Taking the chance to love means taking the chance to have your heart broken. Some, who have experienced enough losses, choose to isolate themselves and live a life free from the risk of loss. Most, however, will risk loving again.
Tammy is a young woman who has experienced more than her share of loss, having come to me just after ending a two-year dating relationship. She appeared thin, lifeless and discouraged. She shared how she had not wanted this relationship to end, but the chaos involved in it was too much for her.
Having grown up in an alcoholic family, replete with verbal and physical abuse, she already knew brokenness and loss. She watched her parents fight and ultimately divorce, and then felt the uncertainties of various men coming in and out of her mother’s life.
Tammy is now 28, and has already been divorced and shares that she has had “two or three” serious relationships since her divorce. “I know how to pick them,” she said sarcastically.
“Do you allow yourself to heal after a broken relationship,” I asked her during a recent counseling session. “Do you take the time to learn the lessons that come with a broken relationship?”
“Nah,” she complained. “I just jump right back into another relationship. They can see me coming.”
“You watched your parents divorce, and then watched your mother go from relationship to relationship, Tammy,” I said. “I suspect you don’t know how to grieve the loss of a love, and most important, don’t allow yourself time to truly learn from each experience.”
“I don’t know what I would learn,” she said. “I’m not sure what I’m looking for.”
“Exactly,” I said. “But there are lessons to learn. There is something to be said for slowing everything down, grieving the loss of any relationship, and then learning to make healthier choices next time.”
“I guess I’m just afraid to be alone,” she said. “I like to be in a relationship. So I jump from one to another. I like the attention I get from a man. That way I never have to grieve. I hate being sad.”
“My guess is that you are also afraid,” I said. “I suspect that you are afraid to be alone, and are especially afraid to be sad. You never take time to just be with yourself, learning about your patterns, noticing your fears and hurts and truly healing.”
We continued to talk, as I laid out for her what grieving really looks like, and how grieving our losses can lead to true healing of a broken heart. Tammy desperately wanted a healthy relationship in the future, and understood that to have one meant healing from the many losses she had already experienced in her life.
I shared with her some ideas I had about what grieving for her broken relationship looked like, as well as grieving for the many losses she had experienced prior to this one.
First, losses can be cumulative. Every unresolved grief can accumulate over time. While we may believe we can leapfrog over our losses, they take a toll on us. Like barnacles, we become more and more encrusted with distrust, hurt and self-protection. We may think we’re getting close, but really we protect ourselves from ever being truly vulnerable. We find more ingenious ways of keeping others out of our inner life and share only parts of ourselves.
Second, we must grieve each and every loss. Yes, this takes time and energy. It takes tending to ourselves and understanding the meaning of every loss. It means caring for ourselves and understanding how a loss has impacted us. It means creating space and time to sit with our feelings of pain. We must notice the patterns of our loves and losses.
Third, we must learn from our losses. We often continue to repeat destructive patterns so that we set ourselves up for loss after loss, dysfunctional relationship after dysfunctional relationship. These are called self-destructive patterns, and we all have them. Unfortunately, if we do learn from these destructive patterns, we are doomed to repeat them.
Finally, practice new ways of relating. This will take courage, humility and risk. You will need to heal from earlier losses, identify self-destructive patterns, and make healthier choices. This will likely mean that you will be without a significant relationship as you learn about yourself. This will involve counseling and listening to others who have made similar mistakes. This can be terribly frightening, but tremendously healing.
You must believe that you are worthy of a having healthy, loving relationship. You must believe that you are capable of attracting a loving, caring person and can sustain a healthy relationship. Can you believe you are worth it? Can you take the chance to love again?
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