelby Riley.
I feel like I have all of this emotional baggage that gets in the way of having healthy relationships. I feel like I sabotage things with friends and romantic partners, even with my kids sometimes. If I’m broken, can I ever be fixed, or am I doomed to trample my way through life?
Signed, Burdened with Baggage
More people feel this way than you’d think. And you aren’t doomed—if you were, we all would be, and I’d be out of a job! People are amazing, and our ability to heal and change is one of our best qualities.
Emotional baggage can be framed as a “story.” Maybe we created the story that “people can’t be trusted” because one of our parents often didn’t follow through on what they promised. Maybe we created the story, “I am unlovable” because our parents were neglectful or abusive. Maybe we created the story, “Joy is scary because it’s always followed by pain” because several times in our lives this was true. We carry around these stories, and often they are not a true representation of who we are or how the world really works. They are sometimes strange, one-dimensional, child-like interpretations that lead us to live from a place of fear and pain. They pop up automatically (and often, unconsciously) and we begin filtering many of our experiences through these strange, and often untrue, lenses.
Changing these stories can be a difficult process because they are so deeply imbedded in our view of the world. Challenging these stories is the first step in dealing with, and releasing ourselves from, emotional baggage. Take some time to identify the story that comes up and gets in the way of you responding to things in a healthy way. Then, ask yourself, “Is this ALWAYS true? What else could be going on here?” Expand your view of the situation, instead of just collecting information that confirms your automatic story. Next, ask yourself, “What other story would I prefer to have here, guiding my decisions?” You can choose the story you tell yourself, and make choices from a place of health and opportunity, rather than from a place of fear. Soon, you will find that the stories you create empower you, rather than weigh you down. “I’m not good enough” turns into, “I am enough, and I deserve to have healthy relationships.”
Since this can be a difficult process, working with a therapist can be a great help in sifting through your old stories and working to create new ones. I wish you all the best.
Shelby Riley, LMFT is the owner of Shelby Riley, LMFT and Associates, LLC, a group family therapy practice in Chester Springs. She is the Past President of the Pennsylvania Association of Marriage and Family Therapy (PAMFT). Remember to check out Shelby’s website www.shelbyrileymft.com for useful information about therapy for individuals, couples, and families. And check out her books on Amazon.