Saturday, May 9, 2015

Do you have "Emotional Baggage"? (of course you do)

Relationships are messy. We are social beings but we are imperfect. Strong emotional bonds form between people, and therein lay the potential for both deep connection, and also feelings of abandonment. Chances are you carry with you some emotional “baggage”;   if not from an adult relationship, often from a childhood one.  And if you are reading this it probably means that experiences from your past have felt hurtful in some way and have come to impact the way you relate to others now.

When we think of baggage we tend to think of something heavy and burdensome, that we would rather not carry. So my next question is;          Why do aspects of your relational past feel like they are getting in your way today? 

Another way of feeling could be that you have loved and lost, you have had some painful experiences with loved ones and intimates,  but you see those experiences as part of who you are and not a drain on you psychologically.  Sounds nice right? But for most of us, someone has caused enough harm at some point to leave us struggling in at least a few areas of intimacy or connectedness.

So what can we do that will allow us to heal, to move through painful experiences with others and to emerge feeling whole and centered? The answer is lengthy and much has been written about this topic but let me attempt to capture a few key areas for focus that can set the path toward healing from relational baggage:

·       Integrate.  In terms of experience, to be able to integrate something that has occurred requires that we are able to think about what happened. We can block thinking with alcohol, drugs, or a process of coping with very difficult experience called dissociation. And some way of blocking out pain is often employed by us when we are overwhelmed.  But blocked experiences can remain stuck and unresolved. They become like phantoms popping up when we are triggered by anything that our brain senses as similar.  In this way, something as benign as an unanswered text can lead to a cascade of emotions linked to a previous abandonment.  We can experience confusing feelings such as anger, sadness, fear, anxiety, guilt, shame and bring a whole host of less than optimal moments to our relationship.


·       Become aware. By proactively thinking about your past and your relational hardships, and becoming mindful of your feelings, thoughts, perceptions and beliefs around these stressful events - you can give your mind the tools it needs to start to heal.


·       Speak it. Find someone to listen. Talk about what is upsetting you, what happened, how it felt, how you understood it, why you think it occurred, and how it effected other areas of your life. If possible find a therapist for at least a few sessions to process your baggage so you can subject past hurts to the light of today.


·       Find meaning. Sort through the experiences that have hurt you, or caused you to disconnect, lose trust, feel fear or shame. Identify ways these feelings are triggering alarms or causing discomfort today. Note when and under what circumstances you feel the difficulty. Then take measures to care for yourself NOW. 


·       Strive to heal.  What did you need when the hurt originally occurred? Did you need more honesty, safety, compassion, love, communication, empathy, or attention?  Knowing what your unmet need was when you became burdened with baggage can help you give that to yourself now, and to request that kind of care in your current relationship.

 If it feels like there is something blocking you from being open to true intimacy in your current relationship, it may be that your current relationship lacks the warmth or authenticity necessary to allow you to feel connected. But it is also true that many of the feelings that haunt our current relationships are leftover from the past. You deserve a fuller experience and looking through that heavy luggage can reveal what needs attention.


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