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  • Writer's pictureDr. Speshal Walker Gautier a.k.a. Dr. Spesh

Sis, What's in your bag?

Updated: Oct 18, 2020

In the song “Bag Lady,” Erykah Badu schooled us on the dangers of emotional baggage. “One day all them bags gone get in your way,” sang Badu. I often use this metaphor in my work with Black women. As a therapist, I believe the most important relationship is the one that you have with yourself. Getting to know yourself on an intimate level is imperative for understanding your emotional needs and expressing them to others. “Knowing” yourself involves unpacking the bags. No judgment Sis, we ALL have bags.

As we enter relationships, we each come into them with some level of baggage. Imagine a metaphorical sack of your previous experiences that have shaped you into who you are today, particularly the experiences that are heavy and perhaps weighing you down. What’s in your relationship bag, Sis? When it comes to relationships, we know from years of psychological research on attachment that we are learning and developing our expectations about relationships from the time we enter the world. Simply put, the way we form intimate bonds with others and express our needs in relationships is based on early life experiences. Sometimes people think of relationship baggage as pertaining only to recent negative experiences. In actuality, we often end up in long-standing relationship patterns due to our attachment styles. Our expectations and early models for relationships influence the types of partners we choose. So it becomes important to ask: What have I learned about how others will respond to my emotional needs or whether they will respond at all? How does this impact the partners and types of relationships I choose?

For some, early attachments with primary caregivers during childhood allow us to feel loved and attended to, setting the tone for healthy future relationships. Whereas for others, caregivers may have been less available due to life circumstances or even their own unpacked baggage. These attachments can result in feeling unlovable or neglected, ultimately leading to the development of unhealthy relationship ideals. What is your template for love, Sis? Do you love yourself and consider yourself worthy of love? Unpacking this bag is essential for understanding how you relate to yourself and others. This work might be done through various means including therapy, meditation, spiritual paths, etc. Therapy in particular is useful for identifying and changing unhelpful patterns. Whichever you choose, preparing yourself for love involves deepening self-love, worth, awareness, and compassion.

Ultimately, falling in love involves deep emotional intimacy and vulnerability, so having the capacity to identify and express your needs and feeling safe enough to communicate them is key. Now with that said, our relationships also occur within a society and culture which further influences our experience of emotional connection and vulnerability. This is an area where I believe Black women have some collective baggage which makes it hard to “pack light,” as advised by Sister Badu. Black women have been given a pretty heavy load. So Sis, we've all got some unpacking to do.

*Dr. Spesh is an Atlanta based Clinical Psychologist, blogger, and diversity consultant.*

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