What is emotional baggage?

For starters, let's explore many different frames of reference for what the metaphor of "emotional baggage" represents. I've had a great time for the past week making connections between this psychological concept and all my new learning about cognitive neuroscience. So I've got lots more frames of reference now than I did a week ago to look at the thought patterns of emotional baggage.
  1. We may acquire our emotional baggage in the midst of experiences of tragic loss. We may have experienced an irreplaceable loss of safety in our living situation, self confidence in our abilities, courage to take additional risks, self respect in order to expect respect from others, or many other personal qualities we value. We may also have endured an irreconcilable loss of a significant person in our life, trust in someone close to us, belief in another's capabilities or other qualities we value in others. Within this frame, baggage is the scar from such a deep loss.
  2. We may come by lasting emotional baggage from someone's else's baggage showing up in our face or on our case. We may have taken the brunt of their acting out, going ballistic, losing their grip, displacing their anxiety, misdirecting their self-contempt or some other form of abuse. We feel either trapped by their aggression or challenged to fight back with an alarmed sense of chronic danger. We react with our survival instincts that seek to memorize predictable threats so we do not get caught off guard again. Our baggage keeps us safe amidst continuing threats to our survival.
  3. We may experience emotional baggage as drawing a blank, being speechless, coming up with nothing to say or other blockages to our self expression. Others may have silenced our unique voices, the display of our feelings, or unconventional point of view. We acquire resilient baggage from getting told to stop what we're thinking, feeling or expressing. Our baggage keeps us stifled, inhibited, or blocked from realizing our hidden talents, exceptional gifts and valuable character traits. We are playing by unwritten rules like "stick to your own kind", "don't get isolated from the herd", "rely on strength in numbers", or "don't mess with the cohesion of your tribe".
  4. We may find our baggage taking control of episodes of our life. We may repeatedly sabotage attempts at business success, personal relationships or new projects at home. We may go through days where nothing is going our way or no one is giving us any help. Our baggage may contain a belief system about our dreadful destiny, cruel fate or perpetual bad luck -- that plays itself out in our lives on occasion. Baggage can turn our lives into quiet desperation, chronic misery or one long nightmare.
  5. Our emotional baggage can make us very difficult to get along with or be patient with our shortcomings. When we are acting like a jerk, whiner, control freak, bigot, sad sack, predator or many other obnoxious roles, our baggage is running our show. We're possessed by something other than the side of our personality which makes a good impression, shows interest in others and earns the respect of people we admire. We cannot stop it's outbursts, get control of it's urges or keep it from taking over our conduct.
  6. Our baggage invents disguises so we appear to not have any baggage. We hide the fact we've been shocked by what happened to us years ago. We pretend to be in control of our lives now. We keep up the impression of being civilized, rational, thoughtful and respectful of others. We put on a show of compatibility, confidence and cleverness. Our baggage lurks behind the mask it concocted like a personal dark side, demon or shadow that is ready to pounce when provoked.
  7. Our baggage represents the decision we made in haste, while feeling desperate and frothing with self-incriminations. We perpetually live with the consequences of having been so wrong, vulnerable, foolish, unguarded or trusting at that moment when the decision was made. We "know better now" and have stopped questioning our decision. No one can tell us any different and our decision stands unchallenged. We have decided against our best interests and those of others we care about, in order to be right about what happened a long time ago.
With so many viable frames of reference for relating to our emotional baggage, we'll find as many ways to realize solutions that change our lives.

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