Emotions come and go, but sometimes, they linger around for a really long time. Can you remember a time when someone hurt you, and many years later you still feel resentment towards that person? What about an embarrassing incident in the past that you still cringe at today?
If the pain of an old wound is still present, this tells you that the wound was never actually healed. As a result, you carry the emotional baggage, and all it does is weigh you down.
Emotional baggage can be seen as the long-lasting residue of unresolved emotional wounds. it’s the painful emotions that you continue to experience, long after the event that caused it.
Sometimes, people carry this emotional baggage their entire lives. It lives in the form of repressed trauma, and it will always be there until you release it. One minor incident can end up changing your life if you never let it go.
But how can you do that?
Here we’re going to look at emotional baggage in this article and explore how you can let go of those stubborn traumas that have become a part of who you are.
What is emotional baggage?
Emotional baggage is trauma that you consciously, or unconsciously hold onto.
Look at emotional baggage as repressed painful memories, thoughts, or feelings caused by unhealed wounds. What you need to understand is that trauma (or dense energy) is stored in your body. The longer you go without healing the underlying wounds, the deeper this pain tends to inlay which makes it increasingly harder to flesh out.
Imagine that painful energy has a physical presence. Unless you get rid of it, the pain gets trapped inside you. Over time, this stagnant energy causes more problems with your well-being, because the underlying wound has not been healed.
You create emotional baggage when you fail to process a wound when it happens, and instead push it out of awareness. Therefore, emotional baggage is the manifestation of neglecting an emotional wound or trauma.
How does emotional baggage harm you?
Think of a painful emotion like a cut. If you cut yourself and decide not to treat it, the cut may get infected. When left untreated, the infection will spread, becoming more and more painful in the process.
Your emotional body works the same way.
Emotional baggage is like an infected wound that prevents you from healing and moving on. If left untreated, this infection spreads to other parts of you.
You might not think that your general distrust for people was caused by an unresolved incident where you felt betrayed when you were younger. But look at how it affects your life today. The effect is much worse than the cause because the issue was never healed.
There’s nothing wrong with experiencing painful emotions. Shit happens, it’s a normal part of being a human. Normally you will process those wounds when they occur, the pain leaves, and never comes back because the wound has been healed.
But if you hold onto that pain, it turns into emotional baggage. That emotional baggage takes a toll over time and causes more issues in your life whether they’re in the form of trauma, mindsets, perceptions, or belief systems.
The role of emotional baggage for behavioral problems
Emotional baggage is heavy. You’re forced to feel reoccurring painful emotions until the root cause has been healed. Of course, holding onto painful emotions just doesn’t feel good, but they can also cause more severe issues in your life.
This study suggests that there is a link between emotional baggage, and the inability to change. People believe that they get stuck in old patterns because they’re still holding onto the trauma from the past.
This means that holding onto past situations do prevent you from moving forward with your life to better things. So it’s necessary to drop the baggage and allow yourself to heal the past.
the role of emotional baggage for physical health
Emotional baggage can take a toll on your physical health too because your physical health is thoroughly connected to your emotional health. In this sense, issues with your physical health can manifest from emotional problems – such as emotional baggage.
According to HealthLine, emotional baggage can lead to physical issues such as:
- Self-worth issues
- Contempt and dissatisfaction with life
Examples of painful emotions turning into emotional baggage
Imagine that you were never really given much attention when you were a kid. You thought it was unfair, and grew up thinking that your parents didn’t care about you. As you grow older, you continue to feed those thoughts, which manifest into other issues in your life.
You begin to feel like the world is unfair, that nobody cares about you, or that you’re worthless which consequently affects your life in other ways. These painful manifestations start influencing your perception of reality, and turn it into an unfair world.
Here are some examples of how a wound turns into emotional baggage if not healed.
- Lucy was bullied during her adolescence and now has severe self-worth issues. She struggles to accept her appearance and gets embarrassed very easily.
- Jake who was walked over and treated poorly most of his life can’t see the good in humanity anymore. He thinks humanity is a lost cause, and there’s not much hope for us.
- Nancy felt betrayed by her ex-partner and has wished that bad things would happen to him for years now. She regularly checks his social media to see if something happened and feels disappointed when it doesn’t.
- Michael was publicly made fun of while giving a presentation in school. In adulthood, he is still ashamed of that day and avoids putting himself in front of people out of fear that something similar might happen
- Megan felt like she was never good enough for her parents. She now doesn’t think anyone can love her and refuses to look for love.
- Jenny has general trust issues after being harassed many years ago and now hates meeting new people. Because of this, she doesn’t have many friends, and often battles with loneliness.
Identifying emotional baggage
When you allow painful emotions to run their course, they will leave when their service is up. Pain is a messenger, and if you’re avoiding the lesson, the associated emotion is going to stay around, becoming more toxic the longer it’s left unresolved.
In this sense, I call emotional baggage toxic emotions. Not that any emotion is necessarily toxic, after all, they all serve a purpose. But painful emotions can become toxic if they hang around for long enough.
Common emotions that I would consider toxic are:
- Resentment can linger around for a very long time, and it takes a heavy toll.
- Guilt is commonly experienced as a toxic emotion because it can last a very long time, and degrades your peace of mind.
- Shame can last a long time while causing further problems and limitations in your life.
Back in the day, I worked at a restaurant where I was owed a lot of money in tips before leaving. After finishing up and moving to Vietnam to teach English, the owner decided to withhold my money which he promised to send before I left. Every time I contacted him, he would be polite, and agree to send it, but the cash would never arrive.
Over six months passed after contacting him many times, and he eventually stopped responding. There wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it. I felt cheated.
For a long time, I resented this man. The money was one thing, but the resentment I felt consumed me. I drank poison, hoping he would drop dead from it. But he didn’t. He got on with his happy life, while I was left to deal with these hostile emotions I was feeling.
By holding onto this resentment, he still had power over me, and I didn’t want that. It took me a long time to finally forgive him and let it go. One of the lessons I learned from this situation is that sometimes the emotional baggage causes us much more suffering than the actual event.
In this case, I felt betrayed. It was more than missing out on the money I was owed, what got to me was the feeling that I was taken advantage of, and helpless to do anything about it.
Be aware of the painful emotions that you’re holding onto, and how they affect your life. Identify where those emotions came from, and what the underlying wound is that is causing you to feel that way.
Probe your memories
First, you need to bring your emotional baggage to awareness by triggering the emotions and flushing them out of your subconscious mind.
You can do this by recalling the specific memories of the event that caused the pain, mentally putting yourself back into that situation, and feeling all the sensations by replaying the event in your mind.
If you manage to resurrect some of the painful emotions, this is a positive sign as you’re bringing these toxic emotions to the surface where they’re easier to work with. If there is no emotional pain associated with the memory, then this is a good sign that you have healed the wound.
You can tell whether something is unresolved depending on the frequency and magnitude of reemergence. If you have emotional baggage, the painful emotions will be triggered at times, and you will feel them. But these moments are probably short-lived because you push them back under every time they show up.
If a painful sensation keeps resurfacing, then it has not been resolved. It’s goading you to fix it by bringing your awareness to it.
Self-awareness is key here. You will not be able to get rid of these toxic emotions that you carry around with you until you look into them. Once you’re aware of the emotions that no longer serve you, you can take productive steps toward letting them go.
Pinpoint the wound
If you have emotional baggage, sometimes you will get seemingly random bursts of guilt, shame, regret, or whatever emotion is associated with the wound.
This used to happen to me quite a lot, over incidences that seemed insignificant. Sometimes I would think back to something I did in a previous relationship, or perhaps a mistake I made in a job, or something I did that hurt someone else, and suddenly I would feel a sharp sting.
Usually, I pushed that painful memory away. After a few seconds, I would be feeling normal again, and that was that. But then on a later date, that same emotion would pop up again.
After realizing that this was an unhealed wound, I identified the memory that was associated with the wound. So I would look into:
- The memory: What is the specific memory that causes the pain?
- The pain: What sort of pain is it? In my case, it’s usually shame that I feel
- The situation: What specifically happened that made you feel this way?
By looking into the memory, the pain, and the pain point, you have identified the wound, and now you know what needs healing. Identifying the wound becomes an act of noticing reoccurring patterns because if a pain keeps showing up, it means the wound is still active.
How to let go of emotional baggage
Letting go of emotional baggage is a process of acknowledging your wounds, resurrecting the concomitant feelings, and consciously releasing them from your body. The process of letting go looks different from person to person, but often it requires you to consciously surrender to your feelings to heal the wound.
Dig into your wounds
To let go of emotional baggage, you’ll need to do some shadow work. That is to introspect, look deep into the issue, and hopefully come to some good insights and realizations about the nature of these wounds.
You need to deeply feel those painful emotions undisrupted to learn what they’re trying to teach you. Given that you do this every time they show up, you are releasing a little bit of that dense energy from your body every time you do.
If something triggers an insecurity, emotion is trying to draw your attention towards the core issue of your insecurity. If you feel resentment towards someone that you can’t seem to let go of, the emotional pain is turning your attention to the wound, not to discover what caused the wound, but why you feel so deeply hurt.
Emotional pain is a messenger, telling you that there’s an issue with your emotional body that needs attention. By calibrating with your emotional body, the emotional pain will lead you to the root issue.
Be present with the pain
When you have brought up the underlying emotional pain, don’t judge, analyze, or label it. Just experience it fully, express yourself, and let it go in its own time. Do not rush this process. Make a habit of removing all distractions such as the TV, music, noise, people, or anything that could distract you from the experience.
Sit with the emotions when they arise and don’t try to block them up. Mindfulness is crucial here. Your ability to be present and feel the emotions fully is paramount in processing those toxic emotions and letting them go.
This is likely to take many sessions, not just one, so make a habit of processing and healing these emotions every time they come up. The more you build the habit of sitting with your painful emotions, the more effective you will become at this practice.
To learn more about sitting with painful emotions instead of escaping them, here are a couple of articles that go much deeper into the topic.
When you’ve resurrected those painful emotions, you need to purge those energies. Remember, those painful energies are stored in your body, and what we understand as catharsis is a way of getting them out.
So when you feel the discomfort, allow yourself to go through the motions. Cry, tremble, yell, pray. Do whatever you need to expel that uncomfortable energy that’s blocked inside your body.
You might not get it all out in a single go. But if those feelings come back up again, do what you can to get rid of them via catharsis. You can learn more about that here: