Emotional Baggage implies that one is dealing with residual emotional issues and carrying a lot of hurt, pain, sadness, regret and even anger within. If left unresolved, these pent up emotional issues can be detrimental to your physical, emotional and mental health. This can lead to excessive stress, depression, anxiety, anger outbursts, and even suicidal thoughts in extreme cases. Few factors hamper our ability to be happy than a load of emotional baggage weighing us down. It is important to introspect from time to time for an emotional baggage check. This helps in preventing our insecurities that are a manifestation of past experiences from undermining hope for a brighter tomorrow.
To help you do that, let’s decode what is emotional baggage and what needs to be done to free yourself from it.
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What is Emotional Baggage?
To be able to free yourself from it, you first need to understand what is emotional baggage.
Simply put, emotional baggage is a combination of insecurities and inhibitions emerging from our life experience. The triggers for it can be our upbringing, family history, traumatic or stressful experience in personal relationships involving romantic partners, friends or even co-workers. This bundle of baggage is what makes it hard for us to trust others and sometimes ourselves too, rendering us unsure and indecisive.
Unfortunately, there are no overt signs of emotional baggage in people. All of us carry some baggage or residual negative feelings from our past. The intensity may vary from person to person, depending on the kind of traumatic experiences or difficult situations they have dealt with.
A person who has gone through a bad divorce, for instance, will have a high intensity of negative emotions and distress. This will manifest in his interactions with people and reactions to situations. Similarly, a person who has had painful childhood trauma, may over the years develop tools to cope with it. In this case, the intensity of negative emotions may be less, they may react to people and situations differently.
Either way, both will carry emotional baggage, which will define how they choose to see the world and interact with people around them.
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Types of Emotional Baggage
Just like any other aspect of psychology, emotional baggage also isn’t uniform in nature. Instead, it covers a spectrum of manifestations depending on the underlying triggers. The different types of emotional baggage include:
1. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD):
This happens most common in military personnel returning from a war zone. But, PTSD can also be caused by other traumatic experiences such as rape, child abuse, domestic violence and physical trauma.
2. Trust Issues
A person who has a history of abuse may find it hard to trust people, which can come in the way of their ability to build healthy relationships.
Owing to what they have experienced in the past, a person with this type of emotional baggage never lets their guard down. They are constantly worried that something traumatic will happen to them and being on an ‘alert mode’ is their way of protecting themselves from getting hurt again.
Being defensive become their coping mechanism in the face of any unpleasant situation. Such people resort to ‘defences’ like not communicating, giving the silent treatment to the partner, displaying extreme reactions, not listening or distancing themselves from problem-solving. Anger issues:
This type of emotional baggage is marked by reacting to every issue with immense anger or ‘flipping out’. The inability to accept a situation not going their way puts them on the ‘short-fuse’ all the time.
This is one of the most common types of emotional baggage that can rear its head in personal as well as professional relationships. It is most common in people who struggle with low self-esteem because of their past experiences and require constant nurturance or attention from others.
What Causes Emotional Baggage?
As human beings, we acquire some or the other form of emotional baggage during our life. In some cases, it is mild and doesn’t interfere with a person’s ability to lead a normal life. In others, it can be extreme and almost mentally crippling. Here are some examples of traumatic life experience can put people on the higher end of the emotional baggage:
- If a close friend betrays you, you may end up having mistrust issues.
- Getting swindled can leave you overly protective of money.
- Parents’ divorce can lead to a lack of trust in the institution of marriage.
- Our ‘family of origin’ is the singular most important determining factor in our ability to maintain an emotional baggage check or not.
- Emotional baggage can also be a result of lack of love, care and nurturance from one’s family.
As a counsellor, I see that often this last trigger is the most common cause of emotional baggage.
A client with a history of bad serial relationships, for instance, revealed that he would step into relationships looking for love and attention as he grew up feeling neglected by his parents. Often, we can relate to issues in our adult lives to incidents in our childhood or growing up years as they tend to shape our outlook towards people and the world around us.
Should You Date Someone With Emotional Baggage?
In an ideal world, the answer would be a ‘No’. Given that no one is really free from baggage, you included, and it is not possible to recognize someone with emotional baggage unless one spends sufficient time with them, that possibility becomes redundant. You must first understand what is baggage in a relationship.
If your partner’s reactions to situations are governed by their past experiences, especially from their former relationships, you are dealing with baggage.
Emotional baggage in a relationship
Here are 7 tell-tale indicators to look out for if you want to know what is baggage in a relationship:
- It is a co-dependent relationship where the responsibility of keeping the partner happy and calm falls on you squarely. They have nothing to offer in return.
- Your partner flips out if your actions, habits, or mannerism even remotely resemble their ex’s.
- They can’t stop stalking their ex on social media.
- Your emotional needs are not being met in the relationship.
- They tend to become overbearing or controlling.
- They’re inconsistent in their behaviour. One day they’re swooning over you, and act all distant the next.
- You see them unsettled about not finding closure.
How to deal with it
Once you realize that the person has a lot of emotional baggage, then the crucial question to ask is: should you stay in the relationship or move on?
Let’s take the example of the movie ‘Kabir Singh’ where the lead character carries a lot of emotional baggage. However, that does not come out in the initial romantic stages of a relationship.
In a Kabir Singh kind of relationship, one should walk out of a physical, sexual, and emotionally abusive relationship. There are no justifications for such actions. However, a person who is at the receiving end in such a relationship, may have their own emotional baggage and find it difficult to leave.
One must accept that everyone has some amount of baggage in their lives. How you and your partner deal with it should be the determining factor in whether or not to continue the relationship.
How To Get Rid Of Emotional Baggage?
This baggage that has built up over time and due to a string of different experiences cannot be cast aside overnight. It needs consistent work and effort. Here are some actionable tips for shedding emotional baggage:
1. Do not put up with abuse
A lot of times our baggage puts us in that saviour mode where we’re more focussed on how to help someone with emotional baggage than rescuing ourselves. If you are in a similar situation, do not put up with physical, sexual, or verbal abuse in a relationship because you want to help the person get better. No one has to deal with bad behaviour and there can be no excuses for criminal behaviour.
2. Try the ‘glass half full approach’
It is important to see your life through the prism of ‘glass half full’. When you choose to see life and situations positively, dealing with emotional baggage becomes easier.
A client of mine had a troubled relationship with mother and felt that her mother always favoured her siblings. As a result, she had to move out, learned to be independent and self-sufficient. However, she continued to feel bitterness toward her mother.
During her sessions, we worked on how she could see through the positive prism that because of her situation, she learned to become a strong survivor. And this made her more successful than her siblings who were still dependent on their mother. So choosing to be ‘grateful’ for what you have can play a big role in dealing with difficult circumstances in one’s life.
3. Focus on self-care
Want to know how to release emotional baggage? Well, self-care is your best friend in the process. When dealing with baggage, you feel emotionally drained out, stressed, and even angry at the world. So taking care of yourself will go a long way in nurturing yourself.
Getting good sleep, eating proper meals, exercise, meditation, reading self-help books related to the issues you are going through can help in your self-growth.
4. Do not isolate yourself
‘No man is an island entire of itself…’ Remind yourself of this when surrounding yourself with people and socialising seems like the hardest thing to do. If you want to understand how to get rid of emotional baggage, you must accept the importance of not isolating yourself. It is vital to be surrounded by family and friends, despite how difficult it may seem, and keep the channels of communication open always.
4. Get counselling
You cannot go through the process of shedding emotional baggage alone. You need someone to hold your hand through it all, and who better to do this than a professional who has been trained for the job.
When you become aware of your emotional baggage and its impact on your life, your choices, your relationships, and your peace of mind, opt to go for individual counseling. That’s where the answer to how to release emotional baggage lies. It will help you brainstorm and introspect, and perhaps give you a perspective on how to further steer your life ahead.
Moving On From Emotional Baggage
With time and the right support, you can learn to let go of your emotional baggage. Or at least manage it well enough so that it doesn’t hinder your prospect of leading a full, content life. The most important part of the process is to take care of yourself and be your own ‘best friend’ while you deal with challenges coming in your way especially during these difficult times.