My post just before the holidays late last year was a reflection on the struggles of having unresolved feelings during ‘happy’ times. When we don’t join in with the ‘happy-happy-joy-joy’ we can feel we are the odd one out. Significant cultural celebrations like the afore mentioned holidays and the upcoming Valentine’s day can be gut wrenching for those who feel disconnected from sources of ‘love’.
Feeling like an outsider is never fun and feeling alone, both in and out of a relationship really hurts. When personal relationships go through rocky patches or when they end it can sting and aggravate old wounds. But it’s not simply about ‘being’ alone, rather the deeper internal feelings of being unworthy, unlikable or unattractive that can feel debilitating. It can feel like we are the flawed ones or we have ‘brought it on’ ourselves. Worse still, we may feel as though we ‘deserve’ it or we attach our identity to the pain we are feeling – as if the pain were actually a part of us. On the other hand, we may feel righteous in our sadness and the other person(s) is totally at fault – which makes it hard for us to connect and still we find ourselves feeling abandoned.
Loneliness in and out of relationships is often a silent experience. For many it is obscured and covered up by simply acting ‘normal’. Putting on a happy face may get us through the day, but the feelings that sit underneath persist and fester while shame keeps us silent about what’s going on inside.
The truth is we are not our pain and loneliness anymore than we are our love and tenderness. They are experiences we are having and those experiences can be painful. Our emotions pass though us, but do not belong to us, yet while we are in their grip in can be hard to allow this. It’s helpful to remember, emotions are always in motion, that is their job. While we are responsible for how we manage the emotions that come to us, we are not to blame for having them, no matter what they are.
When we carry the narrative that we are to blame for our romantic hurts or loneliness, it can be difficult to avoid asking ourselves “Why is this happening to me?” or “What did I do to deserve this?” The temptation to be crushed by sadness and loneliness is great, especially when we feel there is no way out. But we are not the source of pain and sadness. Emotions exist to teach us other ways of knowing ourselves. Feeling feelings in relationships is part of being in them. It’s when we avoid our feelings, judge them as unacceptable or attach so strongly to them that we don’t notice anything else, that we risk running ourselves and those around us, ragged.
With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, it may be a time of vulnerability for some of us when we are reminded of the hurts within. In such cases it can be helpful to have some reserves prepared for the onslaught of “Relationships – you’re doing it wrong if you don’t feel loved-up” messages about to bombard us. While suggestions on how to make relationships better are great, it’s also useful to have some reserves up your sleeve to help you manage your own feelings should you need to. So I have made a list of reserves you could practice instead of feeling broken and alone that may encourage new ways of experiencing yourself – should you want to.
Some reserves could be:
- Turn the gaze inward instead of outward. Often we imagine that if we had the right partner or a different partner we could escape feeling how we do. Instead consider how you might offer yourself the kind of ‘love’ you would like to be getting from your partner / or a partner? Write 3 ways.
- Turn the gaze away from ‘romantic relationships’ to ‘loving’ as a more general thing. What makes you feel ‘loved’ more generally? Who / what do you have that with at present? (For a lot of people animals can offer connection where human beings fall short). How do you show / demonstrate love in your relationships with those close to you? Sometimes doing loving things (not just thinking about them) can help shift stuck emotions. Write or draw this now. Practice noticing what happens to your feelings as you do this. Or better still try doing one of them.
- If love is the feeling you want to cultivate, create conversations with people (either in your immediate circle or on social media) about what creates ‘love’. Actions? Words? Gifts? What are some examples from other people that may be useful for you? Surround yourself by these ideas and see if any resonate. Notice your internal responses. Write them down. Practice recognising how you respond to other people’s ideas of what creates love. How does it feel to have a bigger pallet of colours to paint a picture of ‘love’?
- Feel whatever you are feeling. Give yourself permission to not feel love right now. An act of self-care might be to not feel the pressure of the ‘love vibe’ and simply exist, feeling your feelings just as they are right now. Practice not having them be part of you, but rather move through you. This is more difficult than it sounds but a very helpful technique based in the practice of mindfulness.
- Practice self-care. Self-care can be many things, not just a bubble bath. There is a fabulous resource here from Meg John Barker about different ways to do self-care.