Have you ever had that feeling you’re trapped in circumstances out of your control? Like you’re repeating the past? Do you find yourself in conversations, relationships, and jobs that aren’t what you hoped, thinking, “hang on, haven’t I been here before?” If you have, then you could be suffering from some emotional baggage that won’t let go of its grip on you and your future.
Here are seven types of emotional baggage and what you can do to get rid of them so that they never hold you back again.
1. The Scared Child
The scared child tells you absolutes, like “I can’t do this”. They base every opportunity or obstacle on the theory that they’ve already failed because evidence from the past proves this, and they don’t think to override this.
A scared child is not always scared, nor does this emotional baggage showcase itself so obviously. A lot of the time, the scared child hides behind confidence and actions that mask the real issue(s). The challenge is that the scared child holds on to outdated beliefs about what is possible.
If you realize that you have a frightened version of yourself hanging out inside, think back to a time you felt truly loved. It didn’t matter what happened just that you remember how that person was there for you.
Imagine that you are four years old and really want to learn to ride a bike. Some of us are lucky enough to jump on, wobble a little, and fly off, never to look back at riding a bike as an obstacle. On the other hand, others will wobble and fall, and wobble and fall.
How does the wobbler get up and keep going? With love, the right people, and the right words.
As that voice says “you can’t do this,” along comes someone that loves you who says “you’ve got this.” Even if you haven’t, they give you the self-belief to say “come on, let’s try again.” Look for those that nurture, love, and support you.
A word of caution—don’t wait for the outside world to help you overcome your scared inner child. It’s highly unlikely that no one got you washed and dressed today, interpreted what you said to get you breakfast, or brushed your teeth and hair for you. You have plenty of evidence that says you are not the child of your past because you’ve already achieved so much. Look for that evidence!
2. The Overbearing Parent/Teacher
“You will never amount to anything” or “Why won’t you apply yourself” is what they tell you. (See below for the opposite that can be just as disastrous for you to hang on to.)
Having negative people around that berate you can impact you for a long time. They may have meant well. They may have hoped their harsh powerful words would inspire you, not appreciating how they cut you down and made you feel like a failure. But that doesn’t give those words power—you are doing that.
What do you believe to be true about your capabilities that need to be challenged? I’ve heard clients tell me that they’re rubbish at maths or aren’t creative or have a left dominant brain and thus, it’s impossible for them to be good at certain tasks.
People still love personality tests that help them prove why they are good at things or bad at others, even though it’s been proven to be scientifically inaccurate. People will still hold on to pseudoscience unless it supports what they want to believe.
You may have been a messy teenager or a lazy intern, but that doesn’t define who you are in the future. You get to do that.
The opposite end of this scale is the people from your past who told you that you can do anything. How many have sat through a shocking rendition of a piece of music only to see the parent proudly waving and cheering with a phone in hand saying, “in 20 years, my little Sam will be the best musician in the world!”?
If you aren’t getting the results you want in life, then it could be that you’re holding on to baggage that says you rock at something when clearly, you need a reframe on that thought to be able to upskill and retrain. It takes guts to look at what you believe and ask, “Is this really true?”
You need to know that you are doing a good job, so if you are or not, getting the right feedback can enable or inhibit growth. According to a study, “78% of Gen Xers believe performance reviews are formalities that do not offer constructive opportunities for growth.” So, be mindful that you are seeking out quality feedback and not feedback that just reinforces what you already believe.
3. The Long-Gone Bully
Many have suffered at the hands of bullies at school and in their careers, and it can be hard to not let that emotional baggage stick around. With the long-gone bully, it’s less about what they say to you and more about what you wished you’d said to them.
Unfortunately, the number of people being cyberbullied rose by 37% between 2007 and 2019, and with growing anxiety, depression, and mental health issues on the rise around the world, the bully is not something that we get to easily outgrow.
If you have baggage on the things you wish you’d said, it may not be in your distant past. It could be something trite or unkind that someone said only recently that you wish you had spoken up about.
I often see this in workplace coaching. People hold on to old, outdated frustration where someone has let them down and they wished they told them what they really think. The important point is that past bullies can impact your future relationships and results, especially if you assume that the person before you today is speaking to you in the same way, with the same meaning, and wanting the same outcome as the bully from five, then, or 20 years ago.
Before you say anything, check that you’re not adding your own tonality or meaning to words, conversations, emails, or situations. I call these hot buttons. Words that hold meaning to you but may mean nothing special to the person you are talking to. Sometimes, it can be enough to write down your feelings and what you wanted to say, then burn it or delete it (so it doesn’t get accidentally sent on a bad day!).
Is this person really bullying you? Or are you adding an outdated interpretation to the conversation?
I worked with a team of people where there were hidden frictions that some described as bullying. When we bought the subject up in a safe, non-judgmental conversation, all parties were able to communicate how they felt and how it impacted them, their performance, and even their stress levels.
The surprise was that there was no bullying! The issue was that one person perceived another person’s actions differently and held on to old ideas on what this meant. It was impacting a team of 240 people!
It’s scary having difficult conversations, but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. If you struggle, you can try to learn how to have difficult conversations and get the results you want. Remember that getting the outcome you need doesn’t mean the other party will not get an outcome they need too.
4. The Inner Hater
There are no limits to what the inner hater can do to you. They’ve been in your mind, actions, and results for so long that they probably feel like a part of you. If you find you judge yourself harshly compared to everyone else, look for the hater. They will be able to list every occasion that you made a mistake, didn’t act quick enough, let someone down, or failed.
Every human fails, makes mistakes, gets it wrongs and lets, someone down. It’s important to remember that this doesn’t need to define your future. If you find that you are poor at hearing compliments or accepting you are doing brilliantly, test whether your inner hater is silenced.
The quickest way to do this is to take the “Why I’m Awesome” strategy from the book, Taking Control of Your Mind: Life Hacks to Resilience, Confidence, and Success. Then, write a large list (two sides) on why you are awesome. It may seem indulgent and pointless, however, we often find that emotional baggage is held on to when the facts are dismissed for the accepted beliefs.
So, if you want to ditch the emotional baggage and get what you want in life, then write that list. And make sure you pin it up somewhere, so you are reminded of just how awesome you really are.
5. The Angry Monster
Anger can be a piece of emotional baggage that is hard to get rid of. Anger can come from:
what people did
what you did
what you didn’t do
what they didn’t do
what the world looks like
even for your inability to queue without getting so mad that it ruins your day
Look for the anger in your life. It may not present as anger. You may not go red and look like steam is pouring out of your nose to have past anger damaging you. Holding on to hate is hard work and draining.
It doesn’t even have to be something that would warrant anger. A client had a real hatred of administration, it ruined their week. It was a hated necessity. They were one of life’s doers who hates to be tied to a desk. They hated school and the restrictions that came with early adulthood and loved the career that they had created. It honored who they are, their energy and passion for life—admin went against all of that.
Holding on to this anger was hard work. They would procrastinate on emails, put off phone calls, and delay paying bills until guilt reared its ugly head. Helping them see the damage it was doing helped them change.
Anger can stop you from dealing with your past and stop you from moving forward into a more positive state. Allowing the past to invade our daily lives can have damaging consequences. This quick action can be enough to jolt you into a more positive way of thinking, reacting, and acting.
6. The Unloved
Everyone has been ditched. If you feel like you aren’t good enough or can’t get things in life, are you holding on to beliefs about who people think you are? What people think you are like? That feeling that you aren’t good enough and unloved can be detrimental to every part of your life, even preventing you from finding love.
I coached someone on finding a partner, which they achieved in six months. They discovered that they were holding on to outdated ideas on what was possible and what people would think of them.
Of all the fears I see impact happiness and success, the fear of what people will think of us can hang out in so many fears. You can stop this from happening by defining how you see the world.
Remember that what goes on in your head is personal to you. No one can own it or be involved in it without your permission. Start here and then, look around you to discover how this manifests in your life.
For my client, we discovered that they didn’t even have a room in the closet for another person’s coat and shoes, let alone their belongings. Becoming aware of the way they were living helped them adjust to being open to a new and better way of moving forward that would remove the feeling of being unloved.
7. The Unlucky
The unlucky will be able to tell you how they’ve never achieved a promotion, never won a competition, or be chosen first. Okay, so during basketball practice in your teens, you may have been chosen last, but that doesn’t mean you are going to keep that level of luck for the rest of your life.
With that in mind, holding on to outdated beliefs on your luck makes you the victim of your life. And if you are the victim, there’s nothing you can do about it.
This doesn’t just work on luck. If you work in the public sector or fit any popular media story (having a long-term illness, stressed, overworked, parent, teen, etc.), then, you are likely to be bombarded about how poorly paid you are and how the government, public, and media don’t appreciate you.
When working with these demographics, I often find that this is detrimental baggage that stops people from finding better ways of working so that they reduce stress and enjoy work more, often working fewer hours.
So, if you want to hold onto that baggage, what will you be accepting? As a parent or teen, you can feel like you are constantly being put upon—if you were to flip that, could you see that you are also trusted and relied upon? That you are loved and valued?
For any of these, look for the feelings you get as a result—do you feel guilty? Frustrated? Regretful? Unappreciated?
Learn more about what’s impacting you and start asking yourself:
What do I want to feel from now on?
What changes do I want to see in my life, thoughts, and happiness?
Change needs something positive to work on, and that’s a lot easier to achieve when you know what your emotional baggage is doing to you. As Wilhelm Reich famously said, “The less he understands something, the more firmly he believes in it.” Let me know how you get rid of your emotional baggage and the impact it has.