Emotional baggage is such a loaded word. It somehow conjures up this vision of a unhappy broken person, who’s unable to look after themselves. Maybe that’s why people don’t like to think much about it. It’s a difficult thing to deal with. A lot of people just feel overwhelmed at the thought of letting go of it. The result is that often, they just choose to exist in a familiar ‘safe zone’, never really facing the difficult emotions that they might have felt.
We often form emotional baggage in childhood due to difficult situations. Maybe our parents did not have a good marriage, maybe there were financial or health problems which took attention away from you or even psychological issues. Because those are our very first life experiences, we internalise it and start to think that it’s normal. For example, it’s not uncommon for people who saw their parents have a bad marriage growing up to then either avoid commitment or never really feel settled in any relationship. A lot of folks seek out unconditional love and unhealthy amounts of attention from their partners later on in life because they just did not receive it or at least receive enough of it as children.
I just want to make it clear that everyone has baggage in some form or other. It is literally impossible to be 100% baggage free because we are human. But we have to make sure that it’s kept to the minimum so that it doesn’t interfere with our ability to live a fearless life. We’re not aiming for perfection, we are looking to be ourselves without all that which weighs us down. In fact, there are people who are obsessed with the idea of living a life which is so drastically different from their most difficult years.
Of course, it’s not just restricted to childhood. Our relationships as adults can also contribute to us building emotional baggage. I find that this usually happens when you start a relationship without being clear on your values or what’s important to you. In the end, the mismatch in expectations and the problems one faces in these relationships make way for more difficult experiences, which is turn adds to your baggage. If we accumulate enough of these type of experiences, we start to believe something is inherently wrong with us.
Also it’s important to distinguish between owning your baggage and being emotionally manipulated. This is so apparent in unhealthy relationships because the emotionally immature person often accuses the other person of being ‘insecure’ or having baggage. If you’ve ever dated a manboy, you might have faced this situation. This type of person has real issues and can really dent your confidence. Needless to say, you’re better off staying away from such a person.
Sometimes, you know that that you have baggage and yet you don’t do anything about it. Letting go of your past is never easy. Firstly, most people aren’t even aware how their past affects them. And even those that are tend to brush things under the carpet and would much rather not face reality. We keep pretending, often lying to ourselves that there were no issues because it gives us a false sense of security. You have to ask yourself why is it that you don’t want to accept it.
Is it painful to acknowledge?
Will it mean making a lot of changes that you’re not ready for?
Maybe you’re just doubtful (even though your experiences say otherwise)?
Do you fear your only markers of identity (like a bad relationship or an under developed sense of self) will vanish and leave you exposed?
Often knowledge that you have baggage from your past is not something that you are actively aware of but it nevertheless operates in the background. A lot of times it’s so subtle that you will not realise it exists till you consciously pay attention to it. There is a cut off point beyond which you can no longer keep pretending that your past isn’t affecting your present. Most people come to this stage and it finally rings home. You start to see patterns both in your behaviour and in life situations that you find yourself a part of. From that point on, it is your responsibility to actually do something about it.
But even then, how do you even figure it out? Like i said, it’s usually with the benefit of hindsight that we sometimes understand how it impacts us. Here are a few signs:
You feel ‘different’ from others. Now, this can sound vague so let me explain. I’m talking about the emotional response you have to people and situations. It can make you feel that somehow stand out and not in a good way. (of course, this is not really the case.)
You have low self esteem. People with emotional baggage often criticise themselves and feel themselves to be responsible for any problems they’re facing. Do you blame yourself for a relationship not working out or someone not being interested in you?
You find it difficult to validate yourself. Do you second guess your decisions and lack confidence in your own judgement of a situation?
You don’t trust your instincts, your real ‘voice’. You start to doubt your gut feeling, and feel crappy as a result of it.
You remain invested in a relationship long after it’s over. You wonder if it ended because you have baggage. Even in cases where it is apparent that they are a jackass.
You get emotionally charged for no reason. This happens fairly often and sometimes out of context. You have strong emotions and opinions when it comes to certain grey topics i.e things which cannot really be bracketed in the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ category.
You tend to self sabotage. You don’t mean to, of course. But when things are going good, somehow you end up sabotaging the relationship or letting go of opportunities that may come your way.
By the way, i haven’t listed these signs so that you feel bad. If it’s taken so long for you to get to this stage where you are, then it’ll take time to slowly lose your baggage. Go easy on yourself. Having emotional baggage doesn’t make you a ‘bad’ person. Often things happen in our life that are beyond our control, especially during childhood. Even if there are things that were in your control, and you just happened to take a wrong decision, it’s still ok. I’ve realised that when you accept your life journey and the mistakes you may have made along the way, you tend to slowly come into your own. In time, you will find that certain things no longer trigger you. You will feel more at peace with your past. Once that happens, you let go of any unresolved issues.