So you have emotional baggage — welcome to the club! If you're carrying around stresses, anxieties, worries, inner criticisms and negative thoughts, here's how to get rid of them.
What does it mean to have emotional baggage?
Emotional baggage is a metaphor that refers to your negative, unprocessed emotions from past experiences. All types of emotional baggage, if not taken care of, can negatively impact your current experiences — your relationships, your friendships, your family relations, your career, etc.
6 types of emotional baggage (and how to get rid of it all)
There are different kinds of emotional baggage you may be carrying around from various past experiences. Here are six 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.
You may be feeling guilt from a former relationship, perhaps because you've cheated on a partner in the past — and now you feel guilty and carry that guilt into your new relationships. Maybe you feel guilty for arguing with a family member before their passing, and now you cope with a complex about confrontation.
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 sort," Stanford neuroscientist Philippe Goldin told Lifehacker.
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.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is "a mental health condition that's triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it," according to Mayo Clinic. Symptoms of PTSD may include, but are not limited to, flashbacks, nightmares, invasive thoughts and severe anxiety. While PTSD symptoms may start within a month of the traumatic event, your symptoms like recurrent, distressing memories may not appear until years down the line. Many military veterans experience PTSD, for example.
If you're experiencing PTSD, you're not alone. In fact, about seven or eight out of every 100 people (or seven to eight percent of the population) will have PTSD at some point in their lives, and about eight million adults have PTSD during a given year, according to the National Center for PTSD. If you're one of those people, you may want to look into professional therapy options such as cognitive processing therapy, prolonged exposure therapy or stress inoculation training. These treatments can improve your symptoms, help you to better cope with your condition and even help to restore your self-esteem.
AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreportand Facebook.