Everyone has baggage. But does your baggage define you? Very often we keep carrying on our baggage, afraid of letting go. Emotional baggage are all the little insecurities that manifest over our lifetime, as a result of our experiences or upbringing. Our emotional baggage can undermine both our relationships and our happiness, but it mainly undermines our hopes for a happy future.
Sometimes the past should be abandoned, yes. Life is a journey and you can’t carry everything with you. Only the usable baggage.Ha Jin
There are different kinds of emotional baggage you may be carrying around from various past experiences. Here are a few varying types of emotional baggage that you may have.
Guilt refers to “a feeling of worry or unhappiness that you have because you have done something wrong, such as causing harm to another person,” according to the Cambridge English dictionary.
Maybe you feel guilty for arguing with a family member before their passing, and now you cope with a complex about confrontation. Or maybe you feel guilty for not assisting someone when you could…the list goes on!
To get rid of guilt, it’s best to confront the root of it. Ask yourself, why are you feeling guilty? Don’t judge yourself for whatever it is that you’re feeling guilty about. Don’t tell yourself what you should or shouldn’t have done. Rather, focus on forgiving yourself and learning from your guilt. If you feel that it’s necessary to reach out to anyone involved in your guilt to apologize, you may do so — but determine whether or not your apology will actually benefit them or if it’ll only lift the weight off your shoulders for selfish reasons.
Regret refers to “a feeling of sadness about something sad or wrong or about a mistake that you have made, and a wish that it could have been different and better,” according to the Cambridge English dictionary. Perhaps you feel regret for not joining friends on a memorable vacation they took together, and you carry that regret with you now so you’re constantly worried about missing out. Or perhaps you regret something you said in a conversation with your partner, and you carry that regret with you now so you’re constantly worried about choosing your words wisely.
To get rid of regret, you need to shift your thinking. Having regrets means that you’re living in the past, but the past only exists in our minds. After all, we’re all only human, and we all make decisions — some better than others. Hindsight is 20/20, but you need to start focusing on the present, doing what you can with what you have where you are. You don’t want to end up regretting your current moment because you spent all of it stuck in your head anyway. So learn from your mistakes and forge forward.
Fear refers to “an unpleasant emotion or thought that you have when you are frightened or worried by something dangerous, painful or bad that is happening or might happen.” Perhaps you’ve had a car accident in the past, and now you have emotional baggage from it so you’re afraid of driving. Maybe you got stung by a jellyfish in the past and now you have a fear of swimming in the ocean.
Getting rid of fears often means facing your fears. If you have a fear of swimming in the ocean, for example, perhaps what you need is a new, positive experience in the ocean.
Exposure is hands down the most successful way to deal with phobias, anxiety disorders and everyday fears of any sortPhilippe Goldin, Neuroscientist @ Stanford
Surround yourself with a support system to be with you during these scary experiences, as they’ll make you feel more comfortable confronting your fears.
Your inner critic may judge you for your appearance, your weight, your work, etc. Maybe you’ve had an eating disorder in the past that left a substantially negative impact on your life. It’s not uncommon, then, that you’d carry emotional baggage from that, as you may still associate different foods with that time of your life.
We all have an inner critic and, often, this voice can motivate us and push us forward. But you have to set boundaries so you don’t judge yourself. You can calm this voice inside your head through self-care like meditation practice, for example. In meditation, you’ll learn to accept your inner critic, notice your thoughts and feel your emotions but not attach to any of them. You learn that your thoughts and your emotions are just energy passing through you, so you take it all in stride. You’re not ignoring your inner critic; rather, you’re acknowledging it while not letting these thoughts or emotions consume you or dictate your moods or behaviors.
There are infinite possibilities for each of us, baggage notwithstanding. Everyone has pain. It’s part of what makes us who we are. What defines us, however, is how we handle it. Bruce Springsteen, has some wise words on the subject:
You can find your identity in the damage that’s been done to you. You find your identity in your wounds, in your scars, in the places where you’ve been beat up and you turn them into a medal. We all wear the things we’ve survived with some honor, but the real honor is in also transcending them.Bruce Springsteen
By taking the time to identify and understand our baggage and making a conscious decision to let go, we free ourselves to experience life in a richer, deeper, more meaningful way.