Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Why Mastering Your Emotional Baggage Is Essential in 2020

The decisions you make this year can bring you joy or leave you in despair.

Photo by Gustavo Fring/ Pexels
Photo by Gustavo Fring/ Pexels

If you have been going through life anxious, depressed, chronically angry, lonely, unfocused, or feeling taken advantage of, there's a good chance you are carrying around some significant emotional baggage.

Sometimes it's not easy to see how emotional difficulties fit together or where they came from. You just go through life not quite happy, facing interpersonal struggles and wondering why everything seems so hard.

Emotional baggage is the combination of problems that collect and occur when you have not learned adequate coping skills. You haven't learned how to trust yourself, set relationship boundaries, think in patterns that are constructive rather than destructive, or manage your emotions such that your needs are met. When those things are not in place, it is impossible to flourish.

Emotional baggage typically starts to collect when you are young. Chaotic, abusive, depressive, or perfectionistic family backgrounds are just a few that begin this process of packing your emotional psyche with enough junk to last a lifetime. Unfortunately, if not corrected, it does hang around for a lifetime.

Sometimes an unfortunate, traumatic event or betrayal can trigger the development of some emotional baggage. Being bullied or cheated on is an example. Your brain develops coping mechanisms to protect you; however, these mechanisms can go into overdrive and become limiting.

For example, if you have not learned to deal with conflict, you may hide or avoid a situation where what you really should be doing is sticking up for or asserting yourself. By not sticking up for yourself you then feel weak, helpless, and sad, making you want to retreat further. It’s a vicious cycle.

This baggage, unfortunately, tends to rear its ugly head when you are faced with stressors or triggers. Hello, 2020!

Mastering this baggage in 2020 is essential as you have seen how life can change drastically in a very short time, leading to critical decisions that have to be made concerning work and finances, health, parenting, and overall lifestyle.

Decisions of this magnitude can be overwhelming, particularly when faced with several of them at a time. Low self-esteem and lack of confidence are conditions that are baggage-based and that limit your overall ability to make life decisions that lead to satisfaction rather than more stress. You may be letting others make decisions for you but then resent those decisions as they aren’t really reflective of you.

Challenges you may be facing right now

Financial stressors. Emotional baggage can influence your money mindset, putting you at a disadvantage for making positive change. You may believe your finances are a product of luck or circumstance rather than something under your control. You may have been taught that money is somehow “dirty” or taboo to talk about. It may be so stressful you ignore it altogether and fly by the seat of your pants.

Change of job or starting your own business. Maybe due to the loss of your job you are contemplating starting your own business. In addition to the money mindset mentioned above, you will need confidence in yourself and your decision-making abilities, as well as the relationship skills necessary for marketing yourself. Emotional baggage in the form of low self-esteem or dysfunctional thinking patterns can interfere with this process, costing you precious amounts of time and money. If you have been dependent on others for advice or life choices, you may now be terrified. If you are making a major change, it is better to make it based on your own desires than those of others.

Lifestyle changes. Fear as well as self-esteem and ego can become big players in this scenario with a possible major change in lifestyle due to finances. All the anxieties kick in and the “what ifs” start to haunt you at night. You may become depressed and feel like a failure if your children have to change schools or you are forced to downsize in some way. Learning to trust yourself, being comfortable in your own skin, and developing resiliency is key to mastery here. Emotional baggage tied up in outward appearances and feelings of inferiority will do you no favors as you make these tough decisions.

Relationship problems. All of the Covid19 togetherness may have brought to the surface the fact that you are in a really unhappy or stressful relationship. It is somewhat easier to overlook major relationship problems when you are apart and busy, not that you weren’t aware but also not critically pressing. If you have been tolerating any form of abuse or toxicity it is likely you are carrying baggage that needs to go. This emotional baggage may be in the form of codependency, dependency, low self-esteem, trust issues, or attachment difficulties. Working on these things will allow you the confidence and self-love that will move you forward toward a satisfying and healthy relationship.

Chronic anger. This year is certainly one for becoming angry. The feelings of being out of control with our environments due to the virus, fires and storms in addition to the fierce political climate is taxing everyone to their limits. If your emotional baggage is in the form of chronic anger then reigning it in is critical to your wellbeing. Anger can be behind such conditions as high blood pressure, heart conditions and chronic headaches. It is the worst emotion that you can experience in terms of your health. It also makes you difficult to be around, therefore often limiting your social options. Dysfunctional thinking patterns are typically behind chronic anger and taint the way you see the world or interpret events.

Boundaries. You may find yourself working from home, homeschooling, or trying to work in a household where other family members or roommates have a lot of free time. People may be asking you to cover for them, take care of their children, run errands, or whatever other time-suck they can think of that will help them. But none of this is helping you if you don’t have time for it and will drain you of all emotional resources. If the people in your life get used to taking advantage of your time what is to stop them in 2021? You may believe you are being selfish or unkind if you don’t bend to their demands. You may fear they will abandon you and that you will be alone. You may secretly like that they need you as it makes you feel a bit important. These are baggage-based thoughts that when eliminated free you up to live the life you want.

Parenting. Emotional baggage and dysfunctional thinking patterns are unfortunately very easily passed along from generation to generation. They are a burden that interferes with joy and designing a life filled with satisfaction and happiness. Using examples from this year’s difficulties, teach your children all the constructive thinking skills that you can to help insulate them and build resiliency. Eliminating your own baggage frees up your children from carrying it forward.

I hope that I have tied the big picture together of how emotional baggage can affect the way you plan and carry out your life. Just one piece such as low self-esteem can reach out over many areas of your life and limit your options. You may be faced right now with making major life decisions and you will make better ones if they are not baggage-based.

The good news is that these pieces of baggage can be eliminated, they are not lifelong conditions that have to keep you stuck in unending negative and exhausting patterns. Self-help resources, coaches, and psychologists can all help you in this process. Knock this stuff out.

More from Audrey Sherman Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today
More from Audrey Sherman Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today