“I’M FINE” is something we say too often even when we’re not in fact fine. The obvious reasons we use the generic “I’m fine” reply when we’re asked how we are is probably a combination of several factors: politeness, awkwardness, fear of being a burden, and not wanting to be seen as struggling. The situation/context around where and when you’re asked could also be a factor. It’s normal to want to keep things peaceful for your own sanity or the sanity of loved ones, but the deeper we bury our emotions the more we end up over-loading ourselves with emotional baggage that – surprise! – you don’t actually have to carry around. Over time that weight can become a huge burden, whether that manifests in obvious ways or as subconscious distress.
Emotional baggage is often known as past traumas, the deep shameful secrets, and past relationship pains. It can come from your childhood experiences, past relationships, or any trauma you have experienced. Often this stuff can weigh us down and prevent us from having healthy relationships. The most generic answer as to where emotional baggage comes from is “the past,” but let’s get more specific. Your past obviously includes a childhood, but it also includes friendships and probably romantic relationships, maybe even serious ones. You may also have experienced some trauma that impacts the way you think or interact with others. Trauma can look differently to different people; it might be more apparent like abuse or physical injury. It could also be losing a job, a break-up, or the infamous “daddy issues” and “mommy issues.”
What do you see in your baggage? As we now know, much of life’s emotional baggage stems from childhood events, so chances are it has been in there for so long and become such a part of you that you have forgotten it is even there. Here are six things you may come across in your soul-searching journey:
1. Guilt. Guilt refers to “a feeling of worry or unhappiness that you have because you have done something wrong, such as causing harm to another person,” according to the Cambridge English dictionary.
You may be feeling guilt from a former relationship, perhaps because you’ve cheated on a partner in the past — and now you feel guilty and carry that guilt into your new relationships. Maybe you feel guilty for arguing with a family member before their passing, and now you cope with a complex about confrontation.
To get rid of guilt, it’s best to confront the root of it. Ask yourself, why are you feeling guilty? Don’t judge yourself for whatever it is that you’re feeling guilty about. Don’t tell yourself what you should or shouldn’t have done. Rather, focus on forgiving yourself and learning from your guilt. If you feel that it’s necessary to reach out to anyone involved in your guilt to apologize, you may do so — but determine whether or not your apology will actually benefit them or if it’ll only lift the weight off your shoulders for selfish reasons.
2. Grudges. Are you unable to forgive someone who has wronged you? What they did to you may be incomprehensible. They may or may not have apologized or admitted to their own guilt and wrongdoing. It’s true that you are 100% justified in feeling the way you do because your feelings are real, and they deserve validation, but friend! Carrying this is making your suitcase heavy and hard to manage. Imagine how much lighter it would be if you decided to forgive, bury that hatchet once and for all, and lighten your load! A grudge is a prison cell, and forgiveness is the key. Remember, the one you can’t forgive is not the one who is swallowing the poison.
2. Regret. Regret refers to “a feeling of sadness about something sad or wrong or about a mistake that you have made, and a wish that it could have been different and better,” according to the Cambridge English dictionary. Perhaps you feel regret for not joining friends on a memorable vacation they took together, and you carry that regret with you now so you’re constantly worried about missing out. Or perhaps you regret something you said in a conversation with your partner, and you carry that regret with you now so you’re constantly worried about choosing your words wisely.
To get rid of regret, you need to shift your thinking. Having regrets means that you’re living in the past, but the past only exists in our minds. After all, we’re all only human, and we all make decisions — some better than others. Hindsight is 20/20, but you need to start focusing on the present, doing what you can with what you have where you are. You don’t want to end up regretting your current moment because you spent all of it stuck in your head anyway. So learn from your mistakes and forge forward.
4. Fear. Fear refers to “an unpleasant emotion or thought that you have when you are frightened or worried by something dangerous, painful or bad that is happening or might happen.” Perhaps you’ve had a car accident in the past, and now you have emotional baggage from it so you’re afraid of driving. Maybe you got stung by a jellyfish in the past and now you have a fear of swimming in the ocean.
Getting rid of fears often means facing your fears. If you have a fear of swimming in the ocean, for example, perhaps what you need is a new, positive experience in the ocean. Surround yourself with a support system to be with you during these scary experiences, as they’ll make you feel more comfortable confronting your fears.
5. Lack of Self-Worth. A lack of self-worth is usually displayed through feelings of poor self-image, little to no self-confidence and low self-esteem. This emotional behavior hinders individuals from progressing in their relationships as well as in life.
When a person has low self-worth, they don’t feel that they are worthy of being loved. This type of behavior opens up for fights with persons who want to show love the individual and eventually becomes taxing and tiresome because they cannot understand why this individual cannot accept to be loved.
Sadly, that weariness could force them to abandon the individual. The abandonment feeds back into the individuals projected image of not worthy of being loved; pushing them back on the proverbial roller coaster of low self -worth.
6. Inner-Criticism. Your inner critic may judge you for your appearance, your weight, your work, etc. Maybe you’ve had an eating disorder in the past that left a substantially negative impact on your life. It’s not uncommon, then, that you’d carry emotional baggage from that, as you may still associate different foods with that time of your life.
We all have an inner critic and, often, this voice can motivate us and push us forward. But you have to set boundaries so you don’t judge yourself. You can calm this voice inside your head through self-care like meditation practice, for example. In meditation, you’ll learn to accept your inner critic, notice your thoughts and feel your emotions but not attach to any of them. You learn that your thoughts and your emotions are just energy passing through you, so you take it all in stride. You’re not ignoring your inner critic; rather, you’re acknowledging it while not letting these thoughts or emotions consume you or dictate your moods or behaviors.
Why It’s Good
Emotional baggage is heavy. It weighs you down in all aspects of your life.
Unresolved emotional difficulties can create emotional baggage that will drag us backward.
We all carry some sort of baggage. For some of our suitcases may be heavier than others but it is what we do with this baggage – how we handle it, unpack it, and balance it – that contributes to an emotionally healthy and balanced life.
Improve your mental health by shedding layers of emotional baggage. Whether it’s a long-standing grudge against a coworker or a failed romantic partnership, holding onto sadness, anger, or confusion steals your energy and joy. Commit to a daily practice of processing how you feel so you can find acceptance regarding difficult situations and finally let them go.