Emotional Baggage Claim

We live in a culture where perfection is idealized. We strive to be the best at everything and find fault with even the slightest deviation from that. The phrase “that’s good enough” is, for many, seen as blasphemy. As Americans, we value independence, hard work, and supremacy. Unfortunately, it is these qualities that cause us a great deal of undeserved pain and self loathing.

Our habit of “doing” often becomes a way for us to distract ourselves from feeling. Emotions are too often viewed as a weakness, and expression of those emotions is not allowed in so many settings. We aren’t allowed to be “emotional” at work, school or with friends…really in public at all. Many children are raised to present a perfect facade when around others and to never let the world see what they are really feeling. This habit grows to include not only those emotions that are painful, but those that are joyful as well.

A great number of us feel that it’s not okay to express “too much” happiness or excitement. We aren’t to believe too strongly in a dream or put too much time into imagining positive possibilities. Over time, this keeps many people from actually being able to experience those positive emotions at all. They won’t allow themselves to become too excited or happy for fear of disappointment or looking “foolish.” This essentially cuts out a great deal of happiness in their lives. In a vein attempt to avoid felling “bad,” we don’t allow ourselves to feel good.

Instead of feeling such emotions, we fall back onto our standby…doing. Instead we commit to being the best at work, obtaining the perfect body, creating the perfect home, being the perfect parent, the perfect student, the perfect sports player, game player, musician… We seek to acquire the most “things,” collect the most points, receive the most validation. In truth when we move from feeling to doing we are seeking a more “acceptable” way to fill the void that not feeling leaves.

While this absolutely does work for a time, we begin to realize that those emotions did not dematerialize. Instead we find that we put them into a backpack and carry them with us. As the bag gets heavier, we feel more and more overwhelmed by all that life throws at us.

Emotions don’t go away without being attended to, no matter how much we wish they would. We will see each and every one of them again, and we when we do, they usually feel much stronger then they did when we first packed them away. Those feelings of pain, sadness, and anger are especially difficult to ignore forever. Those particular emotions band together like an army regime and often explode when they make their reappearance. This is why it is especially important to deal with them when they arrive the first time. You’ll know you’ve been attacked by them when you have that feeling of not acting like yourself. Something small turns into something big, and you are suddenly irate about an issue that really doesn’t bother you all that much. You’ll wonder “why was I so mad?”

Here are some tips to keep from acquiring emotional luggage.

  • Examine what you tell yourself about feelings.
    • Do you label feelings as “good” or “bad” and why?
    • Do you judge others as weak for having feelings?
    • Do you tell yourself it’s not okay to feel a certain way?
    • Challenge your preconceived ideas that emotions are not okay to have or to express.
  • When you have an emotion, write, think, or talk about what you are feeling.
    • Journals are particularly good for getting out your thoughts and feelings in a safe environment. No one is going to see this but you, so you can allow yourself to be honest about what you are feeling without fear of judgement.
    • Thinking through emotions and why you are feeling a particular way or why you aren’t allowing yourself to feel a particular way, can help you gain insight into yourself.
    • Talking with a counselor or friend who can offer validation of your feelings helps you become more comfortable and confident in your expression of emotions. Understanding we are all human and each of us has these same feelings helps us see ourselves as in a more positive and accurate way.
  • Self Acceptance
    • Accepting that you have the right to have feelings and those feelings have the right to be expressed brings a freedom that you didn’t know you were lacking.
    • Accept that you are a human being, and human beings have feelings.
    • Don’t label the feelings as good or bad, but acknowledge their existence.
    • Give yourself permission to experience and express those emotions.
  • Make changes
    • Once you gain an acceptance of what your feelings are and where they are coming from, it is often necessary to make changes in your life.
    • If you aren’t allowing yourself to feel joy, make the change to accept happiness without fear.
    • If you feel that you can’t express your anger, make the change to speak out without judgement.

Happiness, excitement, fear, pain, love, the full spectrum of emotion is what defines us as humans. We are born to experience all of these feelings. They are what make our lives worth living. They motivate, empower and bond us. Don’t push them aside into your Samsonite collection, but rather embrace them as you embrace all that life has to offer you.