“I’m not good enough,” “My parents did not love me enough,” “My ex cheated on me,” “I’m a failure.” Most of us go through life with emotional wounds and open scars inside, hoping that no one will see them.
From Psychoanalysis to Emotional Baggage
Freud thought that no matter how hard we try to hide or bury our past, it will eventually reappear on a conscious or unconscious level in the present. Throughout history, many Freudian arguments have been challenged, except for this one. In fact, we believe so much that our past experiences can influence our present that we ended up creating a mainstream term for it: “Emotional Baggage.”
Emotional baggage is a metaphor to describe the unresolved past emotional issues that we carry with us wherever we go. Like our regular pieces of flight baggage differ in shape and size, our emotional baggage also comes in different types and forms.
6 Types of Emotional Baggage and How to Let it Go
Type 1: Living with Shame
Brené Brown, PhD. Professor at the University of Texas defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.” Shame is that inner voice that continuously says, “You are not good enough,” “You are not smart enough,” “You don’t have what it takes to succeed,” “You don’t have what it takes to be loved.” That annoying self-talk always puts us down and prevents us from fulfilling our biggest dreams and taking the risk of doing the activities we really enjoy. The result? A life filled with conformism, issues with self-esteem, anxiety, or depression.
How to let go of shame? Cultivate self-compassion and accept that there is nothing wrong with making mistakes. No one goes through life without bumping, falling, or getting some scars in the process, but none of those experiences mean that we are a failure. We make mistakes. However, we are not our mistakes. Self-compassion implies recognizing that our own self is more significant and broader than any of our single behaviors. If you fail, work on that action, made the necessary amends, and the next time try to make it a little better. If you fail again, repeat this process.
Type 2: Living with Losses
All of us have lost someone or something in our life. Maybe we lost a loved one, a dear pet, a good relationship, a fantastic job, or even a physical ability. Grief is the natural response we experienced when facing any type of loss. However, not everyone carries their suffering in the same way.
The psychiatrist Elizabeth Kubler Ross described the five stages of grief as denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. While not everyone experiences these five stages, many people may feel stuck in one of these five deep emotions. Every loss is unique, and so it is every grieving process.
How to let go of grief? Grief is not something that you can let go of or wholly overcome. Instead, it is a response that you can work through or manage. Sometimes grief can feel very painful and uncomfortable. Still, that suffering is a sign that we, human beings, are born to care for and love. Despite what your friends, family, or colleagues may say, grief does not have a definite ending date. But you know what? That’s OK! Some days you feel better, but some days you will not. Allow yourself to have quiet moments to process your feelings, and most importantly, respect the pace of your own grieving process.
Type 3: Living with Resentment
Have you ever met those people who justify their behaviors by blaming their parent’s style of upbringing? What about those who keep feeling resentful towards that partner that broke up with them more than a decade ago? What about those who feel entitled to treat their employees unkindly because their previous boss was mean to them? Have you found yourself being that person? Resentment highlights the fact that life is unfair. There is no question about it. While some people go up, others go down. While some enjoy privileges, others become victims of oppressive systems. Yes! Resentment speaks about unfairness. However, the bitterness of holding grudges against the rest of the world can start consuming our own self.
How to let go of resentment? Practice small acts of gratitude. Even in the most challenging situations, there is always a little something to be thankful for—nothing in this life in 100% darkness. The key is to intentionally recognize those brighter moments and appreciate them. Create your own gratitude journal and take a few minutes every day to acknowledge the goodness or blessings in your life.
Type 4: Living Broken-Hearted
Sometimes relationships can seem like a fairy tale, but at times they can turn into a nightmare. The journey of finding our second half and live happily ever after can leave us wounded and broken-hearted. While it is true that love may come with a little suffering, getting attached to those past feelings can hinder not only any present but a future relationship.
How to let go of a broken heart? Practice the art of forgiveness. Mahatma Gandhi once said: “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” Forgiveness is not a feeling but a conscious decision. It does not mean that we are approving of the harm done to us; instead, we stop letting that wrongdoing negatively define our present. When we forgive, we do not erase what happened, but we let go of the emotions we attached to that action and begin to see the situation in a new light. Forgiveness is an act of healing to face the future with renewing energy and an open-heart.
Type 5: Living with Anxiety
Are you worry that you will not submit your work by the deadline as it happened the last time? Or maybe that your doctor will give you the same critical diagnosis that he gave to your friend 10 years ago? We all live worries and the problematic symptoms of anxiety. You know… sweating hands, racing thoughts, heart palpitations, even panic reactions. Most of us experience some of these responses because we do not like uncertainty or having zero control over the future.
However, anxiety is a complex natural response. On the one hand, it may lead us to become more alert and focus on scanning any possible threat or challenge that may appear on the horizon. On the other hand, anxiety may create so many imaginary threats that instead of leading us to action, it may force us to avoid situations and people. According to TED Speaker Olivia Remes, approximately 1 out of 14 people worldwide experience anxiety to some degree. The question is, are you one of those 14 people?
How to let it go of anxiety? Practice stillness and mindfulness. Start by taking 5 minutes once a day to stop, breathe, and do nothing—literally nothing, no phone, no emails, no social media, no chatting. For an anxious mind, those 5 minutes, in the beginning, may seem like an eternity. But just as you can train your body with routine practices, you can also train your mind with daily nurture. The key is to begin small but to remain consistent. Once you have mastered those 5 minutes of calm, continue to incorporate more mindfulness practices in your daily life. Some alternatives include doing puzzles, practicing yoga, writing in a journal, coloring books, unplugging from technology, eating mindfully, connecting with nature.
Type 6: Living with Psychological Trauma
This is perhaps one of the most detrimental types of emotional baggage. Psychological trauma occurs when an event is so threatening and overwhelming that our fight-flight response system shuts down, and we can no longer cope. The American Psychological Association (APA) defines trauma as “an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape or a natural disaster.”
The effects of trauma in our bodies and minds can be short- and long-term. Its symptoms include a long list of physical, emotional, and cognitive responses. The most prevalent can be flashbacks, nightmares, denial, dissociation, emotional outburst, lack of trust, changes in sleeping or eating habits. However, like the other types of emotional baggage, trauma also looks different for each person.
How to let go of trauma? Seek professional help and allow yourself to feel the healing power of meaningful human connections. Many traumatic experiences are caused by other people, but human beings can also assist in the healing process. When others have significantly harmed us, we need to re-teach our brains to feel trust, safety, and love again. But we cannot learn those things in isolation but within the context of nurturing and caring relations.
Mental health professionals are trained to listen without judging and provide a safe space where you can work through your most challenging, post-traumatic symptoms. Seek the list of trauma-trained professionals in your area, get informed, and allow yourself to receive help.