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Losing Your Emotional Baggage

Emotional BaggageWouldn’t it be nice if we could simply lose our emotional baggage the same way our luggage gets lost by airline companies? If only we could turn off our emotions and memories that easily.

Dr. Les Parrott and Dr. Neil Clark Warren provide a compelling definition of emotional baggage: “History is what has happened in our lives. Baggage is how we feel about it. Your psychological perspective on your past determines, to a great extent, your personal health and vitality.” 

Even the most “perfect” upbringing has its baggage. It doesn’t require a traumatic event or abuse to have emotional baggage. Case in point:  Kim grew up in what most would consider an ideal family environment. Her mother was a stay-at-home mom and her dad went off to work every day. She had two siblings, the family went to church at least three times a week and by all accounts Kim had a great childhood … and she did. But that perfection has spilled over into her adult life and Kim has discovered that her expectations for relationships are far too high. Why?  Her parents never allowed Kim and her siblings to see any conflict between them, so Kim grew up with an ideal that in a perfect relationship, there shouldn’t be any conflicts or disagreements.

You would be hard pressed to not know someone in your life that has experienced severe emotional or even physical trauma during their formative years. Whether it involved the death of parent, a nasty divorce, physical abuse or severe emotional abuse, someone that we work with, go to school with or even live with has lived through something traumatic. The difference is how these individuals have dealt with the emotional baggage that comes along with the trauma.

According to Drs. Parrott and Warren, “Everyone has a history and an emotional response to it. What matters, when it comes to being a healthy, thriving human being, is whether or not you have deliberately unpacked your baggage. If not, it is bound to thwart your personal growth. You can never feel profoundly significant at your core until you make peace with this emotional baggage. The healthiest among us, have rummaged around in the contents of their own suitcases. They have explored what they feel and why the feel the way they do about their history. This act of simply identifying and labeling their emotions as they explore their past serves as an amazing springboard to personal growth, self-insight and maturity. It even impacts physical well-being…In order to get beyond your past; you sometimes need to get into your past.”

It’s not easy digging up the past; in fact, it can be very painful. The old adage, “time heals all wounds” really only works if we take steps to start the healing process.

Step one:  Identify blind spots

This step requires complete honesty, a willingness to dig deep and a trusted friend (other than your partner or spouse) or therapist/counselor. Openly face your issues. For example, do you have a temper to the point that you throw things, slam doors or worse?  Obviously, the temper needs to be dealt with, but more importantly, you need to discover what lies behind the temper. Maybe you have an addiction that you’re reluctant to face such as gambling, sexual addiction, drugs/alcohol or perhaps you’re a shopaholic. Whatever the issue, you must be able, willing and ready to face it head on.

Step two:  Stop the blame game.

It’s so much easier to go through life blaming our problems on mom and dad, an older brother or the girl/guy who broke our heart. But eventually you have to take responsibility for your life, your actions and your emotions. The blame game doesn’t change anything. And this includes blaming yourself. If you are stuck in this cycle—snap out of it!  Your life will never get better and you will never move forward until you break the blame chain.

Step three:  Forgive

It is crucial that you reach a point where you can truly let go of the hurt that you have experienced. “No matter how violent it was, how deep it was, how prolonged it was, no matter how much affect there’s been on your life, if you do not extend forgiveness, you are the person stuck with the bitterness and revenge,” said Dr. Dave Currie, National Director of FamilyLife Canada. “A bitter person cannot effectively love others. Letting go is not easy and a person may not deserve it and may not even ask for it, but you should extend forgiveness because of what it will do for you.”  Again, this includes forgiving yourself if needed.

We may not have the option to pack up our emotions and ship them off to a faraway continent, but we do have the option to take charge of them and choose how they will affect us for the rest of our lives. It’s your choice. Here’s to choosing freedom!