Is your emotional baggage weighing you down? It’s a fair question that each of us must consider at one point or another in our lives. We all have some emotional event or episodes in our life that influence us in the way we engage with the human race. Unfortunately, we are rarely able to drop our baggage at the doorstep and leave it behind when trying to move forward in life or upon entering a new relationship.
Instead, we often drag that baggage right through the doors of our next relationship or life experience. Emotional baggage can be a good thing, but it can also be a bad thing if we fail to confront it head-on.
It seems our negative emotional baggage shows up at the most unexpected times, pulling us down into an ocean-filled abyss of misery and despair like two cinder blocks shackled to our ankles. How we manage that emotional baggage is key to our sanity and health of future relationships.
What is Emotional Baggage?
You have probably heard this age-old metaphor used time and again, but you may not know what it means to be carrying around emotional baggage. In simple terms, emotional baggage is a representation of all of the negative experiences you have encountered in life, and within your personal (romantic and non-romantical) and professional relationships.
Just like the weight of carrying multiple suitcases on a trip out of town, so emotional baggage weighs us down, and makes our travel through life much more difficult.
Robin Hoffman writes in the Huffington Post that we all have emotional baggage. How we allow these experiences to influence our lives is what makes us different. We experience and respond to the highs and lows of a relationship in different ways.
Some of us can shed the negativity like a snake sheds its skin and leave it behind and some of us carry these adverse events with us like a turtle wears its shell. Not only do we bring positive aspects of a relationship away with us, but we also take the negative dynamics away as well and over time, the negative experiences can begin to outweigh the positive.
Most of our experiences come from relationships with parents, siblings, friends, lovers and even our employers that may haunt us for years or even decades. In time, this collection of heartache and heartache can block our path to positive things if we let it.
Whatever we have not dealt with thoroughly and efficiently can become baggage that brings us down throughout our lives.
4 Common Types of Emotional Baggage
Regret, one of the most useless emotions that leaves us stuck in the past, typically worrying and mulling over situations over which we have no control and cannot change. It can make us afraid to take risks and doubt our own judgement and intuition.
Shame, or more importantly unprocessed shame can have detrimental effects on your mental, and emotional health. Carrying shame around for prolonged periods can lead patterns of self-sabotaging or self-punishing behavior.
Carrying guilt around for prolonged periods can lead to depression, anxiety, reduce self-esteem and non-supportive or worse yet self-sabotaging or self-punishing behavior.
Unresolved resentments and anger can lead to self-defeating behavior, depression, eating disorders, addiction and other issues which are detrimental to your emotional and mental health.
Anger can affect your current relationships and future ones you may have. For example, consider the woman or man who is still angry over a past relationships that did not work out, and now feels that all “men or women are no good.”
This belief is obviously false, but in a state of anger and resentment, the person experiencing this emotional baggage cannot see that, so even if a good person comes along, they will miss opportunity to connect because the assumption that “he or she is no good” will get in the way.
How Do I Know if I Have Emotional Baggage?
Psychoanalyzing ourselves can be a major challenge, but sometimes we must slow down and do the work. While some types of emotional baggage may be the direct result of a traumatic experience that lives in the forefront of our minds like a death or a loss of someone significant in our lives, physical, mental or sexual abuse, other experiences are buried deep in the recesses of the brain.
Some of us may suffer from depression, or another form of mental illness that affects the way we engage with other people or perhaps, in our past has changed our relationships negatively.
If you find yourself projecting these past events onto your new relationships, keeping your guard up in vulnerable situations, ripe with distrust, holding back in a way that is self-preserving or projecting your demons onto others, there is a chance that you may indeed be carrying around a few suitcases of emotional baggage.
7 Ways to Rid Yourself of Emotional Baggage
The good news is that you are not stuck with this set of luggage forever. You can ditch your emotional baggage at some point in time, but as with most things, you will need to invest a great deal of time and energy to yield results. Here are a few options to consider.
1 – Consider Therapy
First, consider getting professional help. Sometimes we all need to discuss our problems with someone who can offer expert guidance. While your friends may have an excellent set of listening ears, unless they are licensed professionals, most do not have the necessary tools or resources to help you properly unpack that bag of issues.
Instead, you should consider seeking the support of a professional therapist who can spend time with you helping you reconcile your emotions and come to terms with each of the things that are following you throughout life.
2 – Independent Actions
You also have the option to work through your issues independently. While you may not be able to navigate all your problems, you may be able to remove some of the weight from your shoulders with these tips. Here are a few independent steps you can take to get started.
3 – Dump the Denial
It is time to vacate your state of denial. You will have to confront a few apparent issues that are tainting your life head-on to reach some degree of acceptance. That’s right! You must acknowledge that your emotional baggage does exist!
Denying that you have any emotional baggage will get you nowhere. You will have to unpack your bag one negative experience at a time. Also, you will have to be vulnerable and share with others in your life who are impacted by your emotional baggage.
4 – Own Your Feelings
You have a right to your feelings. No one has the right to discount or deny you your right feel the way you do. You no longer have to pack those feelings away and hide them from the world.
5 – Identify Your Negative Experiences
You will now have to dig deeply into the crevices of your life to recognize the things that have brought you to this place in life. What are the pivotal moments in your life history that make you behave or respond the way you do when confronted with a particular individual or situation?
6 – Identify Your Emotional Triggers
What are the events and circumstances that trigger your emotional responses? Take some time out to examine and identify those triggers so that you know how to cope with them the next time they arise. Make each experience a learning lesson and improve upon each one so that you carry the good and ditch the bad.
7 – Find a Path to Forgiveness
Find a path to forgiveness. Forgiveness is a powerful tool to get you over the hurdles of heartache and heartbreak. Forgiveness affords you the opportunity to grow and move past that negative thing that brought you to this place in your life.
Find compassion in your soul for the imperfection of others and the hurt others may have endured to bring them to hurt you. Learn what you can from this experience in your life and push forward with your life.
Finally, take things slow. You did not collect this pile of emotional baggage overnight. It will take some time to see results. Do not give up hope when you find it difficult to let some things go. Start anew as this acknowledgment of emotional baggage will be a transformation of epic proportions.
Remember to also forgive yourself.
What Keeps You from Striving Forward
Besides emotional baggage that has built up from the past, there may be situations, people or even your own dysfunction that keeps you stuck.
- What in your life keeps you down?
- Are you letting problems build up and stand in your way?
- Are unhealthy relationships keeping you down?
- Do you sabotage your own success?
- Are you emotionally dysfunctional in that you don’t know how to process your feelings in a healthy way?
- Is poor self-esteem a problem for you?
- Do you deal, or do you run?
- What roadblocks exist in your life that need to be eliminated?
Think about these things and do a thorough inventory.
You cannot move forward when you are stuck in the past lugging around emotional baggage and building more up along the way.