Have you ever experienced a day where you felt gloriously, incandescently happy? Where your euphoria makes everything seem bright and lovely?
Recently, I returned from a wonderful date. It hit all of the right notes: attraction, chemistry, conversation, laughter.
There wasn’t an awkward moment or single red flag in sight.
I woke up the next day thinking about him, and as the day progressed I realized that I really like him. I walked around in that state of euphoria for hours. I didn’t realize the strength of my own feelings until the thought “I really like him” was followed by an immediate one-two punch of “I am going to get hurt.”
For the next few hours, it was like a mantra in my head:
I really like him—which means I am going to get hurt.
The thought sat heavy on my chest, making it difficult to breathe. All of the euphoria vanished into the terror of the very idea of being hurt. Essentially, I was hurting myself in advance by the thought alone and potentially creating a self-fulfilling prophesy with my fear.
As a former therapist, I’m familiar with positive self-talk. I know about deep breathing and all manner of coping strategies. I know how to utilize cognitive behavioral techniques to redirect my own thoughts and practically address my concerns.
And still, the litany continued.
I really like him. I am going to get hurt.
With every repetition, the weight on my chest grew heavier.
To care for another is to make ourselves vulnerable. We’ve all been there. When we’ve already experienced hurt in past relationships, it’s natural to develop feelings of resistance to ever feeling that way again. For those of us who are steadfast in our feelings, it can be terrifying to trust them to another person, particularly when our experiences have led us to believe that other hearts are rarely so steadfast.
My challenge in that moment, with the fear reverberating with the words in my head, was to return to authenticity, courage and mindful living.
To live truly authentic lives, we have to acknowledge our feelings. For me, it was a shock to realize that I am afraid of having real, deep feelings in a romantic relationship. The very idea of it makes me want to turn and run away. However, I’m familiar with the hallmarks of denial, and I try not to allow myself to go down that road. Instead, I had to acknowledge my feelings and accept that I cannot stop myself from having them if I want to live the bold authentic life I’ve committed to living.
I also have to trust in my own heart: it’s a strong one and has proven its resilience time and time again. From divorce to other heartbreaks, the fact that I am still trying every day to keep my heart open is proof that I am stronger than I might once have believed. When we know ourselves and listen to our own intuition, our paths become clearer. The old adage “follow your heart” is apt because when we trust in our feelings and follow them, we’re so often rewarded.
Even when we get hurt, we can find gratitude in the lessons that we learn and comfort in the fact that we are being guided to what our heart desires most when we accept our lessons and let go of what is not for us.
Still, even knowing the strength of my own heart, there was so much pain and fear wrapped up in the words still repeating, though more quietly, in my head, “I really like him. I am going to get hurt.” This is where courage comes in. Even communicating about our fears takes enormous reserves of courage. In leading authentic lives, we often must dig deep for our own courage to take the steps that will lead us where we want to go. At 34, I’ve yet to have a healthy relationship. I acknowledge and accept my own role in that in the choices I’ve made over the years. However, if I am going to make new choices, I will have to bravely go forward in relationships despite my fear of being hurt.
It is imperative that we move forward despite our fears. As Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “you must do the thing you think you cannot do.” By taking risks and being vulnerable, we put ourselves into the position of being able to experience great rewards. Yes, there’s always the possibility for pain, but there’s also the possibility for wonderful things to happen. Sometimes we just have to get out of our own way to allow the good things that are coming to arrive. As long as I was focused on the hurt, I knew that I would never be able to obtain the love that I want or to have a healthy relationship of any kind.
Even with my reserves of courage, the words were still there, now whispering in my head and slithering up my spine. With mindful living, we can practice being fully present in each moment, and from that practice we may find that our bodies are communicating discomfort because of the direction of our thoughts. For me, the thought pattern of “I really like him. I am going to get hurt.” led to feelings of heaviness in my chest, difficulty breathing deeply and even a slight feeling of nausea. This was my body’s way of signaling that something wasn’t right.
Additionally, as long as I was focusing on the possible outcome (“I am going to get hurt”), I was not living in the present but in some imagined and troubled future.
I was able to examine the situation and reassure myself that the negative pattern of thought is coming from me and is not intuition concerning him. His behavior has not in any way led me to believe that he will purposely hurt me.
Quite the contrary.
The problem with my particular line of thinking is me, as is so often the case that we are our own worst enemies. My fear is built on a failed marriage, a subsequent relationship that left me feeling used and ill-treated and the erroneous thought that anyone I care for will inevitably cause me pain. As an empath, we may struggle with the intensity of our feelings and may need to remind ourselves that there cannot be great love or great joy without the risk of pain.
In the end, our commitment to our own growth has made the way forward quite clear: in order to continue down the path of mindful living, courage, and authenticity, we have to acknowledge and confront our greatest fears and act in spite of them. We must remind ourselves that risks will have to be taken in order to live the type of lives that we crave. It is only through aggressively taking our own lives apart that we’re able to rebuild the ones that we need the most.
When I think of that, I try to remember that my heart may get broken. I may have to stop and pick up the pieces. I may even have to find a way to put them back together. Despite the risks involved, I have to remember also that my heart may not get broken. And if it does, I have the strength to put the pieces back into place to make myself even stronger than before. After reminding myself of this and drawing on my circle of fierce friends to help remind me of my strength, I was able to put to rest the words that had haunted my day.
When we are relentless in our commitment to ourselves, we often find that our struggles lead to our strengths and our obstacles lead to our opportunities. At the end of the day, what was important was the “I really like him,”—not any imagined outcome of that.
The open heart matters. The courage matters.
With my heart at risk, I found my way back to my commitment to my own beautiful, brave life.
Author: Crystal Jackson
Editor: Renée Picard
Image: Daryn Bartlett at Unsplash