Author: Georgina Barrick
Recently, I (like many of my contemporaries) have helped my elderly parents move out of the home that they inhabited for almost a lifetime. To call the process fraught would underestimate the toll it took on all of us. For nearly 40 years, my parents lived, loved and experienced life in this house, collecting memories – and stuff.
Sorting through it, this detritus of a lifetime, and watching my parents unable to let it go, was a powerful lesson for me, forcing me to look at how we all carry baggage (both physical and emotional) that weighs us down. Letting go of this baggage can set us free…
We all carry personal baggage.
For some of us, this baggage is physical. Like magpies, we pick up, collect and fill up our spaces with things that bring us joy or that we know we’ll ‘use someday’ and believe we simply can’t do without. And, as it fills up our lives, this stuff brings comfort – a physical safety blanket.
Others carry emotional baggage. The unresolved past emotional traumas, issues and stresses that occupy our minds and spill over, colouring all of our new experiences or encounters – and giving rise to prolonged feelings of guilt, regret, shame, anger, fear or stress. It’s the critical inner voice constantly telling us that we’re not good enough or can’t change the outcome.
While we might not all hoard stuff, we certainly all carry some form of emotional baggage.
Like an overfull backpack, emotional baggage cannot be contained indefinitely.
It overflows, impacting the carefully crafted new reality that we’ve created for ourselves.
Sometimes, it manifests physically, causing health issues like unexplained back pain, headaches or stomach problems. Prolonged stress is a known trigger for cancer and heart disease.
Emotional baggage can also become a barrier to making healthy lifestyle changes. If we’ve dealt with past trauma by developing bad habits – like smoking, binge drinking or comfort eating – it can be really hard to break the pattern and stop. And, carrying our personal perceptions of past (bad) experiences into our relationships or workplace can negatively impact our connection to others or prejudice our career ambitions.
So, how do we ‘unload our backpack’ and slip out from under our emotional baggage?
The first step towards letting go of emotional baggage is to understand it – and what caused it.
Think deeply about situations that have upset you, made you feel uncomfortable or stirred up negative emotion. Try to identify what made you upset – be it unexpressed feelings of hurt, unresolved anger, regret or grief. If these feelings haven’t been allowed to run their course, they’ll hang around, repeatedly causing issues in your life.
You may need to talk to a therapist or trusted friend for help with this process.
The ability to understand the reality of a situation, without needing to fight it or change the outcome, is acceptance. If we’re able to look at a negative experience without emotion or expectation and view it pragmatically, we remove our need to be tied to changing the outcome – and can start the process of acceptance.
We’re human – and we make mistakes. We all feel guilt, regret and shame over our actions – but, sometimes, we hang onto these feelings as a way to punish ourselves.
And, while we can neither change the past nor predict the future, we can let these feelings go and forgive ourselves (and others). Accept your choices. Learn from your mistakes. Own your truth. Stop the retroactive self-judgement. Remember that you’ve done good and can be proud of the many positive things that you have done in your life.
Channel Your Anger…
Often, we’re taught that being angry is bad and that, when someone wrongs us or we observe injustice, we should ‘turn the other cheek’. But, hanging onto anger can be deleterious.
Allow yourself time to rant or cry. If you can, explain your anger to the person who caused it. Understand your role in the situation and determine whether you could have done anything better.
Channelling your anger positively can be very empowering.
Sometimes, we are so caught up in our past experiences that we forget to simply be – to live right now. Practising mindfulness involves accepting your thoughts and feelings, without judgement. To be mindful is to live in the present moment, rather than reliving the past or imagining the future.
If your baggage is more physical, than emotional, it’s important to make time to declutter.
As good place to start is with Marie Kondo, the Japanese organisation expert, who created a system for simplifying and organising your home by getting rid of physical items that do not bring you joy. Kondo believes that, to thrive creatively, your home should be filled only with items that you cherish.
Whether your baggage is physical, emotional or both, letting it go can set you free.
And, ensuring that you don’t allow emotional baggage to overwhelm your life going forward is a good goal.
‘Choose not to be harmed and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed and you haven’t been.’
Georgina Barrick, MD of Cassel&Co and The Working Earth, all divisions of ADvTECH Resourcing (Pty) Ltd. Georgina has over 25 years of recruitment and executive search experience.