Emotional Baggage & Boundaries

A few days ago I got back from a really incredible trip to Southeast Asia. While I was there, I got to thinking about the constant evolution of life. As a living, breathing life force, every moment is moving us in one direction or another. Nothing stays the same forever, yet we can feel so much resistance to change. If we’re in a place of feeling good, we often want things to stay exactly as they are…except they never do. And when that change unwillingly occurs, we feel let down, betrayed, and abandoned. We think to ourselves, “never making that mistake again”. So we try our hardest to avoid anything that will open that old wound. Then we wonder why we’re not really satisfied with our relationships.

What prompted this reflection was that over the course of my trip, a man from my past went from being in the shadows of my life to front and center. This guy left me feeling emotionally wounded when our paths veered away years ago. And yet, here I was, finding myself having to adjust from my comfortable stance of keeping him out of sight and mind, to daily contact. There was quite a bit of reorienting to my new circumstances. It took no time at all for my mind to replay the laundry list of all the previous wrongdoings against me. Note, at this point, I wasn’t really considering my role in the relationship. Instead, as an automatic, fear-based reaction, I could feel the walls of defense going up. Hey guys, I’m here. Just peering over this thick, dense wall I have built up around me. Sup? This is where grounding and breathing exercises can be helpful to bring yourself back to the present moment to regroup. Ya know, before you need a wrecking crew to knock down that damn wall of defense.

I found a two-stage process most helpful for getting myself feeling like I was back calling the shots in my life, rather than being sucked into past stories and hurt. This was something that just kind of came together when given enough time and space.

First, I had to check the weight of my emotional baggage. Because, damn, it can get heavy if you don’t shed some layers every now and then! We accumulate emotional baggage when we cling to our attachments-our perception that things should have somehow played out differently. Maybe we feel that letting go of past hurt will somehow diminish the significance of it. Maybe we don’t believe we have the capacity to bring all this hurt to the surface. It’ll be too much, too painful. So instead, we keep that hurt locked up deep down. And in the meantime, it festers, it grows, it weighs us down, and shuts us off. An honest check in with myself about what I was still carrying that was no longer serving me, and I knew I had some work to do.

Let’s say we’re in a place to let go. We see the benefit, we’re open to the release, and we’re ready to feel 10lbs emotionally lighter. How the heck do we make this happen? Well, ya gotta let yourself feel it. What’s going on internally to let you know something’s brewing? Name the emotion, notice where you feel it in your body. Don’t judge what comes into your awareness. Take note of the information you’re receiving from within with compassion for yourself. Can you honor that part of you that has held onto this old hurt out of a desire for protection? Then, release it. Imagine the emotion, feeling, body sensation, etc, flowing out of you. Perhaps you envision it draining out from your feet and down a river, or floating away on a cloud. Maybe you give it up to the universe, allowing the energy to be transformed into something else. Find what works for you, you’re only limited by your imagination. You can then imagine yourself being filled up by self-compassion, love, understanding, acceptance. Whatever you need, get you some.

Maybe you’re like me, and you don’t feel the need to address emotional baggage until it’s more relevant to your daily life. This recent experience of mine was a great reminder that everything comes back around until it teaches you what you need to know. Sooner or later, your shadows will come into the light. And you’ll have a choice-stay stagnant in old hurt, or heal and transform. I love the quote from writer Yung Pueblo, “if you ignore it, you cannot heal it”. Maybe a little emotional baggage check isn’t so bad every now and then.

Emotional baggage often occurs when there has been a violation of our boundaries in some way. Physically, emotionally, whatever. With this man coming into my life again, it quickly became clear I needed to reestablish boundaries. Old dynamics and ways of relating weren’t going to work anymore. I mean, they didn’t really work in the first place. This is where we again have the ability to choose and create. People can understand that they’ve hurt you, but no one is a mind reader. It is up to us to assert our boundaries and make our needs known in order to feel safe and secure in our relationships. This requires us to shift out of a victim stance.  What role do we play in the dynamic? Be honest with yourself about the needs and desires you’re trying to get met and how you’re going about it.

Boundaries can be tricky. It’s a balance between the ebb and flow of contraction and expansion as we sometimes feel open and at ease, and other times closed off and guarded. It requires adjustment as we navigate our ever evolving reality, and it requires trusting our intuition. I am certain of one thing-the foundation for strong boundaries is strong self-worth.

What I learned from this experience was how beautiful it can be to let go of old perceptions of others, and yourself. Be open to new ways of relating to old faces and you may be surprised at what possibilities have been waiting for you on the other side of fear. Healing old wounds has helped me show up for myself, and my relationships, with a fresh ability to be more present. As someone who believes nothing is coincidental, I would like to thank this man for showing back up to teach me another valuable lesson on my path.

And I can’t write a post about emotional baggage without plugging the song Bag Lady by one of my favorites, Erykah Badu. Take a listen below~