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Love Baggage

"Adult love inevitably reconnects us to the earliest experience of infantile dependence on our parents or caretakers. And no parent is perfect, and no one's earliest experiences of love are consistently and absolutely positive. These and later disappointments sometimes surface when we are faced with love as adults. As a result, some people find themselves unable to let go; they seem to prefer the familiarity of their fears to the potential danger of the unknown." (David Benner, Surrender to Love) This statement, in one form or another, has been made by any number of respected psychologists, therapists, or pastors. It has become an understood facet of married life that we all bring baggage our marriage. We know that some baggage is heavier and more numerous than others, but we all have baggage when it comes to relationships.

So what? What is the big deal and why does it matter so much? Why can't we just put our baggage in storage and move on? Damn the baggage anyway! The bottom line answer is because it is a part of who we are, a part of our identity. Our identity is largely shaped by how those significant persons in our life treated us. We see ourselves reflected in our lover's (not sexual lovers but soul lovers) responses. Whenever we enter into a love relationship we are faced with reflected ghosts of our past love relationships. They are stored in our brain. The baggage cannot be ignored, denied, or deleted; it must be emptied out, examined, and replaced with something different. We need to see a new reflection of our self in the eyes of our lover.

How often do we ask ourselves "What does she think of me?" or "How does he see me?" We are very concerned and conscious of "our image" in the "eyes" of our lover. How we answer these questions is at the heart of our baggage. Our baggage is the fear that we will receive the same negative answers: "I keep getting the same disappointing results no matter how hard I try."

Research from the neuroscience of interpersonal relationships suggests that our brain becomes hard wired to respond in the "same old way" especially when we perceive something or someone to be a threat. All the stored memory of our past disappointments is activated and our "baggage" comes rushing out. Something in the way our loved one looks, smells, acts, feels, or responds to us is registered as sensory input in our brain and rapidly processed and assessed. (Read my blog on "Emotionally Hijacked") Anything that smells, looks, acts, or feels like previous threatening occurrences puts us on the defensive: "Danger! Danger! This is not safe. I must be careful here. I am not sure this person really loves me." Like a freight train wreck our baggage spills out all over the place.

What are we to do? How can we stop the madness of rapid, almost instinctive reactions that push away the very thing we desire? How can we possibly get around our baggage in order to receive the love we so desperately need? How can we stop the self destruction? The short answer: Rewire your brain.

This is the good news. We can create new neural connections that reprogram our sensory processing so that we respond in a different way. And the way we do that is with the one you love. We literally learn to let go of our fear and experience loving interactions that heal us. Especially in a committed relationship like marriage, or in a community like AA, or a stable church community, or in counseling sessions, we can learn how to love one another. And it is in the learning how to love that healing happens. Our baggage of fear of rejection is replaced with the certainty of acceptance: "I really am lovable!"

Depending on your baggage, this is not easy process but it happens all the time. People do learn what love is and how to give love in return. Do not give up on love; it is what we are created to do. We are our most truly our self when we love.


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