Do you ever feel like you have a gorilla on your back?
I sometimes do. That is what carrying emotional baggage can feel like, like something is holding you down with the weight of the world.
In the past, I’ve had some family issues come up that weighed me down and prompted me to ponder how to let go of emotional baggage. Letting go is truly the only way to find joy and balance in life.
What is emotional baggage?
Basically anything negative that has happened to you in the past that affects your current behavior and attitudes.
Emotional baggage can come in many forms:
1) Family. Most people I know have some past or present conflict with their family that affects how they make decisions today.
Maybe your mother was hypercritical of you, so you only expect absolute perfection from yourself and fall apart if anything goes wrong. Or perhaps your father was working all of the time and didn’t spend any quality time with you, so you become clingy and insecure in romantic relationships.
2) Trauma– either physical or emotional. This could be due to a potentially life-threatening event to you or someone dear to you, an unexpected death or a violent attack. Trauma can also be due to a long, drawn-out divorce or even bullying as a child.
As a veterinarian, I have dealt with death more times than I care to remember, sometimes multiple deaths in a day. During those traumatic days, I could barely hold it together long enough to get out of the door before bursting into tears.
3) Relationship baggage is also very common since we humans are social creatures. If you have been cheated on or betrayed in the past, you’re probably going to have a harder time trusting someone in the future. The fear of trusting others is actually a phobia called pistanthrophobia, which is a classic example of emotional baggage.
4) Addiction, either by oneself or a loved one, can be another form of baggage that’s difficult to overcome. I have witnessed the effects of addiction on family members and heard the excuses made for that loved one’s poor behavior.
How to let go of emotional baggage
First of all, realize that it is completely normal to be affected by past events. All of us are molded by our past experiences. However, if we don’t acknowledge and let go of the past, we can become emotionally crippled for the future.
As I previously mentioned, I have dealt with family issues that I can’t control in the past. Someone very dear to me wasn’t taking control of their life, which led to some self-destructive choices. Although I was worried for their future, I had to accept that I couldn’t control this person’s decisions, and could only provide support when they asked for help.
I have learned how to let go of emotional baggage in my own life in order to move on and be present for my family and myself. So what are some ways to let go of emotional baggage in your own life?
- Acknowledge and be thankful for the event– You can’t let go of the monkey on your back until you admit that it is digging its claws into your flesh. Plus, you wouldn’t be the perfectly imperfect being that you are today without these difficult experiences. So give thanks and let it go.
- Accept that you can’t change anyone but yourself– This is a hard one, I get it. At some point in our lives, we all think we can fix the flaws in a loved one. However, it doesn’t matter if your wife has a shopping habit or your boyfriend is too controlling and demands to know your whereabouts at all times. They will not change until they want to, and you might be waiting a very long time for that. YOU. CAN’T. FIX. THEM. Period, end of story. The serenity prayer rings true:
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
the courage to change the things I can;
and the wisdom to know the difference.”
- Learn to release the anger and resentment– Another hard one, because a lot of us like to hold grudges for years. As an example, my grandmother had a falling out with her sister for some reason unknown to the family and held on to that for many decades. Keep in mind that she and her two sisters were war brides from Australia and their only family in this country. Consequently, she ended up an unhappy, lonely person in the end, but for what? We are all on this wonderful earth for a relatively short time. Why not enjoy your time as much as possible? The bitterness will eat away at your soul and leave you an empty shell of who you were. You can’t truly find joy if you’re harboring negative thoughts about someone. Ironically, they probably don’t even know that you are holding these thoughts, so you’re only hurting yourself. Don’t waste your precious time and energy on holding a grudge. LOVE YOURSELF enough to move past the anger and hurt. And read this if you need help with forgiveness.
- Let go of the past– This is a big one. Sometimes people get so stuck on a past event, that they can’t move forward. I could focus on all of the deaths that I have seen and performed as a veterinarian and constantly question whether it was the right thing to do. But that will not serve me now. I have said my prayers and let it go, knowing that the past has shaped me into who I am today. Therefore, I feel like I’m more empathetic and less judgmental than I used to be and am grateful for that. Here is an article to help you let go.
Hopefully, these ideas will help you to move forward in your life. After all, it’s a lot easier to walk around just holding your own weight rather than carrying an extra 300 pounds of emotional pain. You deserve to let go of your emotional baggage and find your joy!
*NOTE: If you feel like you’re stuck and simply can’t let go of something from your past, especially a traumatic event, please seek out professional help. This article is not meant to be a substitution for a trained therapist or counselor.*
“Life teaches you the art of letting go in every event. When you have learned to let go you will be joyful, and as you start being joyful more will be given to you.”