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Identifying Your Emotional Baggage

Have you ever felt your emotions getting out of control, and later wondered why?  Maybe you became completely enraged when you found out that your child lied to you. Or when your spouse forgot about your lunch date, you felt rejected and unloved?

At times, the level and intensity of a person’s reaction doesn’t match the level and intensity of the event. It’s completely normal and expected for children to lie at times. People who love each other forget about lunch dates, anniversaries, and birthdays.  But sometimes things happen that feel much bigger than they really are.

Often these feelings come from experiences in childhood. In the moment, it can feel as if you’re reacting not like an adult, but a fearful, angry, or scared child. This is emotional baggage.

Emotional baggage feels like emotionally stepping back in time. Rather than reacting to a given situation like an adult, a person experiences things more like a child. So even though someone is 35, during certain situations they react like a younger version of themselves. If someone grows up with five siblings, they may react very strongly to perceived threats to their possessions or privacy, because those were things they had to fight for as a child.

Like a massive suitcase that is lugged around, carrying excessive emotional baggage can be exhausting or even crippling. It can harm relationships. sever friendships and make life difficult.

The key to handling emotional baggage is to be able to identify it when it comes up. Here are some clues that your reaction may be more from your own emotional baggage then what is happening at the moment:

  • You feel like your emotions are out of control and you can’t stop them. We all feel things intensely at times, but when it seems like your feelings are on a runaway train, it may be a sign that something more is going on beneath the surface.
  • Other people express surprise or shock at the intensity of your reaction. In the moment it can be hard to tell if your behavior is normal or not. Sometimes asking trusted friends about it can be helpful.
  • After things have calmed down, you feel like your reaction was too extreme for the situation. Often, time is all that’s needed to be able to look back and see things in a clearer, more realistic light.
  • It feels as if the person you’re reacting to is behaving like someone from your past. If you think this idiot is acting just like my father,  that’s a pretty good sign that your emotional baggage is involved.

Paying attention to these four reactions can help you to identify your own emotional baggage. Once identified, you can begin to have more control over how you react to certain triggering situations.

The presence of emotional baggage isn’t wrong. Like many aspects of life, it is a part of being human. Often times, identifying what triggers an emotional response can lead to a better understanding of yourself and of deeper issues that need to be worked out. This can lead to a stronger, more balanced emotional life.



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Identifying Your Emotional Baggage

Jenise Harmon, MSW, LISW-S

Jenise Harmon, LISW-S, is a psychotherapist with a private practice in Columbus, Ohio. She works with individuals and couples, and specializes in relationship counseling. She's now offering online counseling for residents of Ohio. Stay Connected . Follow her on twitter; and connect with her on Facebook.

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APA Reference
Harmon, J. (2012). Identifying Your Emotional Baggage. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 6, 2020, from


Last updated: 21 May 2012
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