8 Common Pieces of Emotional Baggage (and How to Ditch Them)
I hate the weight of unnecessary stuff. That's why I fly with just a carry-on and never take a purse or jacket into concerts. But excess baggage isn't only physical. As we travel through life, we collect emotional baggage as well. And just like lugging a roller bag that's missing one wheel through the airport, emotional baggage can really slow us down. How many of these useless emotions are you hanging on to? Find out how to leave them behind for a lighter journey. (See also: 6 Ways to Manage Powerful Emotions)
Everyone experiences guilt. Everyone. To err is human, and humans tend to err a lot. Feeling guilt when you've wronged someone, broken a rule, or acted inappropriately is natural. Carrying that guilt around for weeks, months, or years isn't. We hang onto our guilt because we want to punish ourselves, but that's never a strategy for making it right.
Stop the retroactive self-judgement, and stop playing the "what if" and "should have" games. Practice positive affirmation by stating (out loud) good things you have done, personality traits you're proud of, and blessings you're grateful for. Forgive yourself, and if possible, seek forgiveness from those you've wronged.
It's so easy to get stuck in a rut of regret, imagining what life would be like if you did everything "right." The fact of the matter is, we can't predict the future, and we shouldn't punish ourselves for the past. A recent study in Germany found that participants who were able to let go of regret were more cheerful and reported higher levels of happiness later in life.
Stop treating yourself like the victim. We all make choices. Some are good, and some are bad. That's just life. Remind yourself of decisions you're proud of, like having kids, donating to charity, or saying no to that slice of cake. Look for the lesson. If you learn something from a mistake, there is no reason to regret it. (See also: 21 Decisions You'll Never Regret Making)
If you've ever been taken advantage of or forced to live a lie, you may feel intense shame. "There are many circumstances where we have our truth kept locked in, and unintentionally we create shame around our truths. If you feel unable to speak your truth, then you feel shame. It's nature's law."
The way to break this cycle of negative emotion is to stop internalizing it. If you can, tell someone you trust about the shame, and the events that sparked it. If you're not ready to speak the words aloud, write them in a journal. Also realize that you have the right to experience the other emotions — anger or sadness — that come along with shame. Allowing yourself to acknowledge what happened, and your own innocence, is the first step.
4. Your Inner Critic
We tend to judge ourselves quite harshly. We take a far more critical view of our bodies, careers, and decisions than the rest of the world does, although we imagine it's just the opposite. That little voice inside can be our friend, but when the voice is too loud and too critical, it's a foe. Excessive self-criticism tends to backfire, because it leads us to focus on our so-called failures instead of the "small ways that we could have improved," psychologist Tamar E. Chansky, PhD, author of Freeing Yourself From Anxiety, told Health.com.
Ditch Your Inner Critic
Realize that no one cares about you — and that's a good thing. Visualize a drawer in your head. Label it "expectations" or "critiques." Whenever you start judging yourself for how things should be or should have been, mentally place the thoughts in this box. They're no good to you anyway. Silence the voice by reminding yourself of small achievements, and stating your goals out loud.
When someone wrongs us, or we observe injustice, anger is the natural reaction. Hanging on to this anger is unnatural, and over time can cause depression, eating disorders, heart disease, and prevent recovery from addiction. Understanding the cause and channeling the anger into something positive are the best ways to avoid this fate.
First, allow yourself to feel it fully without shame. Allow yourself to rant or cry or journal about it, but only for a set amount of time. When the time's up, remind yourself that the only person affected by your anger is you: Simply having the anger doesn't hurt the person who caused it in any way. If you can do so calmly, explain your anger to the person who sparked it. If they ask for forgiveness, give it. If they don't, realize it's now their problem and not yours. It can also be helpful to take responsibility for your role in the situation. Instead of blaming others, ask yourself "What could I have done better?" You might be surprised how empowered you feel.
6. Past Relationships
Romantic or not, we've all been involved in a toxic relationship. The time we spent with these people impacts us deeply. Maybe it was abusive. Maybe it was unrequited love. Maybe we were abandoned or cheated on. Allowing these past relationships to affect our current lives is a recipe for disaster. (See also: 6 Time-Tested Ways to Make Relationships Work)
Ditch Past Relationships
Write a letter to the person. Say all the things you wish you'd said when they were around. Send it if you feel like it. Put it in a drawer if you don't. Try to find the lesson in the experience. If you learned something, it was not pointless. "Although you might like to avoid the inner work necessary to achieve a healthier relationship, you have to appreciate that with insight you grow to make fewer mistakes," explains soulmate expert Ariadne Green.
7. Stress and Worry
Between work, family, and friends, there is no shortage of stress in our lives. We've conditioned ourselves to believe that stress equals productivity, but carrying around too much of it is really a shortcut to total burnout.
Remind yourself that stress achieves nothing. It doesn't get you closer to your goal, or prevent bad things from happening. Use a deep breathing technique, like ujayii, to soothe yourself and seep into the present moment. "Imagine your life 10 years from now. Then look 20 years into the future, and then 30. Realize that many of the things you're worrying about don't really matter in the grand scheme of things."
We're not just talking about a fear of spiders or tornados. We're talking about that paralyzing fear that grips us when contemplating the unknown, potential failure, or people and situations that intimidate us. When allowed to fester, this fear will trap you inside your own head, and prevent you from enjoying life and loved ones.
It's counterintuitive (and uncomfortable) but the best way to achieve freedom from fear is to face the things that make you feel it. "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. Don't be afraid to start small, slowly ratcheting up exposure until you're doing what you previously thought was impossible.
Have you dropped some emotional baggage? What was it, and how did you ditch it?