Caregivers-Let’s Get Rid of Old Emotional Baggage!

caregiving emotional baggage

Ego says, “Once everything falls into place, I will find peace.”

Spirit says, “Find peace, and everything will fall into place.”

— Marianne Williamson

Picture yourself at a busy airport. You arrive to take a two week trip with a group of friends. As you stand in line, you notice that although you will all go on the same trip for the same amount of time, the amount of baggage you carry varies wildly. There are those who take nothing more than a “carry on” for the entire two weeks. There are those who take a moderate amount of baggage. And then, there is THAT GIRL, your fellow traveler who checks two huge bags, each of which exceeds the weight limit. She carries both a large purse and a carry on, and convinces the baggage minimalist among you to add another of her bags as a second carry on.

Now picture the baggage as the emotional cargo piled upon us by our life experiences, personality, parents, siblings, friends, extended family, etc. There are some of us who are fortunate enough to be baggage minimalists, but some are like our friend in the airport, who carries more baggage than the average pack mule could handle.

Everyone has emotional baggage. In my experience we take that baggage into every aspect our lives, including Alzheimer’s caregiving, and it determines who we are as caregivers. Are you angry and bitter about your life experiences, storing up the real and perceived wrongs committed against you as if they were buried treasure? This hoarding of emotional baggage manifests itself in every aspect of a caregiver’s journey — martyrdom, verbal or physical abuse of your loved one with Alzheimer’s, assuaging your guilt through angry diatribes to other family members and paid caregivers, and a host of other destructive choices.

Contrast this with the emotional baggage minimalists. They live in the moment, take life as it comes and look for ways to find joy and peace, even in the midst of extremely difficult circumstances.

In the 1986 film, The Mission, Robert DeNiro’s character, Rodrigo Mendoza, kills his younger brother in a duel after finding him in bed with Mendoza’s fiance. Thus begins his downward spiral into anger, depression and guilt. As penance for his crime Mendoza must haul to a remote mountain village a massive burden, which includes the huge weight (literally and figuratively) of his dead brother’s armor and sword. At the end of the grueling journey, we watch as his burden is cut and tumbles down the mountain away from Mendoza. However, we understand that the physical burden is not the only thing being cut. Mendoza’s guilt, anger, and bitterness fall down the mountain, too, freeing him from the prison of emotional baggage his life had become.

This is your choice as a caregiver. You can choose to carry the dead weight of guilt, anger, and bitterness on your back throughout your journey, or you can cut it away, forgive yourself and those who have wronged you, and choose every day to live in joy and peace.

Make the choice to be a baggage minimalist.

This article by Ellen Woodward Potts originally appeared on

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One thought on “Caregivers-Let’s Get Rid of Old Emotional Baggage!

  1. pspaulasusan

    Many years ago I participated in a program that was quite controversial, called EST. It was an interesting journey on many levels, and I forced myself to stay until the end, even though some of their demands were difficult. What I walked away with has been a profound influence on how I live. The one line that keeps me in reality is “It is what it is!” I then follow that thought with “and now how do I deal with it?” Bemoaning the difficulties and pain of my life would keep me from feeling alive and joyful, creating good stuff in the moment. So, if a thought creeps back in that would take me down, I remind myself that whatever it was is not happening now. I get to choose who I want to be in the world and it is definitely not a bitter, angry person.
    My mom was not a nurturing, loving mom. However, I do know she did what she did based on how she was raised and what challenges beset her in her own life. She was short, a perfectionist, critical and unaffectionate, At times she could be delightfully playful. She worked hard and did what she had to do in order to raise her daughters. She raised us with good values .She had her challenges and did one hell of a job surmounting them. However, she was bitter about the life she was dealt.. Today, she at 94 has sunken into herself and requires total care. I get pleasure from her looking up at me and saying “Hello, doll.” Dementia has softened her. She doesn’t engage beyond that greeting yet I am grateful to have her smile. t And, to say who I am is because of what she did and did not give to me sounds hard to believe. Yet, I put all of myself into what I do and my relationships because she expected the best in everything I did. I chose to be affectionate and verbally acknowledging because I know what it feels like not to get that. So, yes, I believe who I am is a direct result of who she was to me. And, I have worked to be the kind of person I want to be in the world. I live with appreciation for all my challenges because in the end, they are what pushed me to grow and learn and expand my own self-respect.
    So my mantra continues to be “It is what it is. Now what can I do about it?” and then I get back to appreciating the moment..


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