If you are a human being who has had any experience on this earth with other human beings, you probably have some emotional baggage. If you have a family, you definitely do. Some of us have more than others, and some of us are more aware of how much we carry with us. Bottom line: we all carry experiences from our past, and they often show up in situations where they aren't really welcome or invited. During times of transition or change, this emotional baggage can become very apparent. So can the importance of figuring out how to let it go.
If we are lucky (or unfortunate, depending on your perspective), at some point in our lives we will be called to change—to show up differently or better for someone we love, to honor our own truth, or to respond to a more global need. We do not ask for this to happen. We feel content in our lives overall and are typically happy to continue on just that way (or, maybe we are not awake enough to realize we are mostly happy. So here is our wake-up call). And as I’m sure you know and have experienced personally, that is usually the time when everything starts to shift. Sometimes a significant loss may cause us to question everything in our life. Maybe the birth of something (or someone) new. Or maybe we get hurt or hurt someone else. If we are fully engaged in our lives, we keep growing. Even when it's uncomfortable, even when we don't particularly feel like it. We are challenged to show up better for ourselves and the people we love.
These experiences are deeply uncomfortable. Our bodies often don’t feel like a safe place when we enter these periods of transition and change. For me, my stomach knots up and it’s hard to eat sometimes. The burning anxiety in my chest feels like a fire that started in my belly and is quickly getting out of control. The moments of peace we find are fleeting at best. As soon as we find them, they’re gone. We are uprooted.
Continuing to cling to old ways of thinking and (not) feeling holds us back. Not only does it make the transition more painful, but we don’t get as much out of it as we could. And honestly, if I am going to go through something life-changing, I’d like to reap the benefits of that. Most of us want to be in control, and not knowing how to do something feels really scary. But letting go is necessary sometimes. Sometimes it’s what we need to do to survive, to continue living and breathing and feeling our hearts beating. Literally surviving. Sometimes it’s because we’re ready for something different, because our bones are aching for something new. And sometimes we don’t have a choice.
It hurts to hold on to the old stuff and it gets heavy. It’s so heavy. And it hurts to let go, too.
Our emotional baggage weighs us down. It’s loaded with unresolved conflict, old wounds, painful interactions, and unmet needs. So much of what shows up in the present has nothing to do with what we are experiencing right in front of us, especially when in relationships with others. Engaging in the old patterns and referring to the old wounds is very much like pulling something out of your closet that you wore 20 years ago and is definitely not in fashion anymore.
What if letting go of the old stuff means we are making room for what really matters to us? What if what really matters to us has changed over time and we need to slow down and recognize how our values have shifted? What if it means that the lighter our load, the more authentic we can be in our lives? And that we will actually learn what our authentic selves look like? And maybe most importantly, what are you hiding that you think you could use later? Let it go. You won't use it the way you think you will. It’s not useful anymore. And it could hurt someone and it could hurt you by hijacking your relationship and getting in the way of real connection.
If you’re ready to address the emotional baggage you carry, here are some guiding steps:
- Take inventory: What thoughts, feelings, and memories tend to show up for you when you’re experiencing a big life transition? Do you find yourself saying “I hate change”? What comes up for you here can be an indicator of old wounds that need to be healed. We are also able to catch a glimpse of the way we’ve dealt with change and transition in the past. It’s an opportunity to ask ourselves if this attitude actually serves us anymore. Does it?
- Allow yourself to feel the pain: So much of our fear of transition, change, and letting go has to do with avoiding the grief that underlies loss. There is no right way to grief and also no easy way to grieve. The best we can do is sit with the hurt, breathe, and notice that we are still alive, even though we’re hurting.
- Get some new tools: Learning to approach challenging situations in a different way can feel overwhelming at first, but you aren’t alone in this journey. We are all right there with you. Reading books and articles, talking with friends and family, and coming to therapy are all ways we can begin feelings more capable of letting go of old patterns.
Examining these patterns is not fun, easy, or comfortable. Growth sometimes comes at a cost, and pays off when we are able to fully be ourselves, love each other without resentment, and live a little bit lighter.