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How to Stop Carrying Emotional Baggage from One Relationship to the Next
by Rachel G. Baldino, MSW, LCSW for

It has been said that "No one escapes childhood unscathed," which is not to say that everyone suffers through terrible childhoods, only that each of us endures our fair share (or, in some cases, more than our fair share), of difficult or even painful emotional experiences during childhood, adolescence and young adulthood. By definition, growing up is filled with all sorts of growing pains.

And it is our emotional memories, particularly the more painful ones, which often have a significant impact on how we conduct ourselves in our relationships, not only with our significant others, but with all of our friends and loved ones.

In other words, our past experiences and relationships have a profound influence on the people we are drawn to, and also on how we think, feel and behave in our present relationships.

What Exactly is "Emotional Baggage" and Why Do Some of Us Carry So Much of It?

emotional baggage

Sometimes our emotional baggage from one negative relationship can follow us into our next relationship.

Frequently, maybe even too frequently, the sum totals of our emotional histories are-sometimes rather disparagingly-referred to as our "emotional baggage," an evocative phrase designed to conjure up luggage-laden images of all of our emotional memories, as well as our behavioral patterns in relationships.

And while we all carry some emotional baggage, it turns out that some of us carry quite a bit more of it than others. More to the point, some of us allow our most troublesome relationships from our pasts to affect-and in some cases do severe damage to-our current relationships.

For instance, let's say that a woman we'll call Jeanne had her first serious, exclusive, steady romantic relationship beginning in her junior year of high school with a boy we'll call Paul.

Paul, unfortunately, was not a nice boy. At times he was smothering, jealous and overly possessive of Jeanne, while at other times he hardly paid any attention to her at all. She finally found the courage to break up with him half way through their senior year of high school, but the emotional damage, as they say, had already been done.

Paul's mistreatment of Jeanne had emotionally scarred her to such an extent that throughout her twenties she continued to date emotionally abusive men who alternated between smothering her with excessive, jealous, possessive attention one moment, and then ignoring her the next. In other words, that first negative relationship set a relationship pattern for Jeanne that she rarely deviated from for the next twelve years of her life.

Finally, on her thirtieth birthday, her best friends decided to stage an intervention of sorts. They took her out to dinner (without the obnoxious man she was dating at the time), and had a frank discussion with her about the relationship pattern she had fallen into over the years. As supporting evidence, they cited specific examples of the ways that various boyfriends had done her wrong, and by the end of the conversation, she had to admit that they were absolutely right on all counts.

In Jeanne's case, this conversation with her closest friends turned out to be exactly what she needed. She ended her relationship with the characteristically unkind man that she happened to be seeing at the time, took about six months off from dating in order to get to know herself a lot better, and began seeing a therapist once a week.

Taking that six-month "sabbatical" from the world of dating and starting therapy enabled Jeanne to fully process what her friends had told her, and also to free herself from some of the emotional baggage that she had been carrying from one relationship to the next for so many years.

When she finally resumed dating after that much-needed sabbatical and course of therapy, she knew precisely which qualities she was looking for in a man: kindness, reliability, compassion, and especially, emotional maturity. Bearing this in mind, she struck up a relationship with a consistently kind and tender man who did not ever engage in the crazy sort of hot and cold behavior that nearly all of her previous boyfriends had favored.

Six Tips for Putting Down Your Emotional Baggage and Creating Your Own Healthy, Happy Relationships

emotional baggage

You have the power to break out of your past relationship patterns and start fresh.

If you are concerned that your own insecurities or "emotional baggage" from past relationships may be hampering your emotional growth in any of the following ways: by causing you to get involved with unkind individuals, or by preventing you from entering any love relationship at all, or by causing damage to your current relationship, then it may be time for you to confront the problem head-on, so that you can finally move past the old hurts and attain the relationship happiness you have been seeking for so long.
Here, then, are six tips to help you achieve your relationship goals:

  1. Just because certain ex-partners may have mistreated you in the past, don't make the sweeping assumption that every single person you date from this point forward will treat you shabbily as well. Each new person you meet has the right to be evaluated based on his own unique merits and flaws, (as opposed to being evaluated based on your past relationship experiences). You certainly don't want to miss out on getting to know a potential "Mr. Perfect-For-You" because you are too busy unfairly projecting your past negative relationship experiences onto him!

  2. Obsessing over certain painful incidents or relationships from your past is not healthy. (Actually, obsessing about anything is not terribly healthy). In fact, it's akin to playing a negative tape loop over and over again in your head, and it is definitely not conducive to creating happier, healthier relationship experiences.

  3. Try not to allow a past difficult relationship to cause you to give up completely on all relationships and/or potential relationships. Granted, it is perfectly understandable to feel sad, angry, bereaved, and even somewhat bitter in the immediate aftermath of a painful, failed relationship, but try not to let these feelings take over your life forevermore.

  4. People who feel insecure and/or who suffer from low self-esteem sometimes consciously or unconsciously sabotage their love relationships by engaging in behaviors that could potentially drive their partners away in order to confirm their own worst fears and beliefs about themselves. Don't fall into this all-too-common insecurity trap!

  5. Remember that your painful relationship history need not repeat itself over and over and over again, with only the most miniscule of variations (like some excruciatingly painful version of that Bill Murray movie, Groundhog Day.)

    On that note, always bear in mind that you actually have an enormous say in the creation of your own "dating destiny." And if you put your mind to it, you truly can break free from past destructive dating patterns.

  6. Of course it is extremely important to protect yourself emotionally, especially if you have experienced more than your fair share of difficult, or humiliating, or even traumatic romantic relationships in the past. However, every aspect of life, including dating, involves a certain degree of risk-taking. And while it can be incredibly hard to open your heart and make yourself vulnerable to a potential new dating partner (especially if you have been hurt repeatedly in the past), please remember that life sometimes requires us to take a leap of faith so that we can continue to grow emotionally. Therefore, if you have recently met a good, kind, loving, emotionally whole and healthy person who would like nothing more than to start a relationship with you, then get ready to take that leap!

Recommended Reading

How To Make All your Relationships Work

Why The Little Things Mean Everything In Relationships

The Top Five Things Couples Argue About


Groundhog Day

Can You Get Over Your Past?

Are You Ready For A Relationship?

Is Your Emotional Baggage Preventing You From Successful Online Dating?

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