by Michael Raitt -
SGN Contributing Writer
All of us, at one time or another, have experienced heartbreak. It is a universal human experience that causes great pain. As well, it is a risk we all take when we endeavor to open our hearts to experience love.
If love is so wonderful, how is it that it is associated with such heartache? The answer is because of fundamental elements of being human - we have base emotions. Emotions are hard-wired, and two of the most powerful emotions are love and fear. We often think of them as separate and distinct, yet they exist together and fuel one another. They are like the warm, lifegiving, soothing sun and a dark, catastrophic storm. The sun generates storms, and storms clear and break for the sun.
Our emotions cause us to act. Love is an emotion that brings humans together and fear/pain propels humans apart. We like togetherness. We do not like being separate and alone.
What does fear have to do with heartbreak? Heartbreak is the pain that comes when our fear is realized. Most of us love love. It feels fantastic! We get excited and all our senses are heightened. We've also evolved to associate love with acceptance and safety. This process begins at birth. It is a compelling force of our emotional nature.
We all know that at some point we begin to realize that we are afraid of losing all this that we enjoy so much. This fear is about what we anticipate will happen to us - we will be separated from who we love and, therefore, feel alone. When we do lose the love, we experience pain and that pain we call heartbreak.
As humans, we try to make sense of things that happen to us in our world. When we experience emotional pain, we make stories about it to try to understand. For many people, the stories they create about themselves around heartache are that there is something wrong with them and, therefore, they conclude that they are unlovable. Feeling unlovable creates more pain and then a dilemma exists. Humans are pain-avoidant creatures, so with the experience of pain, will I subject myself to it again or will I avoid it?
People who are willing to subject themselves to the pain again, face their fears and get back out there and date and form relationships once more. They have learned to tolerate the vulnerability to the fear of heartache, usually because they don't want to tolerate the pain of being alone and feeling lonely.
Others are afraid of the pain and will not subject themselves to the possibility of heartache because the prospect of that is too painful, and they have found a way to tolerate the pain of being single and living alone.
A small aside: this process is a little different for most of us in the LGBT community. It is different because, for most of us, our straight peers started dating in their teen years and learned quickly about heartbreak and pain and getting back in the game. Many in our community didn't start dating until we were in a different stage of our lives and this created a different way of coping with heartbreak.
NOT RISKING IS RISKY
Back to the topic at hand. Unfortunately, for the latter group - the individuals who are afraid of subjecting themselves to the pain again and, therefore, stay single - some of them long so much for the love and connection that they experience depression. Their avoidance of pain creates more pain.
There is no easy way around this. Individuals have to reconcile that love and pain go together and if they risk being in love again, they risk feeling the pain of heartbreak. This is reconciled by realizing that we are very capable of dealing with the pain. We will live through it. We have before.
As well, individuals have to undertake the work of redoing the stories they have created about themselves where they tell themselves that they are then unlovable. In my work, I have found many, many lovable people who live by these stories, and these stories couldn't be more wrong. These stories only serve to keep people separated and away from something they deeply want.
We will all continue to be subject to heartbreak. How you let it affect you will determine how you move forward after the pain. If you are not moving forward and are still in pain because you are afraid, it is worth considering doing the work to feel better and move toward one of the greatest human experiences - love.
Michael Raitt, M.A., L.M.H.C., is a therapist whose column appears bimonthly in SGN. If you would like to comment on this column, ask a question you'd like him to write about, or suggest another topic of interest, please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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