From Past to Present | Overcoming Old Relationship Baggage Through Personal Growth

Personal growth

We’ve all been there, casually taking what at first is meant to be a nice stroll down memory lane only to suddenly trip over a suitcase that is so stuffed to the brim that you’d need to sit on it to zip it up.

But instead of being filled with your fav vacay outfits or fun stuff you bought while on a trip to take back home, inside is relationship baggage. No souvenirs, no duty-free perfume–it’s jammed with an array of insecurities, romantic battle scars that have yet to heal, and an assortment of other “Dear God, what was I thinking” memories.

Instead of leaving this emotional relationship baggage on the floor where we walk around it for weeks or chucking it into a closet, we are going to unpack it.


The Ghost of Relationships Past

The ghosts of relationships past can be haunting and pop out and yell “BOO” at any given moment–you could be minding your own business when out of nowhere, an intrusive thought about your ex giving you a mixtape enters your mind. Or, it could be that one of the songs that were on the mixtape is playing on the radio or in the supermarket and that’s what triggered the memory.

How about that one seemingly promising date that never texted you back? Now, every unanswered text, even from your friends sends you into a tizzy. The past has an uncanny ability to sneak into our present lives and pretty much pull the rug out from underneath us.

But here’s the truth: just because your ex made you a crappy mix tape with ‘Wonderwall’ on it (gross) doesn’t mean your current partner will have terrible taste in music (we are sort of joking) and that one dude or chick who didn’t text you back? They could be an anomaly–the exception, not the rule.


Heavy Baggage vs. Hand Luggage

You know when you get on a plane, and the airline weighs your luggage to 1) see how much it’ll cost for your suitcase to ride with you and 2) to make sure the aircraft can take the extra weight (that’s important!)?

There’s no weight limit for emotional baggage, but knowing the difference between a light carry-on and a full-blown steamer trunk of unresolved feelings is obviously necessary.

It’s perfectly natural to have trust issues after being ghosted or to be hesitant about dating again or entering into a new relationship after a heartbreak. But when past experiences start influencing our present beyond reason, it’s time for a baggage check.


Unpack, Don’t Repack

So how does one begin to unpack? You need to take inventory.

You wouldn’t keep old, worn-out clothes in your closet forever, would you? Along those lines, assessing which past relationship affronts are still serving a purpose is essential. Sure, recalling that time you were cheated on can be a reminder of how you felt about your worth at the time, but if it’s causing distrust in your current relationship, it may be time to donate that memory to the “lessons learned” box.


The Over-Accessorized Memory Chain

Imagine every past relationship left you with a charm for a bracelet. That bracelet gets heavier with every heartbreak, mishap, or unanswered question. For instance:

  • The silver charm represents the time your ex always forgot your anniversary. Now, you get irrationally anxious as an anniversary date approaches in your current relationship.
  • The gold charm is for them always pointing out your flaws, making you self-conscious about it to this day.

To overcome this, you have to know the weight of the bracelet. Consider jettisoning some of the unneeded charms or treating yourself to a brand-new bracelet! You can even switch it up and turn it into a necklace, illustrating metaphorically that while the past is behind you, the hard lessons learned should be close to your heart but not hang heavily on your wrist, weighing you down.

sticker sheets

The Sticker-Covered Suitcase

Think of your emotional baggage as a suitcase loaded with travel stickers from all the places (past relationships) you’ve been in:

  • A big red sticker from when someone spread that rumor about you, making you super guarded about sharing personal stories.
  • A washed-out, faded sticker from a summer fling, who never wanted to label the relationship, making you push for commitment way too early in your current relationships.

To come to grips with this, sit down with your emotional baggage suitcase and slowly peel off (or rip them off, it’s up to you) the stickers that no longer represent the dating journey you want to be on. It’s a drawn-out but overdue process, and it will probably be painful, but when you finally see that sticker-free original suitcase underneath all that drama, you’ve lightened your load. It’s worth it!


The Misplaced Trust Compass

Because of past betrayals you’ve suffered or lies you were told by a former romantic partner, visualize your trust as a compass. And the heartache of past events have made its needle a little wobbly:

  • North reminds you of when your boo said he was “working late” but wasn’t, causing you to second-guess when your current partner is truthful or if he’s lying and cheating on you.
  • South points to the time when your ex-GF said she was “just friends” with that guy from work, making you overly suspicious now of any male friends your current partner has.

In order to recalibrate your relationship compass, you need to be aware that not everyone is using the same map or GPS. Acknowledge and understand that any new partners have their own North, South, East, and West–you need to give current relationships a chance and remember that they are not your ex–they get a clean slate until they prove otherwise.

Have faith that they’ll guide you accurately through their landscape, and give them a chance to prove their reliability.

swiss army knife

Personal Growth: The Swiss Army Knife

Have you ever tried opening a wine bottle without a corkscrew? Of course, you have! And then you’re drinking a nice Chianti with bits of cork in it. Now you have chewy cork wine, and it’s unpalatable–just like trying to navigate relationships without personal growth.

We use the Swiss Army Knife as an example as it’s the tool that has pretty much everything you need (even a tiny corkscrew), and when you think of the tool in terms of personal growth, it can help you navigate difficult situations and more complex emotions. Personal growth is not about becoming a different person but rather striving to be the best version of yourself.

And the best part of actively practicing personal growth? As you bloom, the size of your baggage tends to get more manageable–you could probably switch to a tote bag.

storage bins

Search Out Help, Not Extra Storage Space

If you’ve ever moved, chances are high you’ve asked some friends to help you out–and they did, even though you should’ve hired a professional moving company. But those friends who helped you move into your fourth-floor walk-up apartment? They were there for you then, and they’ll be there for you now–and they don’t have to move any heavy furniture!

Seeking support or asking for help, whether from friends or mental health professionals, will offer up some fresh perspectives on some old problems. And sometimes, just saying things out loud about your insecurities or whatever else is bothering you can lessen their hold on you–it never hurts to have an impartial sounding board, a friendly ear, or a shoulder to cry on.

old and new

Out with the Old, In with the New

When was the last time you did a deep spring cleaning of your emotions, just like you do with your bathroom? While holding onto nostalgic memories might seem endearing, it can sometimes take up too much space and not allow any new ones to move in.

Clean house (or heart) and try to make new memories, moments, and adventures that can redefine your old relationship narrative and make room for better ones.

baggage claim

No Baggage Claim Required

Last but not least, bear in mind that every person you meet isn’t the TSA agent of your heart, ready to scrutinize your carry-on bag for any contraband, like liquids over 1 oz or nail files.

It’s OK to leave certain suitcases behind–in fact, you should. New relationships are an opportunity to start fresh. While you can (and should) learn from past mistakes, it’s unnecessary (and really exhausting) to declare every piece of your baggage to a new potential partner.

Last Thoughts

Navigating relationships with excess emotional baggage from the past can be like trying to find your non-descript black suitcase at a baggage carousel—there are so many other bags that look just like yours, and you could be there for hours–it seems never-ending and discouraging. But with a pinch of introspection, a dash of humor, and a heaping tablespoon of personal growth, you can decrease the weight.

So, the next time you enter into a new relationship or cement a current one, remember to unpack that suitcase that’s been sitting there way too long and, perhaps, leave a few unnecessary items behind the next time you pack.

Molly Davis
Molly Davis

Molly is an East Coast writer who lives on West Coast time. She’s been in the journalism field for over 20 years — newspapers are her first love but she’s finding digital media to be just as fun and challenging as print! When she’s not giving therapist-quality dating advice, she’s curled up watching movies, reading, or volunteering at local dog shelters.