We are often advised to “love ourselves” to be happier, or to grow.
I used to believe that those magic words simply suggested to do what I liked, or to give more energy in order to get closer to the life that I wanted.
But I have recently discovered that “loving oneself” is a much more complex and challenging exercise.
It doesn’t only refer to what we do in the present and what we see on the surface. It also refers to the ways that we see, accept or (on the opposite end of the spectrum) reject our own past.
It’s to remember, reintegrate and love all that we have already felt or done, even the “darkest” pieces. It’s to accept all of our past decisions even the ones that have eventually become “wrong” ones.
“Self-love” could be found through the process of healing one’s self.
I have experienced that relationships are a great way to learn about ourselves, develop self-acceptance and thereby heal.
Relationships actually affect our life trajectories. Relationships make us experience a wide range of deep emotions, and they consequently make us confront the core of our emotional functioning.
The love stories that have not worked out in our past often make us experience sadness, pain or regrets—months or even years after they ended. The same goes for relationships we are currently in if our needs aren’t being met.
I would like to explain here how embracing those “dark” feelings may actually help us to develop awareness of our own emotional functioning, and go on to heal.
Historically, when I experienced pain from a failing relationship I would blame my partners. By doing so, I would repress and avoid feeling the sadness or guilt that comes up when we end up seeing what we have done wrong.
It actually felt too hard to deal with.
In time, I have seen that if I could allow those uncomfortable feelings to surface, I was given an opportunity to develop self-awareness.
By understanding the reasons why a relationship hasn’t worked out, I was able to see my own “mistakes” and face emotional patterns of mine that I wasn’t aware of beforehand.
I present below the example of a relationship I remained in, even though it was unfulfilling. I explore the lessons I reflected on based on my behavior in that situation.
The introspective exercise that I have undertaken has led me to unveil patterns of mine from my childhood that I was unconsciously repeating.
Most of the time we choose our partners based on childhood wounds or unfulfilled expectations. This happens until we are fully aware of the emotional functioning that we are unconsciously seeking in our adult lives.
We tend to be attracted to partners that make us relive old traumas—until we have healed enough from those past wounds.
That’s why we struggle to move away from uncomfortable situations until we have truly understood which nerve from the past was being pressed down upon.
My father was absent and would represent the symbol of unavailable men in my childhood imagination.
He would always be in the background but would never truly commit. He would never be present emotionally.
A few months ago, I felt caught up in a story that seemed unsolvable. I couldn’t move on until I understood that I was subconsciously using that relationship to repeat my childhood’s most painful drama.
My soul had actually chosen that specific situation to have the wound resurface and heal. It had selected that story to make the repressed emotions climb their way from the subconscious to the conscious mind.
The shift in perspective that made me move from the passive state of, “I’m not lucky to be with that man,” to, “I have the power in my own life, and I can move on if I want to,” has happened through introspection.
As I couldn’t move forward I would ask myself the question over and over: What am I still doing there? Until I understood that the pain that I was experiencing, was actually similar to the one that I had felt as a child.
The child within myself would wait for unavailable men to fully love me—as my father should have done in the past. I would subconsciously expect their commitment in order to fix what went wrong when I was a young girl.
That understanding has allowed me to remember and reintegrate parts of myself that I wasn’t aware of. The pain and disappointments of the inner child came back up, and I have understood that the emotions that I had had for that man had always felt that intense because they would remind me of an old trauma.
It then became easier to see why I had remained in a relationship that wasn’t truly fulfilling.
Instead of feeling guilt or anger towards what I had done or agreed to beforehand, I have simply decided to accept and love the girl that I used to be. She would choose partners from a place of unawareness, and a still-fragile self-understanding state.
That’s how being in that specific relationship has allowed me to develop both self-awareness and self-acceptance.
I consequently now see why I was often drawn to unavailable men. I will be more mindful when I start a relationship with a new partner in the future.
As we often say, sometimes what we call “mistakes” have to be made so that we are given the opportunity to understand their roots and learn from there.
I have forgiven myself what I was unable to see. I am even grateful for what happened because it has allowed me to unveil what my heart was still hiding.
Based on that experience, I would like to suggest the following:
When struggling in a relationship—would that be a romantic one or a friendship––that feels wrong but which we can’t, or don’t want to, move away from, I would recommend contemplating if the feeling seems familiar, and then try to find out why.
>> What situation that I have faced in the past am I re-living here?
>> Are the feelings that surface from that present situation similar to any pain or discomfort that I have already experienced?
>> What does this current relationship remind me of?
>> Who is that special one reminding me of?
>> What major sadness or discomfort of my early years am I not facing by repeating a similar situation in the present?
As the saying goes, what happens in the present is never random. Often, we are presented specific situations because they are likely to make us grow and reach higher states of understanding of our own selves.
“You invoke a new future
when you envision your past
in the light of your present.”
~ Eric Michael Leventhal
Author: Sophie Gregoire
Apprentice Editor: Bailey Grover; Editor: Caitlin Oriel, Travis May
Image: Yağmur Adam/Flickr