There’s an expression talking about carrying around emotional baggage. Every time I hear it my mind’s eye conjures up a picture of a person loaded down with old bags and packs and suitcases, heavy and difficult to move around with. I’ve always wondered what it would be like if I could actually find a way to manifest that, to feel my emotional baggage in a physical way, exactly the way the picture in my mind shows. Last week, I devised a way to give myself that chance.
But before we get to that, what IS emotional baggage?
According to Wikipedia, emotional baggage is
…an everyday expression that correlates with many varied but similar concepts within social sciences, self-help movements, and other fields: its general concern is with unresolved issues of an emotional nature, often with an implication that the emotional baggage is detrimental.
As a metaphorical image, it is that of carrying all the disappointments, wrongs, and trauma of the past around with one in a heavy load
Sounds about right.
So here’s what I did:
1. I stuck everything in a backpack.
I’ve had some old diaries I’ve been hanging on to, old journals, letters, doodle pads, pictures, notes. They’ve been the last accumulation of what’s been waiting to turn digital, but unlike most other rewrite-worthy things I’ve been in possession of, these are the pages and pictures and keepsakes I’ve been having particular trouble making the changeover with. I’ve been in a static place with it all, procrastinating on sorting through and figuring out how to resolve it. I figured the best way to jumpstart that motion was to get irritated and uncomfortable by its weight enough to want to handle it. And so I loaded up my backpack with every precious scrap I could find, every sentimental piece I’d been accumulating.
2. And then headed out to carry it around for the day and contemplate.
Yep. That was my intent. An entire day. Ha. A mere 30 minutes in my backpack felt so heavy, I wondered how I could have been dragging around its emotional content for so long without an awareness of how heavily it dragged on my shoulders. What a burden!
And then I realized why.
I’d been reading one of the many healing books from my home bookshelf the day before, and come across a passage speaking about the amazing self-healing child.
It described how when a child goes through a potentially traumatic event, immediately afterwards they cycle through their emotions and reactions to it. This helps them process and heal, allowing natural reactions to play out, and helps move it through and out of their systems so the event can become just a blip in the past and they can move on.
These natural responses may seem overly dramatic and are therefore oftentimes stifled by parents, adults or caretakers in a child’s life.
The parent may distract or minimize. The caretaker may shame or alternatively overly soothe or baby the child. In one way or another, these kinds of responses interrupt the child’s natural process, and instead of allowing the moment to cycle through and out, causes the event and emotions to get lodged unprocessed and stuck in the child’s body and psyche.
I could remember asking myself the question, “Of all the lifetimes I’ve lived and all the moments in the years of THIS lifetime I’ve lived, why do certain times and memories seem so important that I’ve been hanging on to them for so long?”
Recalling this passage, I now had my answer. Those moments weren’t necessarily all that significant in their own right, their importance lay merely in their staying unprocessed and stuck.
But how to un-stick myself?
I couldn’t possibly go back to every event, every moment, cycle through every emotion. It would take an entire lifetime and I don’t really have any extras tucked away in my back pocket. The overwhelm I was recognizing at the largeness of the process explained my initial hesitation and following procrastination.
So I did what I do best. I organized. Organize to tackle. Warrior paint aho!!
I set up categories for myself, figuring if I could get general roots, I could take care of whole groups of experiences in one fell swoop.
Borrowing from The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F**k, where Sarah Knight lists four general categories of potential fuck-giving, I present this same list for the categories emotional baggage may fall under:
- Friends, Acquaintances, and Strangers
What to do with those categories:
Step 1: Identify Experiences in each of them
Step 2: Identify the Emotions attached to those experiences
And a few others to round it out…
- Unrequited Love
- Things you have no control over
…to name a few. Unresolved feelings like these are what block us from experiencing the abundance and beauty and blessing of our present moment, current lives, relationships and experiences.
Step 3: Process and Unpack
- Allow those feelings to be exactly what and how they are. Be gentle and kind to yourself.
- Accept your past for what it is.
- Retrieve parts of self that may have gotten left behind. (Or) Find at least one positive in each hurtful/stuck situation/experience that you can take away and bring back with you.
- Laugh as much as you can.
- Cry when you need to.
- Practice voicing your needs, your emotions, saying when you’re angry, when you’re sad, when you need a hug. Practice saying no. Practice saying yes.
- Identify areas in your current life and actions that need work. Pay attention and become more conscious of your warning signs.
- Make a plan of action for when those moments come up.
- Mindfulness. When you find yourself reaching for your drug of choice, think- what am I feeling right now? Where is this actually coming from? Identify the root cause and bring it back around to step 1.
About those old notes and letters and diaries and mementos….
Some stuff’s simply got to go. If it isn’t serving you and instead weighs you down and is holding you in the past like my stuff was- heck, chuck it! Look through, sort out gems that may still need actual processing, and tear up the rest, throw things in the trash, get rid of it! And then some things… well some things just gotta burn! I tried it, I did. And I tell ya- it was cathartic. And satisfying. And freeing. And WONDERFUL. I highly recommend doing the same.
This quote by Lesya Li, author of another great post about emotional baggage, says it all for me:
Emotional baggage is like a black hole in space. It sucks all the light out of your life.
By helping me get a sense of what it feels like to actually physically carry around the baggage I walk around with inside on the daily, this project has helped me begin to understand. To forgive. To let go and move on. To feel more whole. To heal and resolve. These experiences and relationships and moments are beginning to feel less like holes in my being, and more as pieces of the fabulous quilt that has helped create my present moments, who I am now, what allowed me to take the steps toward the beautiful relationships and life I now get to participate in and be a part of.
I am Here. I am Now.
What will you be unpacking this week/month/new year?
What will you be (re)packing/ packing instead?