Love involves a great risk. The old saying goes, “The greater the risk, the greater the reward.” But after a failed experience in love, how do you find the courage to go “All in!” again in hopes of reaping the great reward of love?
Because of my difficult relationship with my mother, a confusing relationship that has since ended, and an increasingly lonely frame of mind, I started putting up barriers to love.
I muddled my way through the following steps to develop a more confident, open-minded, and positive outlook on not only love, but myself:
1. Talk to someone. I know this advice sounds cliche, but finding someone who is a truly unbiased party in your life is priceless. This person may not necessarily be a family member or even your best friend. Friendship implies a mutual relationship, and if you are struggling through a situation that you yourself may not even understand, it can be wearing on a friendship. Furthermore, because that friend loves you and cherishes the friendship, he or she may have a hard time offering a truly unbiased opinion.
For me, my “someone” has been two therapists—one of our incredible college counselors, and now a professional counselor near me. Therapy has both affirmed and challenged me, which has allowed me to find peace while still experiencing growth. Arming myself with self-knowledge, and taming my mind with peace has allowed me to be more open to loving relationships simply because I am better prepared to offer more logical and concrete solutions to conflict that may arise because I have taken time to reflect on them.
2. Write a letter to identify the root. Countless people gave me this advice, and I rolled my eyes thinking that my trust issues and lack of confidence were too convoluted for a piece of paper to solve. And now, after following through with this advice from my first counselor, I swear by it. It was a very crucial first step in my healing process. I suggest a letter because it will give you a focus and purpose.
Address your letter to the person, event, or area of your life which has caused the most hurt or where you tend to point the most blame. Don’t be afraid to go into ugly parts of your relationships, your past, or yourself. Depending on their severity, work through them with a counselor if needed. For myself, I wrote a thirteen-page letter to my mother over a two-week period. Little by little, I worked through the pain, uncovering its core. The craziest part in this process was that I didn’t send the letter. It wasn’t important that I “let my mother have it”; I just needed to come to terms with the weight of unspoken thoughts. I hadn’t completely identified the root of the problem, and it was important to do so to avoid closing myself off to the wrong people for absurd reasons.
3. Forgive without expectations. One of my most shocking revelations about forgiveness is that when we forgive someone, it does not necessitate a change in them, nor should we expect one. It is more about letting go of the expectation that they are going to be perfect.
I had to learn to forgive my mother from a distance. Without speaking to her, without seeing her, without being prompted by her, I had to forgive by letting go of my expectations of her. Again, my heart grew lighter, and I began to realize how trapped I had become by unrealistic expectations of her capabilities as a mother. Five years after this experience of true forgiveness, my mother is no different, but I am.
If the proper change occurred in her, I would be ready to consider a relationship again, but if that changed never does occur, I will have moved on rather than being emotionally debilitated. Forgiveness very often changes the one giving it more than anyone else, and this change can be necessary in order to step forward in love again.
4. Live in reality—not in assumptions. One of the most humbling and simple exercises that a therapist gave me was simply to ask myself “What does this say about me?” about my daily actions. This helped me uncover positive truths about myself that I had been ignoring in favor of false negative statements. At the end of each day, I either reflected on or journaled about the events of the day. The trick was that I was only to think of these events as FACTS, rather than layering on my opinion or feelings about them. So I would take my event, for instance, “I surprised the kids with donuts today” and ask myself, “What does this say about me? It says that I am nice and treated them sweetly.” The exercise helped me realize I came up with more irrefutable positive statements about myself rather than negative statements.
I realized that I tend to let the negative events of the day completely cloud the positive aspects of myself. Once I began thinking differently, my confidence in being “loveable” began to increase, and I was able to open myself up to the idea of sharing my days and life with someone.
5. Create healthy and happy personal habits. This includes everything from making your bed in the morning, to eating a great lunch, to going out of your way to find a field of fireflies (Guilty, as charged!).
Find routines and dreams that bring joy to your life and make you proud at the end of the day. Don’t operate solely from a mindset of obligation, or to meet others’ expectations. Distancing yourself from such mindsets will help you turn even the most mundane “I HAVE to do this” tasks into more “I GET to do this!” moments.
You could live your life trying to create happiness for someone else, but you can never choose that for them. What you can do is create happiness for yourself; that’s within your power. Become accustomed to doing healthy and good things that may be silly or scary, but that remind you of your essential joy. Along one of these joyous adventures, you may just find a partner in crime, friend, mentor, or significant other! It is much easier to be open to those chance meetings, when you are living your life in a way that is habitually capturing true joy.
Making these steps a part of my everyday life is definitely an ongoing process for me. It took me more than three years to grapple with and practice, but I have finally learned to accept and revel in healthy friendships, including a wonderful engagement to the man of my dreams. These steps aren’t a guarantee that everything will work out the way you plan, but I can promise they will help you find joy despite life’s challenges.
Give yourself the respect and time of patiently working through these steps because you DO deserve the great reward that can come from love. Take the risk, find the reward, and share it with others!