How to Let Go of Emotional Baggage

I have just discarded most of my baggage. Literally. This is all that I own.

I did it for freedom, to be lightweight as I travel the world, and to make a statement to myself that I will always value experiences over possessions.

These benefits are similar to the ones you’ll have when you discard your emotional baggage: you’ll feel free, lighthearted, and make the statement that what is to come matters more than what has been.

Pain Gets Our Attention

Humans basically don’t ever do anything that isn’t in their perceived best interest, unless out of habit or a moment of irrationality. Why do we hold on to emotional baggage, then? What’s in it for us? Why would anyone purposefully hold onto painful memories of the past to the potential ruin of their future?

It isn’t purposeful, it’s painful.

Have you ever seen someone in physical pain? Whether it’s a sprained ankle, stomach ache, or headache, they will always grab or hold the area that hurts. Always.

But… Why? Grabbing a hurt ankle doesn’t help to heal it. We grab what hurts because pain gets our full attention.

It’s irrational to grab an injured ankle, but the pain makes us do it. It’s irrational to relive bad memories, but the pain makes us do it. 

You hold your ankle immediately after it’s sprained, not four years later when it’s healthy.Physical pain fades as time heals us, and that changes our behavior. That’s how it’s supposed to work, anyway, but if you stomp on that foot every day after you injure your ankle, it will still hurt four years later. It’s no different with emotional pain.

They say that time heals all wounds, but that’s not quite accurate.

Time heals all wounds that you allow to heal.

What then, is the emotional equivalent of stomping on a sprained ankle? What keeps us from healing emotionally?

You might think I’m going to say that we need to ignore it for it to go away, but that won’t work. If you ignore a sprained ankle and continue to walk on it like nothing happened, it will take much longer to heal. The lesson: We must purposefully treat our emotional baggage. We must intentionally heal ourselves.

How to Heal Your Emotional Scars and Let Go

Emotional baggage can be from…

  • Abuse
  • Health problems
  • Failed relationships
  • Unmet expectations
  • Traumatic events

Most people think of relationships when it comes to baggage, but we get emotional and fearful about a lot more than that! For example, one of my worst sources of emotional baggage is health. Even though I’m in good health overall, I sometimes freak out if I’m not perfectly healthy, and I’ve let it hold me back when it shouldn’t have. Here’s what you and I can do to drop our emotional baggage.

1. See the past as a dead wasteland

The past is important, I know. World and personal history brought us to where we are today, and it has infinite lessons to teach. But as for the actual events, we do not need to relive them unless we want to

Word associations for the past: permanent disconnect, dead, final, over, irrelevant, fossilized lessons, release (from the past) and go!

“But what about great memories?”

Keep them! Imagine it’s armageddon, and the entire world is a wasteland (like the past). You can pick and choose what you (don’t) want to take with you. Our past is a wasteland of memories that gave us smiles or scars. We can take the smiles and leave everything else. You can have a double standard here because you’re the boss in this wasteland. It’s not your job to treat a pile of dirt the same as a delicious sandwich, it’s your job to take the sandwich and leave the dirt where it belongs on the road behind you.

Here’s how that looks in reality.

If someone brings up a fond memory, engage with them, enjoy reminiscing, and strengthen your bond with them. If you think of something like that on your own, you too can enjoy it. You can keep it alive as long as you want!

BEWARE of engaging with a good memory that’s tied to a larger bad memory. In the wasteland analogy, this is like finding a chocolate bar covered in poison. The chocolate bar is nice, but the poison makes it harmful to you overall. Relationships are notorious for baggage because they often combine euphoric memories with crushing ones. When you think of the good times, you’re going to be getting the bad stuff, too. And the worst part of the “bad stuff” is that this person wasn’t right for you and no longer warrants much, if any of your attention. Clinging to old, dim flames prevents newer, brighter ones from rising. 

If you think of or someone else brings up a part of your past that hurts you and brings you down in any way, you can immediately recognize that it’s dead. Any person can choose to bring part of your past with them into the present, but you don’t have to. You can tell them that you’d rather not talk about it, that you are moving on to better things (what a refreshing, empowering idea!), or even use a cheesy go-to saying like, “The past has passed.” If you personally think of a negative past event, you can respond to it in the same way as you would to another person. Be merciless about not reviving the past when it doesn’t suit you. What happened happened, but you’re in a different place now (the present moment).

2. Discard the past with statements of action

Several years ago, I suffered from crippling health anxiety that started with a spider bite. (It was my least impressive time as a human being.) It could have spiralled out of control, but I stopped it with a statement of action that contradicting my thoughts and feelings at the time.

Because I knew my anxiety was rooted in fear and trauma of the past, I started acting like I was fine, and got back into my usual activities like playing basketball. This more than anything else helped me to understand and believe that I was fine.

If you’re stuck on something related to your past, it’s extremely difficult to move on from it using only your mind. Most often, you need an accompanying action to help you focus on and believe something else.

  • The cure for heartbreak is to find someone else.
  • The cure for my crippling anxiety was to act like it wasn’t actually crippling.
  • The cure for abuse is to find people who love and support you.
  • The cure for a lazy past is an active present.

Many things must be experienced to believe. Think about it—your past is the entirety of your experience on Earth. If those experiences aren’t ideal, then you have little reason to believe that better things can happen for you. There is always something better out there for us, but seeing possibilities is not believing, experiencing new possibilities is believing.

If you find yourself in a constant mental battle with negative memories of your past, then maybe it’s time to stop thinking and start acting. The latter can sway your opinion far more than the former. Every scar of the past has a present moment antidote. The more you “apply it” the more it will fade away in irrelevance. 

Nothing is more relevant than this moment right now. What will you do with it? Let’s bury the past so that we can move forward with freedom.

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