Falling in love is fantastic. Excitement, connection, validation, euphoric rapture — the feeling of becoming infinitely more than you once were — literally and figuratively seeing your reflection in the eyes of another. The whole experience is transcendental, expanding beyond your limited self to create a new reality in which a whole other person can fit inside your heart.
Losing yourself in this process is largely what makes falling in love so amazing!
Some people can enjoy this thrill and return to earth in one piece while others are swept away completely in the intoxicating whirlwind. When these people cannot regain a sense of self, the most wonderful feature of falling in love becomes the very thing that cripples their ability to have healthy and loving relationships. What a shitty deal.
Self-abandonment feels like loneliness, even in a relationship. Self-love and self-care diminish when people attempt to replace them with the love and care of another person. Although this works temporarily, their self-worth atrophies, and they become dependent on another person to provide something that can only come from within. It’s an impossible situation.
When these relationships fail, as they always do, the universe is repeatedly trying to tell us that we’re fucking doing it wrong. Salvation, fulfillment, and self-realization cannot be found in another person. And believing that they can will undermine our every attempt until the pain of unsatisfying relationships becomes an ultimatum for change.
Why It Happens
Many people use relationships to run from, suppress or medicate some part of themselves. This could be shame, low self-esteem, trauma, fear, or any number of childhood afflictions. Human beings are incredibly talented at finding ways to get their needs met, despite their wounds. Unfortunately, many of these workarounds are also harmful, manipulative, and unsustainable. Losing yourself in relationships to avoid the challenges of self-discovery and healing is one of them.
Dr. Lindsay C. Gibson illuminates a primary source of relational dysfunction in her book Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents (highly recommended). She describes how children will abandon their true selves and adopt a role-self in an attempt to solicit connection, nurturing, and emotional responsiveness from incapable parents. These children grow up but never grow out of self-abandonment as their go-to connection strategy.
Regardless of why you disappear in relationships, it’s easy to see that a relationship can’t survive if you don’t share your real self with your partner (see Vulnerability Is The Price Of Admission).
How To Stop It
Dysfunctional relationships are home to the wounded parts of ourselves. It’s where they came from and where they always return. When we heal those wounds, we will lose the desire to be in shitty relationships — simple as that.
Simple, but not easy.
The process of overturning a deeply-rooted operational belief system that has dominated potentially all of your human relationships since birth is not a quick fix. Obviously. But there is a process, and you can do it. You must first know better and then do better to eventually be better. So what does that look like?
Self-awareness is the jumping-off point to change. Coaching, therapy, hypnosis, rehab, support groups, workshops, conferences, blogs, books, podcasts, journaling, family of origin work, inner child work, etc. are all ways to discover more truth about yourself. Full immersion is key. Dabbling in self-awareness every other Tuesday is a great way to convince yourself and others that you’re doing something to heal while you continue dying on the inside. That’s like doing just a little bit of chemotherapy. You’ve got to commit fully.
Waking up to the truth about yourself can be terrifying and painful. Doing a thorough crime scene investigation of your childhood to discover various forms of abuse and neglect isn’t fun. It brings up a ton of awful feelings that were neatly tucked away behind the agreed-upon fable of your personal history. But remember, all that toxic shit was never really “away.” It colors our experiences, forms the self-talk in our heads, and plays out in every relationship. So many people were abandoned, enmeshed, neglected, and abused — physically, verbally, emotionally, and sexually. It’s just part of the human experience. You have to be brave and face the facts if you want to rewrite your story instead of being a prisoner to it (see You Don’t Deserve Better).
All that self-knowledge is essential, yet utterly useless if we don’t apply it. The internet has blessed us with more information than we can shake a stick at. Google “codependency,” and you’ll get 7.4 million results in half a second. And even though a codependent would die before they could read all that info, they would still die with untreated codependency. For sure. This is why personal coaching has become so prevalent. Coaches formulate a program of action and hold you accountable for doing the work.
Consistently practicing new, healthy behaviors every single day is how we rewire our brains, change our habits, and transform our lives. You don’t get good at basketball by just reading books about basketball. You have to actually play. A lot. All the time.
You must also continue learning as you implement these new practices. Keep a constant feedback loop to measure progress and inform your next steps. Learn, do, reflect, repeat — adjust if necessary.
Everyone’s situation is unique. Many people see immediate, drastic results, while others require more practice. Some don’t even notice their progress until someone else points it out. The healing journey is a long and winding road with plenty of pitstops, detours, and roundabouts. But healing is like any other activity — when you put in the hours, you get better (see Healthy Starts With “Heal”).
Also, know that being better takes continuous practice. There is no finish line or graduation date. I continue to peel back new layers of bullshit to recover from every year. Self-improvement has become a way of life for me, and it has served me well.
I hope you will consider joining me on this path of self-discovery. It beats the hell out of sleepwalking through life, always feeling like the world done me wrong.