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"Emotional baggage" is a general term used to refer to the unresolved emotional issues, usually relating to interpersonal relationships, that one has not been able to advance past. The image of "baggage" is based on the notion that an individual carries these past emotional issues around through different stages in one's life, much as a traveler carries physical baggage. Emotional baggage often causes instability in one's emotional states and an inability to find comfort and satisfaction in relationships, romantic or otherwise. Past disappointments or traumatic experiences, even those that occurred many years before, can lead to discomfort and insecurity as they are carried around unresolved. While it can be difficult to completely relieve the burden of emotional baggage, time, therapy, and support from friends and family can greatly help one to move forward to overcome or resolved the issues.
For some people, emotional baggage serves as a defense mechanism that protects them from repeating past traumas or mistakes. An individual who was abused as a child, for instance, may feel instinctive discomfort toward people similar to the past abuser. Even though baggage can serve a defensive function, it can also inhibit the development of healthy relationships. A man who dated an unfaithful woman, for example, may find it difficult to develop a meaningful relationship with another woman in the future because of baggage relating to the earlier romantic relationship.
The presence of substantial emotional baggage often leads to the development of behaviors that are based on past emotional events rather than on present circumstances. Emotional baggage can lead people to project their doubts and insecurities on others in a somewhat paranoid manner. It can also lead to the development of expectations based entirely on past events. This is particularly noticeable in romantic relationships. Someone who suffers a betrayal in a romantic relationship may come to expect similar betrayal in any future relationship whether or not there is reason to expect it.
While many people who carry some emotional baggage are able to build and maintain healthy relationships, others find such baggage to be emotionally and socially crippling. In such cases, it may be beneficial to see a therapist for help working though such issues. In some cases, identifying the precise origins of one's emotional baggage is all it takes to move past it. Recognizing that the distrust is not based on any present circumstance but is, instead, based on a past emotional trauma may help one to get over the mistrust. In other cases, no amount of therapy will be able to relieve the burden of such baggage, but a therapist may be able to offer advice for living with it.