When You're Left Carrying Your Parent's Emotional Baggage

In 2005, my husband and I picked up a connecting flight in Puerto Rico on the way to our honeymoon destination, St. Lucia. I remember standing at the ticket counter when a porter kindly offered to help us with our bags. Being young and naïve we allowed him to do so… and he literally rolled them a few feet to the gate, a task we easily could have managed.

Feeling foolish and slightly taken advantage of, we paid up when the man held out his hand for a tip.

The Caribbean is replete with citizens in need of work and income. Lack of jobs creates competition and islanders have learned to become resourceful and assertive in their approach to make a living. We quickly realized our few dollars had helped not only a struggling economy but a human being, a man trying to put food on the table for himself and his family.

The porter had been so eager to take our luggage. The task and weight of carrying bags for tourists added value to his day, his life, his wallet. Our baggage was necessary for his survival.

Flash forward to 2017. I am in the process of working through and living with the struggles of Complex-PTSD, severe anxiety and depression. My siblings and I were raised in a home by a mother with borderline personality disorder and narcissistic personality disorder. Each of us struggle with the trauma embedded in our sense of self.

Feelings of guilt, shame and not being “good enough” continue to dog us in our adult years. At a young age, our brains were wired to believe the standards my mother set were true and if we didn’t meet them we weren’t acceptable.

Now in our 30s, three decades of unhealthy behavior have been spent in the form of people-pleasing, self-condemning, unjustified “answerability.” We continue to struggle with learning healthy patterns.

After a recent session with my therapist regarding “emotional and psychological baggage,” here is my takeaway… only porters should take on baggage. Let me say that again. Only porters should take on baggage.

This intangible burden, a weight I had picked up and carried for three decades, was not mine at all. I had been carrying my mother’s baggage, her standards, her insecurities and the last time I checked, I wasn’t a bellhop.

This weight was hurting my survival, not sustaining it, as it did for Caribbean porters in crowded airports.

I didn’t finish college, my sister wasn’t skinny enough, my brother married the wrong girl… hefty luggage that never had our tag on it. But, we picked it up, dragged it around and rolled it from one metaphorical gateway to the next, making restitution for unmet standards. This behavior was not only limited to relations with our parents but overarched the structure of our lives.

Each of us developed different coping mechanisms. We became excessive worriers, doers, helpers. We spent money, bought gifts, became obsessed with perfection and sacrificed our mental and emotional health.

My siblings and I thought we were “getting paid” in a co-dependent way of compensating acts, trying to elicit positive feedback. Any hint of accord was like a coin in our pocket, a tip, small compensation that never added up to much.

We had been lugging around my mother’s trunk of skeletons our whole lives, trying to carrying a weight that didn’t belong to us to begin with.

I’m not upset I didn’t finish school, my sister is a beautiful and accomplished woman and my brother is happy with the partner he chose. The suitcases full of expectations and standards can be left at the ticket counter. The tags don’t have our names on them. The contents are not ours to claim.

So, unless you are working for an airport, hotel or transportation service only take what you need for your journey. Everything else will drag you down. Leave the unclaimed baggage on the carousel.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741

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