Many of our love life patterns begin in early childhood. Our parents teach us by example what we need to do to get (their) love. This incorporates very strongly into our image of ourselves and the world. Unless we break free from it, it will likely remain for the rest of our lives.
I talk to many clients, especially women, who have been cut off by their parents in different ways. “Why do you have to be so expressive/loud/talkative/emotional/creative/energetic/whatever? Please calm down.”
The underlying message is “why do you have to be so much YOU?”
Shaming someone for being who they are is no small thing. Especially not when it’s done to a child. Children will do anything for love and connection because they are literally unsafe if rejected by their parents, and this pattern (unless broken) remains.
If you needed to tone yourself down during the first part of your life to feel loved, safe or accepted, chances are you’ll keep doing it in your love life when you grow up. The problem is that now the situation is very different, and now it won’t work.
It is very hard to enjoy the company of someone who is making themselves small: there is simply no one there to connect with.
If you are not fully there, no one can fully get to know you and fully love all of you. Ironically, this will confirm your old and incorrect belief that you are flawed and need to change in order for people to want to be with you.
But let’s explore the opposite. What would happen if you, instead of shrinking down and hiding, started to show up?
Maybe not 100% all the time, everywhere and with everyone right away, but little by little started to show more and more of who you really are. What would happen then? If you wore that dress you really love but your inner critic thinks is “too much”, or if you shared your opinion just one time more than usual every day, or took that salsa class that you’ve been dreaming of but didn’t think you had the courage to take.
What would happen if you started to take small steps towards being more of you? What if your parents were wrong?
What if it is actually not only ok but wonderful, amazing and beautiful to be as expressive/loud/talkative/emotional/creative/energetic/whatever as you are?
What if I told you that that is your biggest strength. What if I told you it is what your dates, lovers and partners will appreciate the very most about you, if they only get the chance to see it.
What would happen then?
Let me give you a spoiler: It is ok to be you. Start now.
Knowledge is an amazing thing.
So are flashes of insight.
New realizations as well.
But they are all mental concepts. Understanding something is not the same thing as really truly knowing it. And it is most certainly not the same thing as feeling it.
Knowing that you should love yourself is something completely different from actually feeling love for yourself. And even though the coaching that I do is more theoretical than practical, the real magic happens between sessions when my clients go out into the real world and actually experience the things that we have been talking about.
Because there is not much in this world that will convince of things more strongly than your own experiences. It is how we learn and make sense of the world. If something keeps happening we start to believe that is the truth of how things work – even if that’s not necessarily true.
If people in your past (parents, friends, lovers, crushes, exes) have punished you for being emotional, not respected your boundaries or disrespected your opinions, it is reasonable that this is what you will expect from new people as well – even though the bad behavior from your past says nothing about the future.
And what I’ve found is that new experiences can heal us. We can talk all we want about our issues and how to fix them, but actually experiencing what we long for – be it respect, someone’s full presence and attention, words of kindness or something else – will change and heal us in irrefutable ways.
We cannot argue with our experiences in the same way that we can argue with our thoughts or ideas.
Usually it feels really scary to challenge the patterns of old bad experiences, and my suggestion is to do it in very very small steps that feel challenging but not super scary. If your fear is around saying no, don’t start with your boss or a parent, start by saying “no thanks” when asked if you want a receipt when you go shopping.
If your fear is around meeting new people, maybe don’t walk up to the hottest stranger in the room to strike up a conversation, start by just looking people in general in the eyes for a second or two.
The beautiful thing about this is that every time you take one of these small steps your old pattern will break and the positive feedback you get from your new experiences will encourage you to try more new things. Eventually your entire world will change for the better.
What keeps us hidden, closed and excluded from opportunities in our love lives is usually fear. We don’t want to get hurt, it’s as simple as that. And even less dramatic than hurt, we don’t even want to feel embarrassed, anxious or nervous.
So we start to avoid persons, behaviors and situations that include even a small risk of that. Which, unfortunately, means that we also avoid the things that could lead to where we want to go. Because they co-exist in the same space.
You cannot choose “positive outcomes only”. Life does not work like that. You cannot just decide to learn how to ride a bike and refuse to fall a few times. You will fall, and then you will learn – and fall a lot less. It will be worth it, but you must say yes to the whole experience.
It is the very same thing in social situation. When you face your fears and start doing new things that you don’t yet feel comfortable with (more eye contact, going on dates, being vulnerable etc) you will feel a lot of things. Some of them will be unpleasant.
There is nothing wrong with that, it is just how life works when we try new things. Sometimes things in your life will be uncomfortable for a while. This is why it’s so important that you make a conscious decision to be ok with that. Because if you don’t you’ll pay a way to high price for something that will be even more painful.
I speak from experience when I say this. For a long time I rejected situations, people and maybe even life itself, because I did not want to feel certain things. I ended up being very alone with nothing but my fears and mindfucks for company. And that is when a realized that there is nothing out there that could be even close to as painful as locking myself up with my fears. Not even close.
So I decided to say yes. Even to the uncomfortable parts and decide that they are worth it. They are the “tax” I pay for getting to show up for all the wonderful parts. Sometimes I will feel rejected, shameful or stupid. It happens. It’s okay. I can say yes to that too.
Being openhearted, vulnerable and real is scary. For everyone. But the only thing that’s worse is closing yourself down.
So at least consider making a conscious decision to stay open. And say yes to all that comes with it.
Since it is so important to us, of course it creates big pain to lose it, or even risk to lose it. So we try to protect ourselves from that. But, and I’ve written about this before but keep coming back to is cause it’s so important, when we close ourselves off from pain we also close ourselves off to love and connection, since they enter through the same door.
Usually we are completely unaware of this, and can’t see that we are pushing people away and keeping them out even though we want them to come closer. In our minds, what we do makes perfect sense.
We truly feel that it’s reasonable to expect to first be completely loved by someone, and then open up and be vulnerable about who we are.
We think that we can first decide if someone is interesting to date, and then get to know them if we think that they are.
We think that we can play it safe, and thereby eliminate the risks.
Well, we can, but at a very high price. The best and safest way to not get your heart broken is to not let anyone come close. Ever. You’ll be very miserable in other ways but you won’t get your heart broken.
We need to turn the whole way of thinking around and say yes to the opportunities – and to the risks! We need to compare the risk of getting hurt to the risk of not taking that risk. Because that has consequences too.
It’s not a huge deal that you might reject people or miss out on opportunities right now, today, but if you do it every day for the rest of your life, that will equal a very lonely life. And that is a huge risk!
You also need to trust your ability to survive emotional pain. Because you will, if it happens. It will hurt, you will feel like crap, it will affect you in many ways – and then you will move on and learn from it. In this all inclusive package called life, some shit sandwiches will occasionally be served. It’s part of the deal. It is how we learn.
You will survive it. And it will be so worth it.
I talk to so many people who are settling with all kinds of things in life. Men, work, friends, things, experiences. And I see a pattern where we settle because we don’t know that more is possible. Or we don’t think it’s possible for us.
There is nothing strange about settling for the best thing you know, but I implore you to go beyond that. You don’t know everything that exists, do you? The best thing that you know is not the same as the best thing that is available.
So much more is available, and you know by your intuitive feeling of wanting more, even if your mind says it’s impossible. It’s not. There is so much more out there waiting for you, and the fact that you have not yet experienced it doesn’t actually mean anything.
But before you can get a hold of that you have to start saying no to the things that are already familiar, but not satisfying.
You can’t fill up your life with what you want when it is already full of things you don’t want.
You must create space. You must say no.
I know, this is a tough one for many of us. Saying no to everything that’s familiar and, let’s admit it, pretty ok, for the idea and hope, of something better. That’s a big shift, that requires a lot of trust.
But really, what’s the option here? Are you gonna half-ass your entire life and not even take the chance of getting what you truly want? Are you gonna keep spending your time with people who don’t understand you, support you or share your dreams?
I decided I wasn’t willing to do that, so I let go. Of pretty much everything. For a long time I spent most of my time alone, at home or in the woods. I said no to friendships that didn’t feel right. I said goodbye to many of the things that I owned. I said no to job offers I didn’t want. And most importantly, I stopped even thinking about dating people “just in case they might be better than they seem”, when what I really wanted was to be swept off my feet.
I’m going to leave you with a little spoiler:
When you do this, at fist you will feel calm. So much crap and drama is suddenly gone. Ahhh.
Then it will feel empty.
And then you will find that new people, opportunities and dreams start coming into your life. That will feel great. But before that it will feel empty.
But you are not alone. Your life is not empty.
Your life is full: full of space for your dreams to come in. Full of space for better dates. Full of space for new friend that really get you. Full of space for real intimacy.
Are you looking for the perfect partner, or are you trying to be one?
I’d suggest you stop, because people aren’t perfect. We’re human. We have good and bad sides, we make mistakes, mess up, change our minds, get confused, make good decisions and bad decisions and are overall…human, rather than perfect.
Looking for someone who’s perfect is like looking for someone with three arms. Trying to be perfect is equally futile.
This may sound discouraging, but the beauty of it is that real is so much better than perfect. It might get messy sometimes, but at least it’s authentic, it’s growing, evolving and ever changing. It’s life.
There is room for improvement. There is space for growing.
So don’t spend your time trying to find or become the perfect partner. Instead of focusing on you or someone else being perfect, aim your energy at what you want to create.
What do you want to fill your life with, and what kind of relationship do you want to create when you meet your beautifully human love?
I answered the fear of rejection. It is something so incredibly human and universal. Of course no one wants to feel rejected, it’s a horrible feeling. But being rejected and feeling rejected is actually not the same thing.
How we feel isn’t always a true reflection of what is happening. Rather it’s a reflection of what’s going on inside of us. A lot of people have such a fear of rejection that it becomes the only thing they can see and think about. They interpret everything they see as a sign of rejection or a risk of rejection.
Being desired and feeling desired isn’t the same thing either. If you can’t receive the desire someone has for you, it’s possible that you’ll make up all kinds of excuses for their behavior. “They’re just saying that to be nice, or to manipulate me” or “they’ll change their mind when they realize who I really am”.
We don’t see the world as it is, so we don’t calculate the risks in a realistic way. We need to learn the difference between our own fears and the actual situation.
Because, sure, there is a risk. I’ll happily admit that.
Opening your heart, letting people come close and having intimate relationships requires courage and vulnerability. That is a fact, there is no way around that. And it is a risk that all of us have to take.
But really, what are our options? Is it less terrifying to close your heart, don’t let people close and never have intimate relationships?
I think most people would agree that that would be the scariest thing of all.
So really, the only thing that is worse than taking the risk is not taking it.
The benefits are huge.
Open your heart.
There are areas in every persons life where we feel skilled. At home. We know what to do, how to handle challenges, how to grow, or just to stay on top of it and avoid mistakes. It’s a different area for different people, and it’s a mixture of personality traits, things we learned from our parents, or life, and things that just felt natural to us along the way.
For someone it’s music; you just sit down with an instrument and get it. For someone else it’s social interactions; they just love meeting new people and feel so good in every social setting. Others have a feeling for writing, some kind of sport, or design.
Then there are things that we need to learn. That maybe don’t come as naturally to us, or that for some reason no one taught us along the way. Maybe our parents lacked this skill or knowledge too, maybe ww grew up in an environment where other things were more emphasized or maybe we got sick for a long time and missed out on something that is part of most peoples life experience.
Then we can learn. Luckily, we can learn almost anything. But what I often find when I’m coaching, is that a lot of people seem to think that it is somehow unfair, or wrong that they – of all people – have to take this journey of self-discovery, healing and coaching. When it looks so easy for everyone else!
“How come I can’t figure out this dating thing when it’s so obvious to everyone else?”
“Why does this keep happening to me when dating looks so easy breezy to others?”
I know that pain, believe me. I spent years blaming life for being unfair and it wasn’t until way later that I realized that fairness is a quite big order from something as random as life. And I also realized that I wasn’t seeing the world clearly. I completely missed out on the fact that I had other skills and advantages that felt so easy and obvious to me that I couldn’t even grasp the idea that that could be an issue for someone else. All I saw was the things that I lacked and others had.
So even if you may struggle a bit with your love life at the moment, you can create the change that you want, and you also have many other life areas where everything is going great without any struggle or effort. It may be that you have great friends, your good health or that you’ve always known what you’ve wanted to do for work. Appreciate that, and realize that it’s not reasonable to expect that you excel in every area of life automatically.
Lately I have thought a lot about this. Why do we think that something is wrong when we have issues? Isn’t it kind of arrogant to demand that we come into this world fully equipped for every situation in every area without a learning curve? How could we possibly know things we were never taught and didn’t come easy to us?
Isn’t a much better approach to be thankful for the things that did come to us with ease and grace, and then start doing what we can to learn the rest – without making ourselves feel bad about it – and even be grateful for the possibility to learn as well?
So if you bash on yourself because of your love life, please remember that you are not alone, and that you can learn, grow, and take charge of what happens, just like in any other are of your life. And that other people need to make an effort to create what they want in other areas where things have always been working for you.