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A Life Free of Emotional Baggage & Old Resentments


  • Do you find yourself carrying emotional baggage from past interactions?

  • Have you accepted that certain relationships will always be riddled with drama, so you keep your guard up with those people?

  • Do you harbor unresolved resentfulness or bitterness from situations that went wrong?


As adults, if we aren't intentional about "cleaning up" the residue of old interactions, we carry the weight of past experiences with us. You are told to "forgive and forget," "take the high road," and "get over it." While well-intentioned, these approaches are difficult to put into practice and usually result in you betraying your own needs as you pretend that the situation is resolved instead of resolving it. This way of functioning impacts all your relationships - friends, family, and professionals.


When you “turn off” emotions and needs rather than addressing them head-on, it is called repression.  Despite your efforts to escape this discomfort, your body cannot easily let go of intense emotion. The body needs permission (time and space) to release this energy even when your mind is telling you the situation is over. When you refuse to speak the truth or address lingering issues in authentic ways, your body will “reabsorb” the emotions, storing them for later.  In the book, “The Body Keeps the Score,” Bessel van der Kolk explores the effects of trauma on the body and mind, stating, “As long as you keep secrets and suppress information, you are fundamentally at war with yourself.”


Signs That You Have Cleaning Up To Do


  1. Lack of Trust: When unresolved issues and resentments linger in a relationship, trust is always in danger of being eroded.  You may find it difficult to trust the intentions and actions of your partner, sister, or colleague because of issues that happened years ago, leading to suspicion and doubt.

  2. Communication Breakdowns: Residue from past conflict almost always results in communication breakdowns. You or the other person will avoid discussing certain topics, lie, fake being “fine,” or become passive-aggressive (talking around the issue), leading to misunderstandings and resentment.

  3. Emotional Distance: When you aren’t being authentic about how you truly feel at any moment, you are disconnected from yourself and the other person.  This creates physical and emotional distance from each other, leading to a sense of loneliness or isolation.  Think about the times when you are in the same room with someone, yet you feel alone. 

  4. Frequent Arguments: When the old baggage is sitting in your body, waiting to be released, you will bring up past grievances or unresolved issues during a new argument, further escalating tensions in the relationship.

  5. Avoidance Behavior: When there are unresolved issues in a relationship, you could also choose avoidance behavior.  This can include drinking alcohol, using drugs, eating, or scrolling social media to numb the emotions that need to be released. 

  6. Passive-Aggressive Behavior: When you express anger or frustration indirectly, through subtle digs or sarcasm, rather than addressing the issue directly, this is called passive-aggressive behavior.  The intention is aggressive, but instead of directly confronting the specific situation or issue, you may stand the person up for a call or meeting, choose to talk around or avoid the problem, make jokes that are biting, be cynical, or criticize the person for something unrelated.

  7. Lack of Emotional Intimacy: Lingering unresolved issues damage the ability to have emotional intimacy in a relationship.  The longer the baggage and resentfulness exist without resolution, you will struggle to connect on a deeper level or share their thoughts and feelings openly.  This leads to emotional disconnect and will block healthy sexual interactions in a marriage or love relationship.

  8. Negative Impact on Mental Health: The more emotional baggage you are carrying around, the more stress, anxiety, or potentially depression you will experience.


Cleaning & Clearing The Baggage


There are 3 “levels” of personal work to be done to clean up the baggage, release old resentments, and start to feel free to connect deeply with others:


Level 1: Reflection for Self-Awareness

Take the time to reflect on your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors in past situations.

  • What normally triggers you?

  • How do you typically feel and then respond in conflict situations?

  • What sensations do you experience in your body during an argument? i.e. your chest gets tight, your shoulders rise, or the skin on your neck/face gets hot.

  • What feelings come up, and how do you label them? Angry? Sad? Disgusted? Disrespected? Confused?

  • Do you have memories or flashbacks about other situations in your life that might have “felt” the same?  For example, your partner storms out of the room, slamming the door, and you feel agitated. Suddenly, you remember that your mom did this when she was angry at your dad.  It’s common to react strongly to situations as an adult if a situation feels familiar, i.e., your body recognizes it from childhood.


Level 2: Communication & Active Listening

When there is a potential for disagreement, strive to communicate openly and honestly with the other party, respectfully expressing your thoughts and feelings (i.e., “when I hear _____, I feel”). Avoid blaming (i.e., “you make me feel”) or criticizing and instead focus on solutions that might work for everyone involved without escalating to intense, angry interchanges that push people into a “corner” or invite defensive reactions and drama.


Practice active listening by remaining open to the other person's perspective without judgment or interruption. Seek to understand the emotions and motivations behind their actions before you respond with body language or words.  By fostering open and empathetic communication, you can build trust and understanding.


Level 3: Resolution Strategies

Learn effective techniques, such as compromise, negotiation, and problem-solving, to find mutually beneficial solutions to conflicts. Embrace a mindset of seeking resolution rather than winning the argument.  Note that these techniques are NOT used in many families and may not be accepted as "normal." You may be the one who learns to behave in new, more productive ways and shifts a family dynamic for generations to come.


Acknowledging Your Family’s Patterns


It is worth noting that for decades, your family may have used dysfunctional ways of interacting, such as using abusive language and screaming, physical punishment, lying, keeping secrets, avoiding deep emotional interchanges, etc.  Remember that this is and was normal for many people around the world with influences stemming from escaping a war-torn country, being persecuted, and or living in scarcity, poverty, and oppression. These are not excuses for bad behavior, but they will help you understand some of your “defaults” and learned responses.  Acknowledging that some of the most unproductive behaviors you use were modeled for you will help you create awareness and then make a conscious choice to override that default and choose new, more productive responses, and clean up what you are ready to release.


Relationships that are free of resentfulness and baggage look and feel vastly different. They are characterized by open communication, trust, and mutual respect. When both people have achieved total resolution of past issues, they can approach their relationship with a renewed sense of understanding and compassion. They can let go of old grudges and truly listen to each other, creating a stronger and more fulfilling bond and allowing happiness and fun to be sustained.

 

Reaching total resolution means finding peace within and letting go of lingering negative emotions and thoughts. It means understanding and accepting what has happened in the past and not allowing it to define your present and future.


Join us for the next three weeks of Deep Work Fast, where we will dive into this topic, giving you the tools you need to reach total resolution and live a life free from baggage and resentment. Catch me LIVE on Tuesdays at 3:00 PM PT on LinkedIn and Facebook, on the Swell micro podcasting platform or catch the replay on our YouTube Channel with uploads each Friday.

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