Failed relationships leave people with baggage.
Sometimes overcoming this baggage is as easy as taking out the trash, but more often, it’s much more difficult.
Letting go of emotional baggage can take years of painful self-reflection, more humility than most men possess, and often, intense therapy.
If you don’t know exactly what I mean when I refer to emotional or relational baggage, here is a good definition.
Relational and emotional baggage are leftover wounds and unrealized feelings from past relationships that weigh on your mind for years, eroding your self-esteem, draining your physical and mental energy, and sabotaging future relationships.
It’s that stuff that makes the prospect of living, let alone entering into a new relationship, feel like a futile endeavor–the trust issues, fear of commitment, and stress that follows you from relationship to relationship, poisoning your mind and making problems where there are none.
After ten-plus years as a men’s coach, I’ve come to see that without proper diagnosis and INTENTIONAL effort, relational baggage WILL wreak havoc on future relationships and likely fester and worsen.
Without actively addressing and releasing emotional baggage from a past relationship, you’ll be tossed about in the tempestuous seas of life.
Here is exactly how to let go of emotional baggage.
1. Admit There’s a Problem: Acknowledge the Baggage
Strangely enough, the most common mistake men make when dealing with emotional baggage is failing to recognize it in the first place.
Rather than directly confronting and rooting out the origin of negative feelings when they come, most men retreat into themselves and submerge their brains in dopaminergic euphoria.
Going through a breakup, why not drink? Feeling lonely, your T.V. or phone will be more than happy to keep you company!
Shutting our eyes to our problems has never been easier.
It’s time to look in the mirror and acknowledge what’s standing in front of you! It’s time to dig up your own mind a bit and see what dark memories are holding you back.
The crucial, crucial, crucial part of getting over any barrier in life, practical or otherwise, is having the humility and introspection to recognize that something is amiss.
It may not just be a bad day. Too many men mistake their sorry mental state for repeated bad days. If you are having bad day after bad day after bad day, I’ve got news for you…It’s more than just a bad day.
Because the truth is, emotional baggage does hold you back…
Undealt with, emotional baggage can affect:
- your self-image and self-esteem
- how you naturally react to stressful situations
- your physical health and well-being
- your current relationships with family and friends
- any and all future romantic ventures
The good thing is that by searching for and reading this article, you are already well on your way to admitting that there is a problem.
Now, how do you uproot and throw out the problem?
2. The Art of Sitting Still: Allow Yourself to Feel Without Immediate Diagnosis
Men have gotten used to life coming to them. With the ease of the modern world, most guys are able to coast through life by tucking their napkins under their shirts, picking up their fork, and waiting for life to serve them what it will.
A grounded man, however, understands that only by meeting life at the door will you get the MOST out of it.
High-quality women don’t tend to just waltz your way unprompted, satisfying careers don’t just fall into your lap, emotional baggage doesn’t heal itself, and a generally contenting life IS NOT a birthright.
Each of these (and everything else desirable in life) must be pursued with intention and insistence. Most guys never give themselves a chance, in life or relationships, because they never sit still and think.
Mental health and emotional healing of any sort require stillness, but in the stimulus-run world of today, these moments of peace don’t come on their own. You have to make them.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that still moments will happen, no matter how much free time you have.
Here are some ways to actually make (not find) still moments:
- plan daily or bi-daily time alone and in nature
- turn off all screens an hour before bed and an hour after you wake up (or better, two hours)
- sit on the toilet without your phone (my personal favorite)
Notice how all of these, and this general idea of sitting still, don’t necessarily involve reaching any conclusions. Rather, they are just meant to give you the space and time to acknowledge the existence of your emotions.
Studies show that even just naming and identifying emotions has a huge impact on your ability to overcome them.
3. Step Through Trauma, Not Around it
Relationships these days are messy.
This is largely due to the ease of modern life and the sheer availability of options. Even as little as fifty years ago, the average man had nowhere near the number of options and opportunities as he has now. The advent of social media and long-distance communication has allowed more variety and pickiness than I fear is healthy.
More important, however, is the freedom of the modern woman.
There was a time when, due to a plethora of factors and more nuance than we dare explore in this article, women NEEDED men more than they do nowadays. For many, marriage was a necessity.
Divorce wasn’t much of an option because a couple needed each other (more, at least) to survive.
Nowadays it’s different. We don’t need each other. We are used to having what we want and throwing away what we don’t want. We are spoiled.
When you don’t intentionally choose your partner each day or need them in some way, you view them as expendable. When relationships become expendable, all sorts of unhealthy dynamics emerge.
Cheating, psychological abuse, and all sorts of unhealthy relational dynamics are so common nowadays, it feels as if escaping a relationship without a healthy load of relationship baggage is the exception.
The key to overcoming this increasingly common trauma is approaching it directly and without bullshit.
Usually, all it takes is a mindset shift. Train yourself to step towards uncomfortable feelings and explore dark corners in your mind.
When negative emotions or negative thoughts surface, find out why they’re there and deal with them. Ignoring and stepping around them will just preserve them and allow them to haunt future relationships.
A few ways to overcome emotional baggage and preserve psychological well-being are…
- process unprocessed emotions
- decide which habits and feelings are productive and which only detract from your life
- view bad experiences in a positive light: learn from them rather than letting them eat you alive
- develop healthy coping mechanisms for dealing with tough emotional baggage (you’ll never be able to do away with it completely, so it’s necessary to learn to combat it in a healthy way)
- forgive yourself and others
To motivate you in this journey out of the pit, remember this:
The health of future relationships requires you to deal with the emotional baggage of past relationships.
4. Kill the Victim Mindset
Nowadays, many men are victims by nature.
Rather than directing their energy towards finding productive solutions to their life’s problems, they choose to give all their time and attention to finding some way to view themselves as the victim.
The scary thing is, that these men are successful a lot of the time. Even in situations where they are obviously at fault, they are able to turn their past into a scapegoat (parenting, relationship trauma, life circumstances).
This victim mindset is one of the main reasons men aren’t able to overcome emotional baggage. Anything that comes up in them is always unrelated to their own shortcomings.
If you’ve ever been in a relationship where your partner commonly says things like, “I’m sorry, it’s just that my ex used to…” or, “It’s not my fault. My ex made me used to feeling like…”, without ever taking any personal responsibility, you know what it’s like to deal with a victim.
The only way to let go of painful memories and negative experiences is to forgive others (even if they’re at fault) and take responsibility for how you act and how you feel.
Victims never get anywhere because they’re too busy figuring out whose fault it is they aren’t getting anywhere.
5. Forgive Yourself and Let Things Go
Some men are the opposite of victims. Rather than blaming others for all of their problems, they assume everything is their fault and beat themselves into the ground.
These men are over-thinkers.
Over-thinkers provide their own biggest barrier when getting into new relationships. They dwell on their mistakes, kicking themselves over and over again and refusing to get into new relationships until they are perfect.
If you can’t get over mistakes you made in your last relationship, then don’t doom another by getting them involved in your own issues.
If you have truly done something unforgivable, then of course you shouldn’t get into a relationship for a long while. But if it’s just fearful thinking and other self-sabotaging mindsets that are holding you back and withholding growth from you, it’s time you forgive yourself and take a step in the right direction.
There is a difference between emotion and emotional baggage–don’t mistake one for the other. Feelings like sadness, regret, and anger can be very normal after a difficult relationship. They may not, however, be emotional baggage.
Feelings ease and subside eventually, but emotional baggage follows you from relationship to relationship like a shadow.
Know the difference and know when you just need to let things go.
6. Tend to Your Practical Needs
Emotional baggage can drain your soul, destroy your mental health, and leave you hopeless about your future.
With this in mind, what do you think the first piece of advice I give to men is when they come to me with emotional baggage?
Do you think I tell them to acknowledge the problem or kill the victim mindset? Do you think I tell them to forgive themselves or whoever hurt them?
No. I tell them to take care of their PRACTICAL NEEDS. I tell them to get in the gym and break a sweat or get outside away from everything they know. Find a hill and climb it–that’s what I tell them to do.
Why? Because the first thing men do when something stands in their way is neglect their practical needs and stress. In their neglect, they dig themselves deeper into a hole that is sometimes impossible to climb out of.
The best way to avoid this is to…
- Exercise: Your body is your fortress and when your fortress crumbles, everything within it breaks down as well.
- Get outside: Any nature of any kind helps. My personal favorite thing to do is to get very, very high up and take a moment to look at everything around me. When I feel small, my emotional problems do as well.
- Eat well and regularly: Going to the gym alone isn’t enough to take care of your physical health. Too many modern men hit a few thirty-minute workouts a week and think it will somehow offset their fast food diet and gaming lifestyle. Eat well and on a regular schedule and your mind will be set up to let go of excess baggage.
- Maintain a consistent sleep schedule: Sleep. Sleep. Sleep. Even a cursory scan of research on topics like muscle recovery, lifespan, and overall mental health will tell you that sufficient sleep quality and quantity are critical. Does this mean that you have to be in bed by nine and up at four each day as modern “hustle” gurus claim? No. You just need to make sure you are generally sleeping at least eight or nine hours on a regular basis each night.
- Foster regular human connection: Whether it be friends, family, or mentors, maintaining frequent contact with other people (especially men) is crucial in your healing journey. Similar to climbing a large hill, talking with people takes you away from your own immediate problems and gives you greater perspective.
To move on from emotional baggage and build a healthy relationship in the future you have to be able to take care of your practical life.
7. Move Cautiously into New Romantic Endeavors
My buddies and I used to have a backpacking game we’d play each trip. The goal was to get as many rocks as you could into another person’s backpack without them noticing.
It was always the best time when, after a long and difficult day of hiking, someone would open their bag and find they had brought an extra ten pounds or so of rocks with them.
I like to picture emotional baggage like these rocks. Each break-up adds more rocks to your backpack and after a long enough time, this backpack gets so heavy that you can’t keep moving forward.
The only way to get rid of these rocks that fill your backpack is to STOP entering into new relationships without allowing yourself time to heal from the last.
Sometimes you have to give yourself a year’s or multiple years’ long break so you can set down your backpack, open it up, and take out any rocks that have accumulated.
And yes, I understand that getting rid of emotional baggage is rarely as easy as throwing rocks out of a bag. My point is that if you never stop doggedly trudging forward and actually set down your bag, you’ll never know what’s inside of it.
Jumping into a new relationship with a backpack full of rocks never works out in the end.
8. Don’t Neglect Men’s Coaching
To add another layer to the rock and backpack analogy, imagine something else for me…this one is a bit far-fetched, but stick with me.
Imagine that some of the rocks in your hypothetical bag are invisible to you–they can only be seen by others. They weigh you down just the same, but whenever you open up your bag and take a look, you don’t see them.
This is why you shouldn’t neglect men’s coaching. Some things that weigh you down will always manage to evade your eye, even if it is a watchful eye.
It is second nature for men to try their damnedest to do everything on their own. Spurred on by centuries of toxic masculinity and more than a few insecurities, most of us silently suffer through the trials and tribulations of our lives.
Hands in pockets, face forward, and eyes downcast, we trudge through the worst of life–loss, heartbreak, even death–without ever raising our hand above life’s crashing waves and asking for help.
Failing to reach out to a men’s coach or even consider some sort of mentorship can have a harmful and lasting effect on your life. To break free of past experiences that are pulling you backward, you often need the guiding hand of a man who has been there, done that.
There are many ways to get over trauma and hardship in life. Time, the ultimate healer, often deals with anything you don’t directly address–though usually, time alone can’t erase trauma completely.
Drinking, drugs, or other forms of distraction help trauma fade away and seem less important, but once again, they don’t directly deal with it.
Sex, gaming, gambling, and other methods of dopaminergic release serve to distract your nervous system from your true mental state, but once again, this is only a temporary fix.
In the long run, the only thing that will address emotional baggage of any kind is DIRECT intention and effort.
What is this intention and effort? First off, acknowledging that you have a problem instead of sweeping it under the rug. Then, escaping the victim mentality and letting go of grudges against yourself or others, while all the while maintaining practical habits that allow for inner healing. Finally, you must be willing to SEEK HELP.
If you are in a place where you do need help of any sort, I have something for you. After over a decade in the men’s self-improvement, I’ve put together a team of the best men’s coaches on the planet.
With their experience and skills serving as a guidebook, I’ve created a brotherhood of men just like you–men hungry for growth and change, ready to lay down the victim mindset and embrace masculinity to the fullest.
If this sounds like you, I’d like to formally invite you to join this band of brothers and learn what it means to make the most of your life as a man on this planet.