As we are coming off of the season of the holidays, aka family gatherings and such, I might venture to guess that some of our bags may be heavier than usual as our family of origin often pushes a button or two on our already overflowing bags.
This doesn’t mean we are all walking around in a sea of depression (although, sadly there are many who are), but it is rare to find someone who doesn’t have a story; a story laden with some emotional baggage. I recently met a new client. This man is successful, handsome and has a lovely family. He shared his story with me, which was quite heavy. As he walked out of my office slipping into a snazzy leather jacket, it dawned on me that anyone that saw him walking around town would not think that this is a guy carrying around such a hefty duffle bag filled with pain, conflict and sadness .
I work with teenagers who frequently talk about the “popular” kids at school. One girl labelled the spot in her high school where the popular kids hang out as the "benches" (it was "Jock Corner" at my high school); she talks about the well-dressed girls who always look like they are happy and have it together. I am forever trying to imprint in their brains (and mine) that we compare “our insides with others' outsides”. Many teenagers feel lonely or inadequate and see the perky girl who bounces through the halls as seemingly baggage-free. That bouncy girl that looks happy may be depressed, suicidal, abused or struggling with an eating disorder. We all have baggage; whether it is apparent on our outsides or not.
One of my biggest challenges as a therapist is to help people embrace the idea of learning to love and accept themselves. I try to help my clients see that healing their insides can boost their perception of their outsides. The teenagers especially hyper-focus on what is wrong with their skin, hair, body or teeth. I, on the other hand, urge them to shift that attention onto their inner strengths: how are they kind, when do they support their friends, who do they make laugh and who can they trust?
One seventeen year client old is constantly trying to climb the rungs of the popular group despite the fact that these girls can be catty and exclusive. I asked her what it would be like to have a really good friend; someone who is kind, fun, funny and trusting. She said that would feel nice. I asked her what it would be like if this friend was not popular; if you enjoyed being with this friend, trusted her and she made you laugh until your stomach hurt, but she lacked the popularity sash across her front?
I challenged my client to observe the people in her classes. Think about the important qualities in a friend and if she thought there might be someone that she would consider being friends with despite their place in the popularity hierarchy. For the record, my client is beautiful; she has long cascading blonde hair, a beautiful figure and stunning features, but sadly she does not recognize this beauty in herself, but she has reported to talking to a few nice girls in one of her classes.
We all have baggage; the popular kids, the beautiful people, the intact families and the super wealthy. It can be a little wristlet or an oversized trunk, but we all struggle at some point because no one has a perfect existence, it's part of this game we call life. The next time you think that your neighbor continues to skate through everything unscathed, remember that they have bags in their attic as well.