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Emotional baggage: 6 signs you have it and how to let it go

emotional baggage

We all carry emotional baggage.

Of course, this can manifest differently for each of us. Some of us carry 5 suitcases of pain and bitterness while some of us just have one tiny bag.

When I was younger, I always thought that emotional baggage was a bad thing.

But later on, I realized that that’s not necessarily true. Being alive means having the capacity to carry past experiences and learning from them, which is a healthy and necessary behavioral pattern.

But there’s a point when this baggage becomes too much, that it can have a devastating impact on our relationships. One of them is the inability to become emotionally available. Carrying too much emotional baggage can literally stop us from being open to new experiences, intimacy, and growth.

If you’re reading this, chances are, you think your emotional baggage is getting way out of hand. Don’t worry, dealing with emotional baggage is actually not that complicated if you’re prepared to face it head-on.

In this article, we’ll explore what “emotional baggage” is, signs it’s sabotaging your relationships, and how to unload that emotional backpack so you can start nurturing healthy relationships in your life.

What is emotional baggage?

emotional baggage

Emotional or psychological baggage is a collective term for any unresolved emotional turmoil caused by childhood trauma, abuse, or any negative experience from the past.

Having emotional baggage from past relationships is extremely normal. Our emotional baggage teaches us many things—from helping us manage expectations, discovering what we want in life and relationships, and teaching us how to cope with pain and rejection.

But the problem most people have is not that they have emotional baggage—everyone has them. The problem is that they let their emotional baggage rule their lives.

The issue we all have then is that we don’t know how to unload this emotional backpack, and instead let it seep its way into every corner of our lives. Carrying a heavy emotional backpack has some clear negative consequences.

In fact, one study shows that having emotional baggage stops people from creating a positive lifestyle change. According to the study, “behavioural change can be hard to perform as psychological distress from life baggage can influence the ability to change.”

So how do we handle stop this from happening?

For me, it’s the way we choose to handle our emotional baggage that makes the difference. We have the choice to let it define us or to let it go and move forward.

If your choice is the latter, then you’ve come to the right place. Read ahead.

6 signs emotional baggage is sabotaging your relationships

Emotional baggage probably has the biggest effect on our romantic relationships. Nothing else brings out our worst demons than by being vulnerable in love. Here are 6 clear signs you might have emotional baggage and unwittingly sabotaging your love life:

1. Emotional distance

Emotional distance is one of the most glaring signs of emotional baggage in a relationship.

A strong emotional bond is an essential pillar of a healthy relationship. It is linked to intimacy and the ability to enjoy and share things together as a couple.

However, unresolved emotional baggage can stop you from being experiencing real intimacy with someone. You can build up walls and defense mechanisms that might make it impossible to nurture deep and long-lasting relationships with anyone.

If you’ve been told you’re “too closed-off” or you’re hard to read, it’s a clear sign you have some emotional baggage to let go of.

2. Commitment issues

Do you have a hard time committing yourself to someone?

Commitment issues actually involve more than just the romantic area of your life. Perhaps it’s also hard for you to commit to work, a place, or anything that requires you to put down roots.

When it comes to relationships, commitment issues might be caused by “attachment insecurity,” which is an attachment style centered in fear. If this is the case, it can manifest in three ways:

  • Fearful avoidant- wanting a relationship, but having a constant fear that you might get hurt
  • Dismissive avoidant – not wanting to depend on anyone or share true intimacy
  • Anxious preoccupied – constant anxiety about being abandoned and having a low sense of worth

3. Serial-dating

A serial dater is someone who treats relationships like “monkey bars,” transferring from one relationship to the next, with very little time in between. They are never single and can’t hold long-term relationships.

Emotional baggage can sometimes lead to a fear of being alone. Past romantic rejection or childhood trauma can lead people to avoid facing their problems. Instead, they distract themselves by serial-dating and never truly committing to any relationship that requires opening their wounds.

4. Paranoia

One of the worst signs of deep emotional baggage is having paranoia that every relationship will lead to pain or being left alone.

Everybody has fears of being left by someone they love. It’s normal to feel vulnerable when you give your heart to someone. However, emotional baggage can lead you to believe that no one is trustworthy enough to truly love you.

As a result, you might self-sabotage your own relationships. You might even drive away any potential of a meaningful relationship before it even begins.

5. Projection

Most of us carry our own insecurities to any new relationship. That’s part of being human. However, emotional baggage can sometimes make us “project” our own assumptions to our partners.

According to therapist and relationship coach Monika Hoyt, projection is the “tendency to disown the qualities we don’t like about ourselves and see them in others is projection.”

In this case, projection is perhaps the most damaging behavior that leads to toxic and unhealthy relationship dynamics. When you project your insecurities to your partner, you create blame-games, distrust, and a serious miscommunication that can prevent you from ever developing a happy relationship.

6. Comparison

Comparing past relationships to your new one could be understandable. It makes sense. Someone else is filling the role of your ex, so a little comparison is natural.

However, you might be carrying emotional baggage from your previous relationship if you’re constantly comparing your new partner to your ex.

The problem?

According to relationship and dating expert Jonathan Bennett:

“Being constantly compared to an ex can create a lot of unnecessary stress and anxiety. People want to be accepted and loved ‘as is’ in a relationship and not always feel like they have to ‘measure up’ to another [person] from the past.”

6 types of emotional baggage

emotional baggage

Now that you know whether or not you’re carrying a heavy burden in your life, it’s time to uncover the cause behind it. Here are 6 types of emotional baggage and how you can let it go:

1. Dysfunctional family

Wouldn’t anyone want a perfect childhood? Unfortunately, more than two-thirds of children grow up in a “non-traditional family environment.” This means that a lot of us walk around in life carrying deep emotional wounds from our traumatic childhoods.

Of course, we all have different experiences and some might have it worse than others. But even for me, whose parents are nothing short of loving and attentive, I still can’t deny that their turbulent marriage and emotional distress didn’t add a heavy load on my emotional backpack.

So if you come from a dysfunctional or abusive home, you might be dealing with psychological issues from your childhood. This can affect the way you see and handle romantic relationships, which can cause things like:

  • co-dependency
  • insecurity
  • abandonment and trust issues
  • emotional unavailability
  • commitment issues

How to deal with this type of emotional baggage:

According to author Peg Streep, there’s only one way to heal from the wounds of a dysfunctional family: let go.

I know. It’s never easy to “let go” when it comes to the people who are supposed to love and care for you. And it also doesn’t necessarily mean you have to cut ties with them. Sometimes it just means letting go of what you can’t control, and focusing on how you react.

Streep explains:

“It means learning to discriminate between the ways of thinking you must let go of and the emotions that need to be tossed aside that keep you stuck, and the ways of thinking and feeling that will help you move you forward and help you heal.”

2. Fear

Fear is one of the most primal human emotions. It triggers our survival instincts, our biological “fight or flight” response. So technically, being afraid is nothing to worry about.

But when we fail to heal from a traumatic experience, fear can become the enemy. Unprocessed fear becomes a constant companion which can affect or limit you regularly. You become unreasonably frightened of getting hurt, that you deliberately avoid certain situations at the cost of your happiness or well-being. If you’re not careful, this can lead to anxiety disorders or even turn into a phobia.

In relationships, it might manifest as fear of commitment or intimacy.

According to marriage and family therapist Moushumi Ghose:

“Fear of commitment also happens within relationships where one or both partners hold back, refuse to give themselves fully, always wearing their protective shields.”

How to deal with this type of emotional baggage:

When it comes to overcoming fear, exposure is key. And I’m not saying you should blindly jump on the next relationship that comes your way. I mean being present with your fear, even if it means taking it one step at a time.

Try “putting yourself” out there, mindfully. Open yourself up a bit more than you usually do. And be more open to intimacy.

3. Guilt

Like fear, guilt has a purpose. It’s a corrector, a moral compass. When we feel guilty, we regret the mistakes we did and it makes us want to correct it. Guilt is also useful because it causes self-reflection and rumination.

However, guilt can be a very evil emotion. It can make you imagine things that aren’t really there. In relationships, this means having a constant fear that you’re always disappointing your partner, or that you’re not living up to expectations.

Guilt can also lead to co-dependency, which is a toxic relationship pattern that stops you from creating healthy boundaries in your relationship.

How to deal with this type of emotional baggage:

Try to remember that “imaginary guilt” is just that—it’s imaginary. Before you start doing things out of guilt, check-in with yourself. Are your emotions real? Or are you jumping to conclusions?

Licensed psychologist and author Guy Winch has one advice: try to reverse the situation. If it was the other way around, would your partner feel guilty?

He explains:

“For example, imagine it was your partner who was working really hard. If you literally put yourself in the other person’s shoes and conclude that you wouldn’t be angry at your partner for working late, you have to assume that you’ve done nothing wrong and that your partner has no reason to be angry with you, either.”

4. Regret

Nothing else makes you live in the past quite like regret. “If only” are two dangerous words that can make you blind and stop you from living your life in the moment.

In relationships, here are the most common scenarios that happen when you have regret as emotional baggage:

  1. You idealize a past relationship, that you are unable to be emotionally available to anyone else.
  2. You stay in a current relationship because you are afraid you will regret leaving it, even when it has become toxic.
  3. You’ve regretted choosing a relationship over a major life decision, so you become afraid of commitment.

How to deal with this type of emotional baggage:

The best thing you can do to deal with regret is to accept that you cannot undo the past.

According to life coach María Tomás-Keegan:

“Second-guessing will not help. “What-if” scenarios can keep you stuck where you are for a very long time. It is what it is. The past is past, and there is nothing you can do to change it. The best thing you can do now is evaluate what happened and learn from it.”

Try to stop dwelling on what could have been, and start living your life now. Don’t miss out on the love you deserve just because it failed you before.

5. Anger

Anger is perhaps the most easily identifiable emotional baggage. When we get rejected or hurt by someone in the past, we tend to carry that resentment with us. Ironically, anger is also the most difficult emotional baggage to let go of.

When we carry anger with us, we stop ourselves from seeing the joy in any new relationship. This resentment can also be bottled up and we can take it out on the people we love most.

If you keep anger as baggage in your life, you will keep happiness and love at bay until you learn how to let it go.

How to deal with this type of emotional baggage:

Anger is often labeled as a toxic emotion. But that’s only because many of us don’t know to handle anger properly. When you know how to manage your anger effectively, it can be a great motivator for positive change.

Anger is actually a useful emotion, according to world-renowned shaman Rudá Iandê:

“Anger can give us the energy to take action, breaking through our limitations.”

So what do you do with it? Don’t push your anger down. Don’t ignore it. Instead, listen to your anger. Where does it come from? What caused it? Meet your anger head first so you can let it go.

6. Negativity

Are you always expecting the worst in life and in people?

You might think that by seeing the world negatively, you’ll protect yourself from hurt and unmet expectations.

But you’re wrong. Constant negative thinking is not only harmful to you, but also to the people you love. Negativity can lead to cynicism, whining, discontent, and perfectionism. In intimate relationships, this can form toxic behaviors and create unnecessary conflict between you and your partner.

How to deal with this type of emotional baggage:

It’s simple. Be mindful every time you catch yourself being negative. It will help you re-wire your brain against negative-thinking.

According to author and happiness expert Keryl Pesce:

“Each time you catch yourself thinking negatively about yourself, other people, or circumstances, stop. Turn your thoughts around. You’ll be amazed once you start paying attention how much negative thinking you do. At first it takes effort. Then it just becomes who you are, your natural way of thinking.”

The only way to deal with emotional baggage is to face it head-on…

Carrying emotional baggage is heavy and draining, not only in your romantic life but in all aspects as well. It is an insidious disease that worms its way into every area of your life, stopping you from achieving real happiness.

Unfortunately, there is no other way to heal from our emotional monsters but to face them head-on.

I know it is terrifying to face your worst demons. You will never be as vulnerable as when you are unpacking the deepest wounds you carry. It might be easier to ignore them, yes. And you can live your whole life keeping them in the back burner.

But will you be able to live a full and happy life?

No.

If you want to develop and nurture real happiness and love, you need to unload your emotional baggage. Before you can do that, you have to look at your past and determine why you are the way you are. Then, you need to accept responsibility for the mistakes you did. But more importantly, you need to stop blaming yourself for the things that were outside of your control.

Your emotional baggage is only as heavy as you decide to carry. It is a choice between two things:

  • Do you want to live a life free of anger, pain, and loneliness?
  • Or would you rather let emotional baggage affect any chance of happiness?

The answer is an easy one.

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Genefe Navilon

Written by Genefe Navilon

Genefe Navilon is a writer, poet, and blogger. She graduated from Mass Communications at the University of San Jose Recoletos. Her poetry blog, Letters To The Sea, currently has 18,000 followers. Her work has been published in different websites and poetry book anthologies. She divides her time between traveling, writing, and working on her debut poetry book.

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