We have all heard the saying “sleeping like a baby” but have you ever thought in depth of what that means? One interpretation could imply that a well-cared for baby hasn’t a worry in the world. If they are fed, loved, and cared for then they can sleep without worry, without fear, and free of the problems of the world. Therefore, the baby sleeps deeply because they don’t have anything to weight them down yet!
As we start to grow up, more things affect our lives and start to weigh us down. Maybe you are bullied in school, or your parents are imperfect people doing the best they can. Perhaps you have been through abuse, illness, or loss. The world’s injustices start to show, and burdens of everyday responsibilities feel substantially heavy to you. As problems build, it can feel like wearing a backpack that gets more cumbersome as things in your life get more complicated.
The backpack we each wear can be invisible to us.
We may not recognize how much the people in our lives hurt us, causing us to carry around mistrust, or how the struggles have formed the story about who we are. We feel we are not smart enough, talented enough, or maybe just the foundation of who we are is not enough.
Our backpack can contain the pain from our past, the guilt over our mistakes, the loss of loved ones, or the shame of our choices.
Our successes along the way may serve to unload our backpack a little and make it lighter, as something goes right, or we learn we are capable. As our confidence grows, our past may feel like it has less effect on us. When we are in the growth mode, we can start to free ourselves of past scripts and self-judgment. Despite this, most of us still carry around some things in our backpacks that we need to unload to feel lighter and more at peace.
Do you know what’s in your backpack? If not, following are some steps to help you find out.
Step 1: make your invisible backpack visible
It’s hard to unload the things that are weighing you down in life if you are not aware of what they are. You may be asking yourself, “Why am I in this negative cycle?”, “Why do I react to this person or situation the way I do?”, or “Why can’t I stop doing this or that?” We all have “blind spots” about ourselves and building our self-awareness can be critical to moving forward.
Building self-awareness is not a destination but a lifelong journey. As humans we are always growing and changing, and therefore always building upon who we are. We can get stuck sometimes and “feel stagnant” but there is always something to learn about ourselves.
Self-discovery is an ongoing process that will be worth the effort. The fact that you are taking the time to get to know yourself will be the catalyst to the change itself. Realizing certain aspects of ourselves may be hard to accept if you don’t like them, but it does not mean that you cannot change or pick a different path. Change is one constant thing in life; things never stay the same, so why should you?
Four ways to build self-awareness:
Write your life story – Get out a journal and write about all the major things that have impacted you. You can even format it into a timeline. Acknowledge what has had a major impact on your life and what you may still be holding onto. In which experiences did you find the greatest passion or pain?
Get feedback – We all have blind spots that others see, but we are unable to see in ourselves. Get feedback from different people in your life. It may be a bit painful to hear if you are not ready for it, so it’s important to be in a place where you can be receptive and open to these kinds of opinions.
Write down your goals, priorities, and plans – What does your best life look like? Where do you strive to get to? What do you enjoy doing and want more of in your life?
Try new things – It’s hard to know what you like if you don’t try new things and have different experiences. What better way to discover yourself than putting yourself in different situations and experiencing your reactions. Did you love something you thought you would hate? Did you discover you were good at something?
Step 2: Recognize your backpack will never be empty
Even a newborn baby has burdens – they have a need for love, nourishment, and security. It is unreasonable for us to think that we will unload all our difficulties and be “problem free” during our lives, but that does not mean we cannot lighten the weight we carry. Life always has challenges! It may be that for a short time, you can forget about your past troubles.
Start where you are. Think about the most pressing problem that you currently have. What is keeping you up at night with worry? Is there something you are not dealing with that should be dealt with? Dealing with the contents of your backpack, not keeping them invisible, will help you clear space and make you feel lighter.
Step 3: Compassion and forgiveness
If we do not deal with the contents of our backpack, eventually the weight is there again, crushing our spirit and holding us back. We may need to re-write the stories of our past and see them in a new perspective. How did your past make you stronger? What lessons did you learn?
Who can you forgive (either yourself or others)? Could it feel healing to call someone up and let them know you want to forgive them? This can be therapeutic, even if you have no interest in starting another relationship with them. This is more about setting yourself free so you can concentrate on moving forward.
Ways to deal with our past:
Ignore it – This could lead to negative cycles in your life or coping in other unhealthy ways.
Live in it – This can be quite painful, and you are missing what is right in front of you.
Wait for it to get better – Delaying happiness.
Process it and learn from it – Letting the emotions out and acknowledging pain without living in it. Seeing what (if anything) you can learn from the past so that you can do things differently. Some things are done to us with no fault of our own.
The act of forgiveness or coming to peace with events from the past will NOT totally heal everything, but it could offload some of the burden that is holding you down. Finding compassion for others that may have hurt us in the past is something you do for yourself, not for them. The more compassion we have for others the more we are merciful with ourselves. Getting stuck in regret and revenge will only cause your own happiness to be blocked.
Step 4: Acceptance
“Do not free a camel of the burden of his hump; you may be freeing him from being a camel.” Gilbert K. Chesterton.
The concept that people come into relationships with baggage is probably true, but their baggage is partly what makes people who they are. We are all changeable, but we are also all going to have areas of our lives that could be forever impacted. Accepting that this is now who you are is part of the process of freeing yourself.
Step 5: Build your muscles so you can carry the weight
It is vital to build a self-care routine and start to prepare yourself for holding more weight in your backpack if necessary. Customizing a self-care plan is a preventative measure that can help BEFORE you get into a crisis. If your world gets thrown for a loop due to job loss, illness, family change or other issues, you will be more prepared to handle these hurdles if you are doing the following three things:
Build your social support
Do you have multiple people you can depend on and trust? We thrive when supported by people who nurture and encourage us. Everyone needs and wants to be seen, heard and understood. Meeting new people and putting yourself out there is scary. We all struggle, are afraid, are imperfect, so go at your own pace when building up your support system but I promise it will be worth it to have the support when you need it.
Take care of the basics
Getting a good night’s sleep and taking care of yourself is so important. Having a healthy diet and 30 minutes of exercise a day can go a long way to creating a positive mood.
Practice staying present
To stay in the moment, focus on positive things in your life, even if they are small. It’s human nature to focus on the negative. Intentionally finding the good can help you stay present in your life, which decreases your stress. One way to focus on the good stuff is to start journaling. A gratitude journal is simply a list of things you appreciate in your life that you don’t think about regularly. The benefits of gratitude can help you out when things in your life feel heavy because you can look back to all the good in your life.
In conclusion, your backpack is a part of who you are, but you don’t have to be crushed under the weight of it. At Turning Stone Counseling, we can help you sift through the contents and see things in a healthier perspective.
Check us out at www.turningstonecounseling.com