Series on Happiness: #2 All of us have (invisible) emotional baggage in life

baggage

This post continues from my previous post on the ways to achieve happiness.

While my previous post puts forward an observation that we are able to love despite our (at times adverse) circumstances, I will like to shift the focus to the issues within ourselves that impede our ability to be happy in this post. These issues are varied and at times complex. But it can be summed up in two words: emotional baggage. And it all starts from our childhood. Our childhood experiences often stay with us for life. It affects our every thought and more importantly, our responses and reactions to all circumstances in life. Hence, if we are to be great communicators, we need to resolve our childhood issues first by putting it to rest once and for all.

It’s regrettable that most of us do not realise this but it is not our fault. It will be obvious if our childhood experiences and/or memories are evoked whenever we respond to situations and people in life but this does not happen. What surfaces when we are facing our current predicament are instead the reaction/responses that we have chosen to give when we are younger in similar situations. And the most interesting part of it is that the more memorable (or traumatised) the childhood incident is, the more likely we will use the same approach.  The context we are in may change. The people we encounter may change. But as long as the situations/scenarios are similar in nature, we will – more often than not- react in the same way.

Let’s consider an example.

When Peter was six years old, both his parents are working. Considering the circumstances, his parents placed him under the care of his grandparents and bringing him home only during the weekends. Peter has a younger brother whom he always fought with.  As a result, most of Peter’s time was spent alone. To entertain himself, Peter often simulates an imaginary opponent to play with and often devises new games to keep himself entertained and occupied. His grandparents have always fetched him from school during his kindergarten days but there was once when his grandmother was late. As Peter’s friends left the school with their parent one by one, it wasn’t long before Peter was the only one left waiting in school. Tired of waiting in school, Peter decided to make his way home since he lived near school and there’s only one road to cross. When he reached home, his grandparents reprimanded him for being rash, considering the risk of being in a road accident. However, Peter thought nothing of it.

Now, after reading Peter’s story, can you imagine what his adult life is like? You might like to make a guess.

All right, here’s a vivid description of Peter’s adult life:

  • Peter grows up being a very independent person. He prefers doing things on his own and refuses to seek help from others unless necessary or when the situation calls for it. He is very creative, often thinking of ways to create new things. As Peter has developed an interest in writing, much of his creative abilities were employed in this endeavour. However, on the flipside, Peter spends a lot of time alone, and has been regarded by some as a loner. Peter does not mind the remarks of others. In fact, he takes pride in being an independent worker. He finds flexibility and freedom in his current lifestyle.  However, he often finds himself in conflict with others whenever he works in the corporate workplace. When questioned about the reason, Peter feels that he dislikes meetings and other similar activities that restrict his freedom. On the other hand, Peter often uses his creativity to streamline work processes for his department. He prefers to live by his own rules. Peter has also often thought of starting his own business where he has full control over his life. He finds comfort and solace in his interaction with others but does not find companionship to be a necessity in his daily life. He is happy just being himself. Although Peter feels lonely at times (especially when he see many of his friends settling down in marriage), he feels that he will probably only settle down with someone who shares a spiritual connection with him, someone akin to a soul mate (which is probably due to his distrust in others after his childhood experiences of abandonment).

After reading the life of Peter as an adult and when he was a child, do you notice that Peter – in his adult days- are still shrouded in the shadows of his childhood?  His abandonment by his parents has resulted in his independence and a love for personal freedom. His constant conflict with his younger brother has resulted in the use of conflicts whenever Peter feels that his freedom has been restricted. Being alone in his younger days has also enabled him to develop his creativity that has been put to good use in his working life.

Through this example (which by the way, is a real life example), I hope that we are able to recognise the fact that we all carry emotional baggage in our lives. We may have left our childhood memories behind but it’s almost impossible to be rid of the emotional scars from our younger days. It’s like a load that is constantly on our back. Nevertheless, on the brighter side, some of these emotional scars have a positive side, as highlighted in the case of Peter who has developed a high level of creativity due to his childhood experiences.

Our past often has a way of catching up with us in our lives, always seeking any closure that was missing since our childhood days. The grim fact of life is that for those of us who have been through a rough patch in our childhood days such as abuse and/or abandonment, there will never be a closure. The only way to resolve this issue is to forgive those who have (inadvertently) contributed to our suffering.  If we do not forgive, we will never be rid of the shadows of our childhood.

So, how do we know if our responses/reaction to life’s circumstances is due to careful/thoughtful consideration or due to unresolved issues from our childhood? The thing to look for in this case is impulse. For instance, when we suddenly get angry due to certain issues for no apparent reason within a very short duration, we can be certain that it’s due to unresolved issues from our childhood. In this case, we merely need to identify the cause of our distress, allow ourselves to cool down and think things through.

Understanding this fact is not enough. Developing an ability to forgive ourselves and others as well as accepting ourselves as who we really are are the only way to leave our unresolved issues in our past behind for good.

In my next post, I will talk about another element that sabotages our attempts to be happy, which is our ego. Keep a lookout for it.

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