Emotional Baggage: How To Let Go
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We all have that one box that sits on the shelf in the closet. Or up in the attic. Or down in the basement. We all have that box full of memories—good or bad—that we can’t unpack and let go. The box may be filled with our childhood Teddy bear or a medal we won in high school. Pictures, letters, and souvenirs of lost loved ones reside in this box, and no matter how many times we move or reach another birthday, the box remains. As long as we keep it out of sight, it won’t get in the way.
While it may be true that a box of mementos may not impede your life, it is possible that its presence is preventing you from utilizing that space for your benefit. Think for a moment about your box of memories. What objects are inside that you can’t live without? Now, think for a moment about the feelings you have attached to those objects. What feelings do you hold onto?
Like our memory boxes, we all keep a trove of emotions tucked away in our minds. These emotions may be guilt, anger, sadness, or grief. We may be anxious about someone else’s behavior and our lack of control. We may pine for the past or fret over the future, when really we should be living in the present. Our minds may repeat a nervous or negative mantra, daily, preventing us from letting go of the weights that free us emotionally.
Why Let Go?
Often, we define ourselves by the emotions we feel. We say, “I’m scared” or “I’m frustrated”, but in reality, we only feel those emotions. By identifying with these sensations, we become them. In essence, we become emotional packrats. As with many positivity exercises that modify behavior after repeating encouraging and optimistic messages, the self-defeating mantras we harbor modify our perceptions to see only the negative.
You may tell yourself that playing the role of the victim or hiding from your fears is easier, and that’s true. Instant gratification feels good, and for a moment the proverbial band-aid conceals the pain. However, leaving a wound untreated can fester and become a much larger problem than when you first were injured.
Why People Hold On
Regardless of what is in your emotional baggage, it is preventing you from living your life now. Daydreaming is healthy, but obsessing is crippling. Learning from past mistakes is enlightening, but choking on anger, embarrassment, or pain is damaging. Allowing fears and frustrations to control your behavior restricts other people (children, spouses, friends) and may manifest into physical ailments. It’s possible to develop depression, and the effects of experiencing chronic negative emotions can cause back, chest, and head pain; sexual issues; weight fluctuations; and digestive problems, including ulcers.
Clearing Your Closet
We all have emotional and mental clutter. Some of us may struggle with a particular relationship or temporary emotion, while others may be living with years of self-abuse and emotional hoarding. Whatever the size of your suitcase, it is time to unpack. It may be impossible to get rid of everything (without memories, who are we?), but wallowing in negativity will destroy your chances to feel positive in the present.
1. Start with acceptance. As with any 12-step program, admit you have a problem. Identify the emotions you feel and own them. Every human does it, but it doesn’t mean that you have to allow them to control your life.
2. Recognize why you want to keep this emotion around. Like a child clings tightly to a “lovie” when he or she is scared, holding on to something familiar helps us cope. But it’s also important to concede that people or events can’t make you happy. By holding onto the hope for a better job, more money, that special someone, you are allowing this dearth to dictate your emotions.
3. Realize what you can’t do with these emotions and what you can do instead. Ask yourself what holding onto these feelings does for you? Do you feel safer? Do you feel happier? Chances are the only thing you are doing is wasting your time. Reliving the past or worrying about the future neglects this simple fact: There is nothing you can do about it. Nothing. Instead, take control of what you can. Be honest with others and yourself.
4. Unpack your baggage and let it go. This sounds very simple, and it is, but it takes discipline and practice. Be easy on yourself, and allow yourself to feel the emotions that come to you. The worst thing you can do is be too critical of yourself. Also, realize that now is the only time you have control of, so it is now that you need to react.
The Sedona Method
Step 1: Envision the problem that you want to let go. Embrace any emotion (even a lack of emotion).
Step 2: Ask yourself 1) Could I let it go? 2) Could I allow this feeling to be here? 3) Could I welcome this feeling? Respond instinctually and instantly; it’s okay to say “no”.
Step 3: Regardless of your answers, ask yourself Am I willing to let it go? If “no”, ask yourself if you would rather be free of the feeling or continue on with it.
Step 4: Again, regardless of your answers, ask yourself When? If the answer is “now”, let go what you can. If you are still unable, at least recognition and acceptance has occurred.
Step 5: Repeat. You can repeat this method as often as you’d like, about the same problems, if you’d like. Letting go of one issue may take months or an hour. Just remember that once you have started the process, you’ve already made an improvement.
- Melissa Lavery, M.S.
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Lickerman, A. (2013, September 29). How To Let Go. Retrieved February 21, 2015, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/happiness-in-world/201309/how-let-go
Mazarin, J. (2012). 9 Practical and Spiritual Tips for Letting Go of Unhealthy Attachments. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 18, 2015, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2012/08/20/9-practical-and-spiritual-tips-for-letting-go-of-unhealthy-attachments/
Mind/Body Connection: How Your Emotions Affect Your Health. (2010). Retrieved February 21, 2015, from http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/prevention-wellness/emotional-wellbeing/mental-health/mind-body-connection-how-your-emotions-affect-your-health.html
The Sedona Method | Heal Yourself by Letting Go | Official Site. (2015). Retrieved February 23, 2015, from http://www.sedona.com/Home.asp