How to let go of emotional baggage

let go of emotional baggage

The monkey on your back.

Do you ever feel like you have a gorilla on your back?  I sometimes do.  That is what carrying emotional baggage can feel like, holding you down with the weight of the world.  Lately, I have had some family issues come up that have been weighing me down and prompting me to ponder how to let go of emotional baggage.  Letting go is truly the only way to find joy and balance in life.

What is emotional baggage?  Basically anything negative that has happened to you in the past that affects your current behavior and attitudes.  As an example, I absolutely hate conflict and avoid it at all costs, due to arguments I witnessed between my divorced parents as a child.  Since then, I have learned how to improve my communication as an adult and deal with conflict better.  However, any dissension still causes instant stress and knots in the pit of my stomach and I often hold things in in order to avoid that friction.

Baggage can come in many forms.  Probably the most common form involves family, especially parents, although other members can be involved.  Most people that I know have some past or present conflict with their family that affects how they make decisions today.  Maybe your mother was hypercritical of you, so you only expect absolute perfection from yourself and fall apart if anything goes wrong.  Or perhaps your father was working all of the time and didn’t spend any quality time with you, so you become clingy and insecure in romantic relationships.  Another form of baggage can be from trauma, either physical or emotional.  This could be due to a potentially life-threatening event to you or someone dear to you, an unexpected death or a violent attack.  Trauma can also be due to a long, drawn-out divorce or even bullying as a child.  As a veterinarian, I have dealt with death more times than I care to remember, sometimes multiple deaths in a day.  During those traumatic days, I could barely hold it together long enough to get out of the door before bursting into tears.  Relationship baggage is also very common since we humans are social creatures.  If you have been cheated on or betrayed in the past, you’re probably going to have a harder time trusting someone in the future.  The fear of trusting others is actually a phobia called pistanthrophobia, which is a classic example of emotional baggage.  In addition, addiction, either by oneself or a loved one, can be another form of baggage that’s difficult to overcome.  I have witnessed the effects of addiction on family members and heard the excuses made for that loved one’s poor behavior.

How to let go of emotional baggage

First of all, realize that it is completely normal to be affected by past events.  All of us are molded by our past experiences.  However, if we don’t acknowledge and let go of the past, we can become emotionally crippled for the future.  As I previously mentioned, I have been dealing with some family issues that I can’t control.  Someone very dear to me isn’t taking control of their life and continues to make self-destructive choices.  Although I am worried for their future, I have to accept that I can’t control this person’s decisions and can only provide support when they ask for help.  I am learning to let go of emotional baggage in my own life in order to move on and be present for my family and myself.  So what are some ways to let go of emotional baggage in your own life?

  • First of all, acknowledge and be thankful for the event- You can’t let go of the monkey on your back until you admit that it is digging its claws into your flesh.  Plus, you wouldn’t be the perfectly imperfect being that you are today without these difficult experiences.  So give thanks and let it go.
  • Accept that you can’t change anyone but yourself– This is a hard one, I get it.  At some point in our lives, we all think we can fix the flaws in a loved one.  However, it doesn’t matter if your wife has a shopping habit or your boyfriend is too controlling and demands to know your whereabouts at all times.  They will not change until they want to, and you might be waiting a very long time for that.  Accept it and move on.  YOU. CAN’T. FIX. THEM. Period, end of story.  The serenity prayer rings true:

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;

the courage to change the things I can;

and the wisdom to know the difference.”

  • Learn to release the anger and resentment- Another hard one, because a lot of us like to hold grudges for years.  For example, my grandmother had a falling out with her sister for some reason unknown to the family and held on to that for many decades.  Keep in mind that she and her two sisters were war brides from Australia and their only family in this country.  She never had a good relationship with her sister.  Consequently, she ended up an unhappy, lonely person in the end, but for what?  We are all on this wonderful earth for a relatively short time.  Why not enjoy your time as much as possible?  The bitterness will eat away at your soul and leave you an empty shell of who you were.  You can’t truly find joy if you’re harboring negative thoughts about someone.  Ironically, they probably don’t even know that you are holding these thoughts, so you’re only hurting yourself.  Don’t waste your precious time and energy on holding a grudge.  LOVE YOURSELF enough to move past the anger and hurt. .
  • Let go of the past in order to be in the present and focus on the future- This goes back to the trauma of the past.  Sometimes people get so stuck on a past event, that they can’t move forward.  I could focus on all of the deaths that I have seen and performed as a veterinarian and constantly question whether it was the right thing to do.  But that will not serve me now.  I have said my prayers and let it go, knowing that the past has shaped me into who I am today.  Therefore, I feel like I’m more empathetic and less judgmental than I used to be and am grateful for that.  Here is an enlightening look at how to release the past.

Hopefully, these ideas will help you to move forward in your life.  After all, it’s a lot easier to walk around just holding your own weight rather than carrying an extra 300 pounds of emotional pain.  You deserve to let go of emotional baggage and find your joy!


Joyful thought for the day, “Life teaches you the art of letting go in every event. When you have learned to let go you will be joyful, and as you start being joyful more will be given to you.”- Sri Sri

Heidi Ball
Heidi Ball is a licensed veterinarian who left general practice in order to focus on her health and family, and still does occasional relief work. She is a mom and wife who loves to cook real nourishing food for her family, garden in her illegal front garden bed, listen to enlightening podcasts, go out on foodie dates with her hubbie and be a homebody with her family.

3 Responses to “How to let go of emotional baggage

  • It did not occur to me that my vet would feel so deeply having to put my pet to sleep. I thank you for feeling those feelings, as hard as they are for you to have. It’s a hard decision, even when you know in your heart it is the one that will relieve your animal of unnecessary pain.

    • Thanks Natalie. It’s never easy to make the decision, no matter the circumstances. Every euthanasia affects me, so I always say a little prayer in my head to comfort the pet and especially the family.

      • jama:What perfect poems to express the tart and sweet, the joy and the dread! A good combination when it comes to life's big moments; they balance each other out. I'm totally with you on the flat shoes, but your friends will keep you from fleeing!

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