Emotional baggage is a common expression that generally refers to unresolved emotional issues that are detrimental to self and others. The term ‘baggage’ is a metaphor for carrying around a heavy load of disappointments, wrongs and traumas from the past.
It can also represent deep feelings of self-incrimination where you continually blame yourself for previously being too vulnerable, foolish or trusting. It doesn’t necessarily require a traumatic event or any kind of abuse to create emotional baggage.
For example, if you grew up with parents who never argued there may be unrealistic expectations regarding your intimate adult relationships. You could have an ideal (and unrealistic) picture of how a perfect relationship should be where disagreements or conflicts do not exist.
Individuals who seem addicted to relationship drama often grew up in unstable emotional environments and may subconsciously try to recreate childhood scenarios to resolve unfinished business or to create situations in their relationships that feel ‘comfortable.’
This chaos and unpredictability feels ‘natural’ and acceptable where a person believes that abuse and frequent dramas in a loving relationship are quite normal.
Emotional baggage can be created in other ways too, for example, suffering a dramatic drop in self-confidence, deep feelings of insecurity or a loss of other personal qualities we may value.
It can be also caused by the loss of a significant person in our life or by the betrayal of someone we love, trust or respect. Whatever the reason the baggage often represents an emotional scar from a traumatic experience or a deep feeling of loss.
Generally, we have all experienced emotional baggage to varying degrees and it’s likely you know at least one person who has been through some kind of severe emotional or even physical trauma during their formative years.
It may have been the death of parent, a nasty divorce or even severe physical or emotional abuse. Many people have experienced something traumatic during their lifetimes but the difference is how these individuals have dealt with the trauma.
When negative experiences are not processed effectively this creates emotional baggage. What makes a crucial difference between an emotionally healthy person and someone burdened with issues from the past is the deliberate unpacking of any baggage that may be sabotaging their relationships.
If you are carrying excessive emotional baggage you will often:
• React in ways that are unconscious or unintentional and may have episodes where you’re not always in control of how emotional you get.
• Suffer panic attacks creating excessive anxiety that is difficult to manage, which often results in unfairly taking out your frustrations on others.
• Feel justified in seeking revenge on those you think have treated you unfairly.
• Feel possessed, burdened or damaged in some way but struggle to understand where these emotions are coming from.
• Project your emotional baggage by acting out, having temper tantrums or by abusing others in a variety of ways.
• Try to make others feel guilty for any real or perceived insults or seek revenge to show the other person who’s in control.
• Have urges to punish anyone who is perceived to be responsible for making you feel bad about yourself, becoming extremely unforgiving, unreasonable and vindictive.
• Experience extreme difficulty understanding or empathizing with someone else’s point of view.
While some people carrying emotional baggage can feel threatened by different points of view, others can pretend to agree on almost everything, which results in conversations that are mostly superficial, manipulative or exploitative.
Others invent disguises pretending they don’t have any real issues. They present themselves as being rational, thoughtful and respectful of others or put on a show of being self-assured, gregarious and confident.
The façade crumbles when someone or something activates their baggage: their subconscious minds revisits and brings to the surface a traumatic loss, setback, failure or crisis.
They will then compulsively act out these repressed memories or retreat into themselves seething with intense feelings of dissatisfaction, pain or resentment.
Unresolved issues can cause irrational outbursts of anger that erupt when the emotional wound is disturbed or reopened. The result is damaged relationships.
Three Steps to Unpacking Emotional Baggage
It is possible to heal unresolved issues but it takes a great deal of courage, self-awareness and a willingness to be honest.
Step 1: Be Honest With Yourself
This requires complete honesty and a willingness to dig deep into any issues with a trusted friend (not your partner if you’re currently involved) or with a professional therapist/counselor.
Discuss, explore and face your issues openly. For example, the issue might be a bad temper where you shout, slam doors or display even worse types of behavior.
While it’s obvious the temper tantrums need to be addressed the essential point is to discover what feelings or memories trigger these outbursts. Whatever the issue may be, you must be willing to be totally honest before any meaningful unpacking, progress and healing can begin.
Step 2: Stop Playing The Blame Game
It’s very easy to go through life blaming other people from the past. You can blame your parents, your siblings or even an ex-partner who treated you badly, cheated on you and broke your heart.
Some people have a pattern of constantly blaming themselves. They go through their entire lives playing this destructive game.
The truth is, blaming yourself or others doesn’t change anything so don’t engage in it. Unpacking emotional baggage requires you to take responsibility for your own emotions and behavior.
If you have blamed someone in your past consider how you have described their character and actions. Consider your own actions and explore areas where you may have to take some responsibility yourself. Keep in mind you may have been acting out your own issues, which may have contributed to the situation.
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