Lighten Your Load! Releasing Emotional Baggage

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Imagine stuffing a duffel bag, a backpack, a laundry bag, a large purse AND a handbag full of personal items, food, shoes, clothes AND trash, then carrying all of it around with you at the same time. What if the emotional bag we carried around with us looked like this. Would you hang out with someone like this? Would you work harder to heal your wounds and lighten the load? This article is intended to create an awareness of your emotional baggage so the healing process can begin.

All of us have old wounds that arose from painful situations from our childhood, painful remarks from a stranger, heartbreaks from past relationships, acts of unkindness from a former lover or friend, and wrong doings from a boss or co-worker. We also have self-inflicted wounds stemming from guilt, fear and self-criticism. The problem is not with the wounds themselves, but in how we deal with them. Do we allow the wounds to control our everyday lives? Do we allow these wounds to dictate our current relationships? Are we judging ourselves based on the opinions or actions of someone we no longer have contact with? Are we living to our fullest potential or up to the limits set by our parents, an ex-partner, or ex-friend?

An example of emotional baggage stemming from a heartbreak is the story of Stephen who is still carrying around the pain of his divorce that happened five years ago. Every conversation he had with a new female friend revolved around the ex-wife leaving him, what he lost when she left or what happened when they were together. It was like he opened his mouth, spit out the pain and sat it on the table for all the world to see. When asked why he had not healed his heart after all this time, he said he did not have time. In actuality, he had not made healing himself a priority. Instead, he chose to put his hurt in the proverbial baggage backpack and carry it around everywhere he went; taking it out for anyone who would listen, not realizing that no one wants to listen to him cry and complain about something that happened five years ago. 

Let’s take a look in your baggage backpack. Is there a painful experience that you pull out and share with every new person you meet? Listen to yourself, become conscious of the stories you tell. Also pay attention to how you tell your story. Are you playing the victim? Owning the role of victim in a life story means you have not completely learned your lesson from the experience. Remember, what happens to us is not as important as our reaction to it. Holding on to old hurt and playing the victim keeps us from the joy of the present moment and can push people away from us.

An example of how the experiences of our childhood can cause emotional baggage and hinder joy is in the story of John who was raised by a verbally abusive stepfather, Peter. John internalized Peter’s angry and demeaning words, allowing his self-esteem to be crushed to nothing. He also stood idle as Peter verbally abused John’s mother. John never sought counseling or any other type of healing modality to heal from this abuse. Instead, he harbored a tangible hatred for Peter, carrying it around in his baggage backpack. Unfortunately, he did not realize he was also carrying Peter’s paternal attitude in his backpack. Years later when John marries a woman and has 2 children, the deep wounds of his abusive upbringing get projected onto his family. To this day, John is in denial that he is an abuser. Moral of the story: in order to heal, we must first be consciously aware that we have emotional baggage in the first place. Our unhealed baggage affects our everyday lives and the people in it. So then the question becomes, how do we heal wounds that we are unaware of? Awareness comes when we listen to the multiple people (or sometimes just that one special friend) that point out the same unhealthy or annoying behavior. We can be become aware of our issues when we attract people with similar issues and discover that we don’t like those traits, even though we possess the same ones. These people are called mirrors, as they reflect back onto us what we project out. Awareness also comes when we continuously experience the same or similar unfortunate events, thus finding ourselves asking “why is this happening to me again?”  Another cue is when you repeatedly tell the same “oh woe is me” story for longer than six months after the event occurred.

So those are two major examples of baggage, however, the minor wounds can be just as detrimental. Jane was once told that she could not sing; she has not sung since that day, which was over 30 years ago. Bob’s mother would always ask him: “are you sure?” whenever he made a decision. Now he does not trust that he can make an accurate decision. Shane was once called gullible then stopped believing anything anybody said to him after that. The examples of emotional baggage are endless and the same event can effect individuals differently. Listing all the possible scenarios that create emotional baggage is not as important as the awareness and recognition of the old wounds and hurts that lie dormant in your baggage backpack. Awareness is the first key in the healing process. Like the commercial that asks: “what’s in your wallet?” Consciously and regularly ask yourself “what’s in my baggage backpack?”  Taking action is the second step to healing. There are numerous beneficial ways to heal, both traditional and alternative, new age methods. What works for one person may not be effective for another. I recommend journaling. First write out the scenario as the receiver. Secondly, acknowledge your role in the situation, taking responsibility for your actions and reactions. Thirdly, write out what you learned, gained and appreciate from the situation. Then lastly, consciously choose to no longer carry these feeling around with you. This is the forgiveness process.  

by Beverly Bates

Originally published Feb 2014, updated Feb 2021

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