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Last week, when I dropped my children off at school, one of the mothers walked up to me and put a rotten egg in my pocket. Just like that. I didn’t like the way it smelled, but I quickly zipped up my pocket and kept it with me all day, anyway. I tried to ignore the stench that followed me around and I tried to pretend that I wasn’t aware that people were wrinkling their noses as I walked by. I can only imagine what they must have been thinking about me.
At the supermarket, one of those perfect mothers (you know the ones–dressed in an unstained white suit, sporting perfectly coiffed hair and impeccable make up…the ones who have magazine-cover-ready toddlers, eating organic, homemade sugarless snacks, not having tantrums while pulling M&Ms off the shelf) walked up to me, looked me up and down and sneered as she took three filthy concrete bricks out of her shopping trolley and theatrically dumped them in my handbag. The weight hurt my shoulder and sent the beginnings of a headache shooting up my neck, but I dutifully zipped up my bag and carried them off, all the same.
When I got to my car, I found an insulting note on my windscreen. It was vulgar and untrue. It made me recoil with shock and hurt my feelings, so, of course I pinned it to my chest for all to see.
By the time I got home, I felt smelly, weighed down, headachy and desperately sad. I felt unlovable and ugly. I snapped at my children. I didn’t want my husband to come near me. After all, I smelled hideous, felt like a loser and it was emblazoned across my chest that I was, in fact, worthless.
Of course, these things didn’t literally happen. But they do happen, in my head. They happen every day. I bet they happen to you, too. Family, friends, the checkout lady at the supermarket, the stranger on the street – all these people give us messages about ourselves. Sometimes good, sometimes bad. Often, the messages we receive have nothing to do with us at all, but we take them on board, regardless.
After much soul searching and deciding that enough is enough, I had an epiphany of sorts. I am the one in charge of deciding what to do with these messages. I don’t have to carry all the baggage people offload on me. Let me repeat that and this time, you join in: I don’t have to carry the baggage people offload on me! I get to choose which messages I keep and carry around in my heart and my mind and which ones I reject.
Negative baggage that people dump on us is heavy. It’s uncomfortable, it slows us down and–most importantly– it’s not ours. We do not have to accept, wholesale, every negative comment aimed at us. Yet, without thinking, we all seem to pick up every piece of this stinking, toxic baggage again and again and–let’s be honest–we often forget to ever put it down. Hell, when I was 7 years-old, a little piggy-tailed girl told me I have a ball-nose. To this day, it’s all I see in photographs of myself. She nonchalantly handed me that baggage and I’ve been carrying it for 30 years! I’d be willing to bet that nobody I know has ever given a seconds thought to my nose since that little girl’s flippant observation in 1983.
Being a peacemaker, and not wanting to confront or hurt someone else’s feelings (even those people who could, frankly, do with some hurt feelings), I’ve often been the one saying, “Want to throw your fetid, rotten bag of poo my way? Sure! I’m your girl,”
Problem is, it then becomes mine. I don’t want to stand up and say, “No, I will not accept that from you. Thanks for that little piece of turd, but it’s yours, not mine. You can keep it.” for fear of causing ripples. So again and again, I accept the negativity. I pop that piece of poo in my pocket and keep it with me. The result? I’m the stinky one. I’m the sucker, weighing myself down with baggage that doesn’t even belong to me. Imagine if, next time someone throws a destructive comment my way, I simply try saying, “Why, thank you, but that’s your toxic baggage, so no thanks!” and walk away, unburdened? I’m sure I’d feel happier. I’m sure I’d feel lighter. I know I’d feel empowered.
When we give other people the power to weigh us down, we disrespect ourselves, plain and simple. This disrespect shows and we may as well be walking around with a neon sign emblazoned on our chests, reading: Emotional Baggage Depot–Dump your noxious garbage here!
Today is a new day. Today I’m going to think about the messages I am given and actively decide what to zip up in my pocket and what to return to sender. I have plenty of pockets, but I intend to keep them free for treasures, sweet smelling flowers and gold nuggets.
So, to all the people I encounter looking to offload their fetid baggage on me, I have this to say: “Sorry, this checkout is closed. Next counter please.”
Let’s decide today to all put down the baggage we no longer want to carry. Use the comment section below. Give me all your unwanted baggage. Get the weight and stench of it out of your life. Write it all down and send it my way. I’ll build a gigantic imaginary bonfire and we’ll burn it, once and for all. Then walk away, hold your head high, and begin again. This time, with an empty suitcase and all the potential to fill it up how you choose.
Michelle is a copywriter, artist and mum of three children under ten. Read more of Michelle’s work at They Call Me Mummy