Unpacking your Emotional Baggage

Woman walking away from an old battered suitcase sitting on a pier

When sizing up a new sexual partner or romantic interest, a typical 'deal-breaker' is 'emotional baggage'. Which is understandable, no one wants to jump into bed with someone who is carrying around so much emotional luggage that there is no room for the big bag of fun you brought along for the night. As for longer-term entanglements, emotional baggage can weigh down a whole relationship and sink it. 

Emotional baggage can take on many forms. It can look like having the lights off during sex because someone made them ashamed of their body. Or it might look like rushing out the door after sex because they were so badly hurt, they go into flight mode as soon as there is a possibility of getting hurt again.

Yes, we should avoid people whose baggage or trauma has taken over their lives. Especially if they are not dealing with it and are deliberately lugging that crap around. Extra especially if they are making other people carry it for them. The reality is that everyone has baggage because everyone has a past. Very few manage to navigate through life without getting hurt. It is how we deal with our past hurts and traumas that makes the difference. Are we able to move through life making connections with people or is our past keeping us closed off? Are we repeating patterns of hurt or sabotaging relationships to avoid future pain. Or are we letting a nasty comment from our past make us keep the lights off during sex?

Because when I say everyone has baggage, I mean you.

Have a look at yourself. No, not in a judgey way! With kindness. Look at what hurt and pain you might be carrying around and see if it might be time to let it go.

You may know exactly what your baggage is and already be unpacking it in a therapist's office, in which case, well done. It can be tough to admit that you need help navigating your emotions and healing yourself. It can be hard work, but it will be worth it.

Your baggage may come from your parent's interaction with you as a baby, giving you an avoidant attachment style in relationships. Or it may have come from the first person who saw your genitals telling you they were weird and you have never gotten over it. Or you may have been in an abusive relationship, and understandably are having trouble trusting again. Or worse, you find yourself in abusive relationships over and over again.

Another way emotional baggage can make itself felt is when you sabotage your relationships. It's a game no one wants to play but you, if have been hurt, you may not know how to do it any other way. The question is; is it worth getting to do the "I told you so dance", again? Or is it time to address your past pain?

Maybe you secretly know what your baggage is but you shoved it under the bed and are too scared to drag it out in case you can't fix it, can't heal it. In which case isn't it safer to just leave it be? In the short term, it might seem more manageable, but if you continue to try and repress and ignore your own pain, it will start to leak out in other ways. You might put up with bad sex. You may find you are reacting to people or situations with sudden anger or unexpected tears without really understanding why. Dragging it out into the open can help you understand yourself better.

If you do find that there is something about the intimate interactions you have with others that means you aren't feeling safe and free and sexy and happy it may be time to have a good look at your own baggage. 

Therapy is the easiest, most effective way to move through things that are keeping us stuck, but there are other things you can do, read self-help books, journaling, meditation, ask our advice guru. Or maybe just have a chat with a friend or two and talk about the things you think are holding you back or making you repeat destructive patterns in your intimate relationships. Maybe in time, you can move past those things and have glorious, wonderful sex, not only with all the lights on but possibly with others watching. All the while, loving your body and your new-found confidence and resilience.

It is worth spending time looking after yourself, caring for yourself and healing yourself. Life, love and sex can be amazing when we are free to be our best selves, and we aren't weighed down by our past. We are all a work in progress. 

On that note, let's not judge others too harshly for their emotional baggage either. But whatever you do, don't offer to carry it for them.

Some books...
Rising Strong
The Body Keeps the Score
The Happiness Trap
Becoming Cliterate

Or just type Sexual Healing into your favourite bookseller’s search bar and you will find a number of books that can help. 

If your trauma is deeper and you need help then get a referral and a mental health plan from your GP and get your ten free sessions with a psychologist.

If you are having trouble right now ring Lifeline 131114 


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  • BEDMAN7678
    Online status icon


    More than a month ago

    Thanks for raising awareness on how hurts from the past can lead to unsettling experiences.

    It happened to me that I found myself in an unpleasant situation that I did not see coming (instead of enjoying a pleasure date). Quite surprising because we got on really well: there was lots of laughter, teasing, touching, and common ground when we had just drinks. We chatted on the phone, and it felt like the mutual interest was genuine.

    As you said, being at the receiving end of the ‘baggage’ is bitter when the partner does not acknowledge it or does not want to deal with it.

    In short, what happened?

    We forged a plan to do what we like and, one evening, she took the initiative. She was in the mood, wanted to come to my place, where she had been before.

    The welcoming was warm. Everything seemed aligned at first, yet after a little while, I felt that we were stalling. ?Then, out of the blue, she said she wanted to go home. She wanted to go to bed. I was like What? “You arrived just 20 minutes ago?!” Yet, no further explanation was given.

    I felt left in limbo, like “what was that”, wondering if I had overlooked something. That has never happened before. That was it, not a wee bit of explanation from her, not even in the following days , no sign of owning it.

    Owning it would have been so helpful. For me, and I’m probably not the only one: if someone owns their sh*t and shares openly, is vulnerable, I can’t be mad or annoyed; rather there is compassion and understanding. Sharing openly can be such a relief, a remedy even. We are all humans, and have our sore spots. I’m no exception: I’ve had times where my past bleeds into the here and now, same same but different.

    Honesty is not always easy, yet powerful in keeping the connection and relationship in tact, and we treat the partner as equal. That helps keep our and partner's dignity. I believe, we owe partners that we are open and honest, whether it’s in a casual or in a committed relationship. My 2 cents.

  • CopperTop111


    More than a month ago

    Great article...hard to break the cycle of finding ones that end up hurting us..I tried going for the opposite "type" ended up hurt in different way...lol...maybe its just me?

  • INFJBrett81


    More than a month ago

    Very good article...

    A little self love goes a long way and everyone benefits

  • Quintie


    More than a month ago

    good read . thanks

  • AmyF2016


    More than a month ago

    So true... theres a lot of people on here..male and female..who use this site as a crutch rather than face and deal with their own baggage

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