I recently spoke with a man who was madly in love five years ago. Things didn’t work out and he is only now starting to experience the joys of relationships again. I wondered a lot about our conversation over the next few days and decided to give him some thoughts to carry with him. He is an extremely creative and intuitive person and, I think, lives according to my late mother’s old advice: a word to the wise is sufficient. He really is wise beyond his years and I suspect needs only a nudge in the right direction. And now I would like to share those thoughts with you. So here goes….
To start, you have to stop acting so much on your fears. One of the best ways to start that process is to recognize that you have them in the first place. Don’t let your heart be troubled; the fear of intimacy isn’t a challenge without a solution, but finding your solution means identifying that there are things that you would like to do differently. It might seem counterintuitive at first since most of us claim that we want love in our lives, but just go with it for a minute.
A lot of people feel cheated during their lives, yet fail to see that their biggest obstacle is how they get in their own way. Whether it’s a concern around stirring up past pain or a re-creation of our previous relationships, it will benefit us all to gain a deeper understanding of our less conscious motivations that end up messing up our efforts to find love.
We all know that in any relationship, like life, the only person you can control is yourself. If you resist finding the love you say you want, then being honest about that feeling allows you to your change what is happening in your life.
We all know that in any relationship,
like life, the only person you can control is yourself.
By being open to how resistant you are to achieving the love you say we want, you empower yourself to change your half of the effort. Even a not so perfect relationship can teach you about the ways you limit yourself and help you increase your capacity to and for love. It is absolutely in your power to decide who you want to be in your relationship and to act accordingly, no matter what your partner does.
Here are some crucial actions we can take to start knocking down those barriers inside you, that we all have, that push love away.
Consider Your Own History First
When you decide to take on something like this, it is always good to look at yourself first. After all, the only thing your lost loves have in common is your participation. So, with that in mind, your past or current relationships are a great place to start. Consider questions such as, where are my stumbling blocks? If the relationship ended, where and when did it start to go wrong? Do you see any issues that come up time and time again? Was it actually you who pushed love away in some of the cases? How many? What were the thoughts that stirred you to make that super-protective choice? What do you tell yourself about the last time you picked a fight with your partner? What were you thinking when you acted so cold and withdrawn? How did it make them feel when you refused their invitation, or withheld affections, or ignored or scoffed at a heartfelt compliment?
Those are some of your critical inner voices. Some are limiting beliefs, while others come from assumptions or interpretations of what you or your partner intended, and some are your old friend, your gremlin. When you look at these closely, you will start to see themes or repeating behaviors that go in patterns. What you are looking at is some dangerous defenses. Your defenses work as a system that keeps you from the love that you want. You might see things like this:
- You have trouble being acknowledged by your partner
- You feel angry when they rely on you
- You feel repelled by a loving look
- You much too quickly feel rejected or insecure
- You feel suspicious for no reason
Attitudes and behaviors we watched or experienced as kids subconsciously shape the ways we think and act as adults. That being said, except in the extreme cases, you don’t have to go back there to have more love in your life. Sure, having someone love us or look at us differently than how we were looked at as children presents some unique challenges that most of us aren’t ready for in our adult relationships. But having a satisfying, loving, romantic relationship usually represents a change in our patterns of relating to each other. Knowing the “why” doesn’t give you the solution. Only making mindful changes in how you listen to those inner voices makes the difference. By learning to understand how your past can betray your present can do one of the most beneficial things involved in improving your love life. You can put your emotions and projections back where they belong. You can start mindfully addressing each of the assumptions or beliefs and question them openly and honestly.
Your Inner Critic Isn’t Your Friend
Notice that little voice in your head when you hear it feeding you stuff like, “She doesn’t really love you.” “Don’t be stupid.” “Get moving before he really hurts you.” Give it some thought…think about how this nasty, critical, inner voice encourages you to avoid intimacy or vulnerability. “You fool, she is just manipulating you. Don’t ever let her get to know the real you. You can’t trust her…or anyone.” Do you hear how that voice, the voice that once protected you, now puts every positive possibility out of your reach? See how an effort to protect you ruins your confidence and peace of mind? “No one will ever be interested in you. You are way to fat/awkward/ugly/poor/uneducated/over educated/thin/tall/short etc. to ever have a relationship. See how that voice can ravage your confidence no matter who you are?
Throughout your life, this once helpful but now cruel and sly thought process will lure you away from finding the love you ache for. Recognizing it, labeling it, will help you to stop hearing it as reality or almost worse, as your own point of view. You can learn to separate and to act against those nasty instructions. Here is the challenge though; letting go of your ugly inner critic means letting go of your old identity. Great, you say. Well, as unpleasant as it can be, you have to admit that for years you felt safe in its familiarity. Breaking from that voice can cause the wildest of anxiety, but it’s a battle damn well worth fighting. Driving through your honest anxiety and telling that inner critic to screw off every time it speaks out will give you space to become your truest self. And how can that be a bad thing?
Question Your Defenses First
God knows it’s easy to get lazy and let old habits, those old comforting nasty things that kept you feeling sheltered and alone, run amok in your life. Even though those very habits gave you a life where you feel lonely, frustrated, or cynical about love, if you aren’t careful you will find yourself reverting to your fortifications like a feudal baron, using your walls to shield yourself from the wild world. Your defenses, no matter how appealing they seem, are not always your friend. They were there once to protect you from harm, but now they just keep you from achieving your goals. It is as simple and as complicated as that.
I know, it feels threatening, dangerous, maybe even harmful to open up to someone as a child or show your feelings in your family, but your world-class defenses just won’t help you in your relationships as an adult. Maybe pretending you didn’t care once helped shield you from the pain of feeling neglected or invisible, but that self-same attitude today makes it almost impossible to accept loving feelings that are given to you by someone who loves you. Learning how these adaptations that served you in childhood are harmful to you now, you can mindfully act in opposition to these near automatic behaviors or feelings. Over time, with practice, you can become who you want to be in your relationships, at work or in love.
Feelings Are Things to Feel
We’ve all heard the expression, “Love makes you feel alive.” Spoiler alert: it’s one cliché that’s entirely true. Love lets you feel; it makes you feel. It intensifies your ability to experience happiness, desire, and energy. That being said, it also causes you to be more vulnerable to hurt and disappointment. Falling in love reminds you, at some point, of previous hurts. It almost always awakens you to the very depth of your existence. Here is what sucks though; you can’t just selectively deaden your feelings. When you try to avoid the pain, you only serve to restrain what joy and love come your way.
Caring deeply for another person can make you feel more profoundly. When these emotions jump up, you just have to be open to feeling them. I know that it is natural to worry. You might worry that strong feelings will overpower you or take over your life. But here is a truth that is life saving; feelings are ephemeral if you don’t try to block them. Consider this: I’m sure that you know that sadness comes in waves. That being said, when you allow yourself to feel it, the sadness, you also open yourself up to feeling a tremendous amount of joy. I read of a comedian, Louis C.K. describe it perfectly like this:
“Sadness is poetic. You’re lucky to live sad moments… Because when you let yourself feel sad, your body has antibodies, it has happiness that comes rushing in to meet the sadness.”
Try and look at it this way. Sadness can be a positive sign that you are open and vulnerable. In the same vein, anxiety is a sign that you are changing or developing yourself in ways that can positively impact your life.
If You Aren’t Vulnerable You Aren’t Open
We all know people who live in fear of being vulnerable. Sometimes we all live that way. Growing up we all heard the phase, “Be smart and toughen up.” The world of romance and dating assumes, or even promotes, a philosophy of game-playing with each other:
- Don’t call him/her for at least three days
- Don’t say, “I love you” first
- Don’t tell him/her how you feel
- Don’t let him/her see how much you like him/her
It sort of sounds silly when you read them there, right? Hear this; if you don’t take anything else away from this article here this one thing: being vulnerable is a mark of your strength, not of your weakness. It means you have the strength to ignore those voices in your head and instead act on how you really feel. Powerful stuff, huh. When you do that, you learn that you can survive, you will survive, even when you get hurt. You’ll be able to live with more decency and opportunity, knowing that you’ve calmed yourself and made the right choice for you, even when the world around you isn’t perfect.
Being vulnerable is a mark of
your strength, not of your weakness.
Remaining yourself, calming yourself, lets you choose the opposite of getting set in your ways and closing off new experiences. Being vulnerable means just the opposite. It demonstrates a willingness to be open to new people and experiences, to breaking old patterns. Here is a thought; if you typically choose dominant or controlling partners, resulting in a relationship you resent, give dating someone different with more flexibility a shot even if it feels wrong at the start. Remain vigilant when you desire to make hard and fast rules about your relationships are concerned. Respect what you feel. Let me say it again; respect what you feel and all the while you will discover that you are finding new strength in the knowledge that no one else controls your happiness—only you do. You can avoid being victimized by the outside world and your own inner critic by persisting in acting with integrity, dropping your defenses when appropriate, to become your better and real self.
Committing to this kind of living and participating this way in your relationships are part of the natural process of growing into and becoming your own person. Your parents called it growing up… some of us do it… others not so much or well.
It’s a matter of cutting out the more destructive—usually imaginary— ties to your history and freeing a new sense of yourself, a self that is suddenly capable of having a loving relationship with another fabulously unique individual. When we face the barriers we, all by ourselves, put up inside us, we learn to live “all in”…we live an “engaged life.”
Start challenging yourself to accept love, to return that loving look, rather than turning away in shame. You can act in ways that your partner would experience as loving, rather than being so damn frugal and self-protective with your feelings. You can approach your own defenses with inquisitiveness and consideration, slowly changing your part of the calculation that you allow to limit your capacity for love.
Yep, you are going to get hurt—I can guarantee it. More than likely though, it will be those pesky shortcomings in others that trip you up. Keep in mind though as a grownup, you are resilient. You will survive. When you open yourself up to love, you single-handedly create a new world to live in. Real love radiates outward and is most often supported by and extended to others. It’s contagious and will likely reflect back on you, filling your life with meaningful and fulfilling relationships.
When you do this you are going to notice something new… life going to feel more precious, but then isn’t that the idea anyway?
SPEAK WITH A LIFE COACH IN BATON ROUGE
Frank Hopkins is a life coach in Baton Rouge who is certified as a Professional Coach (CPC) by the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC). Frank has helped numerous people to go through emotional change in a way that is positively transformative.