Try to recognize that little voice in your head that feeds you information like, “He doesn’t really love you. Don’t be a fool. Get moving before he really hurts you.” Think about how this critical inner voice coaches you to avoid feeling intimate or vulnerable. “She is just manipulating you. Don’t let her get to know the real you. You can’t trust anyone.” Think about how it puts you and others down, injuring your confidence. “You’re too ugly/fat/poor/awkward to have a relationship. No one will be interested.”
Throughout your life, this cruel and conniving thought process will try to lure you away from finding love. Identifying it will help you to stop seeing it as reality or your own point of view. It will allow you to separate and to act against its harmful directives. Remember that letting go of your inner critic means letting go of an old identity that, although unpleasant, can also feel safe in its familiarity. Breaking from this critic will rouse anxiety, but it poses a battle well worth fighting. Powering through this anxiety and refuting your inner critic at every turn will allow you to uncover and become your truest self.
It’s easy to fall back to those old, comforting activities that keep us feeling sheltered and alone. Even though, they may make us feel lonely, unfulfilled or hardened against love, we revert to our defenses like a heavy blanket shielding us from the world. Our defenses, no matter how alluring they may sound, are not our friend. They are there to keep us from achieving our goals.
It may have felt threatening, even dangerous, to open up to someone as a child or show our feelings in our family, but these same defenses are no longer constructive to us in our current relationships. Perhaps, pretending we didn’t care helped guard us from the pain of feeling neglected or invisible, however that same attitude will make it hard to accept loving feelings that are extended to us today. As we learn how adaptations that served us in our childhood are harmful to us in the present, we can act against these almost instinctive behaviors and, over time, become who we want to be in our relationships.
We’re all familiar with the expression, “Love makes us feel alive,” and it’s one cliché that’s entirely true. Love makes us feel. It deepens our capacity for joy, passion and vitality. However, it also makes us more susceptible to pain and loss. Falling in love can remind us of previous hurts. It can awaken us to existential realities. Unfortunately, we can’t selectively numb our feelings. When we try to avoid pain, we subdue joy and love.
Caring deeply for another person makes us feel more deeply in general. When these emotions arise, we should be open to feeling them. We may worry that strong feelings will overpower us or take over our lives, but in truth, feelings are transitory if we don’t try to block them. For example, sadness comes in waves, and when we allow ourselves to feel it, we also open ourselves up to feeling a tremendous amount of joy.
So many of us live in fear of being vulnerable. We are told early on to be smart and toughen up. The dating world accepts, even promotes a culture of game-playing. Don’t call her for at least three days. Don’t say “I love you” first. Don’t tell him how you feel. Don’t let her see how much you like her. Being vulnerable is a mark of strength, not weakness. It means ignoring the voices in your head and acting on how you really feel. When you do this, you learn that you can survive, even when you get hurt. You’ll be able to live with more honesty and possibility, knowing that you’ve stayed yourself, even when the world around you wasn’t perfect.