Most of us have accumulated some emotional baggage. It may appear in the form of anger, shame, guilt, judgement or a variety of other “dark” emotions that weigh us down, prevent us from moving forward or cultivating a sense of well-being. The weight of past trauma, choices made we later regret, words never said to a loved one who has passed, the secrets of our childhood that still cause us pain, addiction, abuse, a relationship we never healed – these are heavy burdens.
Carrying this heavy emotional baggage around can create a barrier to making healthy lifestyle choices, can interfere with our significant relationships, keep us stuck in old habit patterns and interfere with achieving our professional goals and personal desires. Holding on to this emotional burden has a direct and lasting impact on our well-being and how we show up in our jobs, in our relationships and with our families.
We may try to shove these “dark” and heavy emotional memories and wounds to the back of the closet believing that when they are buried and out of sight they are no longer impacting our lives.
Unfortunately, this is not the case.
Our Emotional Memory
Significant, and emotionally impactful, life events are remembered by the brain differently than day to day memories. These memories interact with the amygdala, the brains emotional center, and are stored as deep-rooted emotional memories. Additionally, these emotional memories are very strongly encoded and include sensory memory of the experience – what you were seeing, hearing, smelling, thinking and doing. As a result you can physiologically “feel” these memories. As we journey through our lives, events and relationships very easily trigger these amygdala memories creating an even stronger neural connection. When these memories are triggered, the emotions are triggered as well as a biological response and we may find ourselves responding in a reactive, repetitive behavior pattern.
Last weekend I lead a Women’s Wellness Weekend with 10 amazing women. I watched these women as we moved through our days together begin to put their baggage down. It was such an incredible journey to observe the powerful changes that took place as these emotional memories were brought to the surface and released. The resulting lightness of spirit was palpable.
Expression and Awareness
So, how do we out our baggage down? I believe the key is expression and awareness. Instead of pushing the event into the background of our minds it is so much better for us to bring the event and memories to the surface and to explore them. As we journal, share our stories, uncover the memories, we give voice to and name these “dark” and heavy emotions. As a result, over time we begin heal the emotional wound and shake loose the emotional memory.
As these “dark” and heavy emotions begins to soften their grip we can also engage our thinking brain and examine the event from a place of learning and gathering wisdom from the impact of the event. Is there a new way I can think about the experience? Could I have had handled the situation differently? What are new skills I can take away from this exploration and practice when I encounter these feelings and similar experiences? In the expression and awareness of these memories and emotions we can actually open the door to new possibilities and to change.
Miriam Greenspan writes, “The “dark” emotions are inevitable. They are part of the universal human experience and are certainly worthy of our attention. They bring us important information about ourselves and the world and can be vehicles for profound transformation.”
So, lighten your load and put your baggage down. Open the suitcase and look inside. Unpack all the “dark” and heavy emotions. Name them. Explore them. Learn from them. Feel yourself step gently forward with less baggage.