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Do You Carry Emotional Baggage?

As a grown-up, it is your job to take responsibility for your emotional wellbeing. You have complete, total control and power over one person—yourself—so you are responsible for every area of your life, including feelings you carry with you on a daily basis that could be affecting more than you realize.

"You're gonna have to carry that weight …"

We all travel through life with baggage, which evolves from painful, harmful or negative experiences and from interactions that caused a significant emotional reaction within you. These feelings continue to shape who you are, how you think, the choices you make and the actions you take now.

Can it fit in the overhead compartment?

There are two main types of baggage: what you see and are well aware of (excess), and what you don’t see and aren’t aware of (hidden). The baggage you see but choose not to acknowledge or unload can become a problem. Your choice to ignore it means that for some reason you are allowing it to interfere with your life, your relationships and your future.

The interesting thing about excess baggage is that it becomes almost comfortable to carry. It’s as if you become so used to carrying this extra weight that you don’t realize how much more you could see and do if you were carrying a lighter load.

Hidden baggage

Hidden baggage, or the type you may not even be aware of, is equally dangerous because it can sneak up on you and ambush you out of nowhere. This kind of baggage can trick you into tolerating a job that works you countless hours for low pay and no appreciation. It might lead you to stay close to a self-centered friend who talks your ear off because you’ve “always been quiet anyway.”

Emotional baggage is driven by negative feelings such as anger, fear and sadness. You may be thinking, “How did I end up like this?” “It’s not my fault," “My life isn’t fair," or "Things like this always happen to me." These underlying feelings can lead to a desire to act out or remain passive.

The power to get rid of the baggage comes from knowing where it stems from and asking yourself these important questions: “Assuming I can choose to behave any way I want, do I like the way I am behaving?”; “Should I or others have to suffer because of my past?”; and “Can I manage painful or uncomfortable emotions by committing to behaving differently?”

Take a reality check

A good start toward addressing your baggage is to have a present-day reality check. When your immediate reaction to an experience is anger, fear or sadness, stop. Analyze the feeling. Are you upset (or fearful, humiliated or shocked) by what just happened or what someone said because of its effect on your life now? Or have those words or actions triggered something from your past that will cause you to feel or react out of proportion to what actually occurred today?

Get rid of that old baggage

Now, I want you to turn your inner baggage into outer baggage. To do this, make a list of the critical ways your baggage has impacted you. Write down things like: “I was neglected as a child, so I have relationships where I am neglected”; “My parents escaped from pain by overindulging in food/alcohol/ drugs, and I do the same”; or “I have always feared failing, so I don’t put my best foot forward with my family, friends or job.”

Take this list and put it in your purse, backpack or briefcase. Carry it wherever you go—I mean, you do anyway—only this time, carry it on paper to remind you of where it all came from. Once you do this, only then will you really understand how the baggage you’ve been carrying day in and day out has been holding you back from maximizing your potential. 

Literally, let it go

After 30 days of literally carrying your baggage around in your bag, it's time to make a symbolic gesture to let it all go. Take the list out of your purse, say out loud "I'm letting this emotional baggage go." Then you can either burn it in the fireplace or tear it into little pieces and throw it in the trash—thus symbolically gesturing that you are releasing the emotional baggage and moving forward, less weighted down by the past. 

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