If you’re anything like me, and most of the people I’ve worked with, you may have lived your life up until this point with the notion that you are “searching for love,” “looking for your perfect match,” or that you “need to find the one.”
And if you are one of those individuals, you may have found yourself frustrated with the love game every now and again. You may have even uttered phrases like, “There just aren’t any good men left in this city.” Or, “Guys over (insert any age) are either crazy or have commitment issues– all the good ones have already been taken.” Or my personal favorite, “I just have bad luck when it comes to dating.”
It may come as a surprise if I were to suggest that you could actually be blocking yourself from finding love.
If your first reaction was cautious curiosity, keep reading.
If your first reaction was a hard no, with a tinge of defensiveness, please definitely keep reading.
Once people get over being defensive about the mere suggestion that they could be playing a role in their own lack-of-love life, I invite them to consider an interesting question: Is there a downside to falling in love?
As a human being, you are wired to seek safety and to avoid pain and discomfort, partly by focusing on negative experiences. To a certain degree, you can’t help it. It’s what kept our ancestors alive when they were living in tribal communities and hunting and gathering food– they knew that emphasizing the negative, and learning from it, would keep them alive longer.
Princeton psychologist Daniel Kahneman coined the term “loss aversion” for his findings that human beings mourn loss far more than we enjoy benefit. Since, the psychological data supporting this phenomenon in plentiful, and human negativity bias, or the biological and psychological impact of negative events on how we live our lives is incredibly well supported (Hilbig, 2008; Rozin and Rozyman, 2001; Vaish, Grossman, & Woodward, 2008).
And you? You carry that very same biological tendency with you.
And it was really great at keeping your ancestors alive. But it’s not so great when it’s triggered by that bad breakup or by the guy at the bar not wanting your number. We don’t necessarily need that same instinct in the same way in our modern day society.
But we can’t just ignore it, because it’s absolutely still there.
Don’t get me wrong- there are benefits to avoiding pain and discomfort. It’s what allows us to learn not to touch a hot stove after we’ve been burned or to be cautious about that first sip of coffee.
But in the emotional sense, that very same protective instinct can keep us from allowing and receiving what we really want.
I want to invite you to consider your past experiences with love and intimacy. What moments in your love history may have triggered pain or discomfort? And, is it possible that those very experiences also triggered your protective, wall-building, avoidance instinct?
What experiences have you had in love that have made you feel unsafe or were traumatic?
A word on trauma:
When most of us think about the word ‘trauma’ we automatically assume that an experience or event has to fit a specific measurement of awful. We convince ourselves that an experience has to be ‘terrible’ to a certain degree in order to qualify as trauma.
In reality, any experience only has to be unexpected, dramatic, isolating, or leave you feeling like you have no strategy to deal with it to be considered a traumatic.
If you felt your experience was any of those things – unexpected, dramatic, isolating, or that you had no idea how to handle it in the moment – it can be classified as a trauma. Trust me when I say there is no competition in trauma– you are allowed to acknowledge your experiences as traumatic without removing validity from anyone else’s trauma, and visa-versa.
Those are the moments that trigger your instinctual brain into survival mode. Those are the experiences that cause us to put up blocks and walls to protect ourselves in order to stay safe. Those are the experiences that cause us to subconsciously avoid new situations in the name of not getting hurt again – or, in some cases, recreate the same situations over and over again to stay with what is familiar.
Your subconscious mind generalizes those traumatic, painful experiences in order to keep you safe. If there’s any inkling that a situation could be remotely similar to what caused you pain before, you can be triggered to throw up a block and shut everything down.
The problem with that is not every circumstance and experience is the same. And these limitations don’t take into account how you may have grown and evolved since that last experience. And they certainly don’t take into account the beauty, inspiration, and excitement that can come with a situation that is just chock full of new potential– like a really great date.
Bringing your blocks into conscious awareness can help you find freedom from the generalization loop your mind can get caught up in, all in the name of keeping you safe.
Knowing where you may have learned that love or relationships are unsafe, or have a downside, let’s you begin to embrace excitement and potential instead of fear.
Begin by considering all of those moments and experiences that you believe triggered your blocks in love. The painful ones, the unexpected ones, the traumatic ones.
Get really honest with yourself about where you may have learned about the potential downside to love.
We already know that your subconscious mind is generalizing those moments to other areas of your life- but it’s time to consider that those experiences are only what they are and nothing more.
Give them boundaries. Hard edges. Consider the possibility that they could be stand-alone experiences.
Is it possible that you could choose to acknowledge those experiences, honor that you have grown and evolved since that time, and instead show gratitude to your subconscious mind for working so hard to protect you?
Once you recognize and acknowledge how you– and the things you’ve learned from your past experiences in love– may be impacting how you show up in your relationships, you can give yourself permission to be open to new and better things.
These questions are where you begin to dismantle the blocks you may have built to love within yourself.
If you were surprised by some of your answers, don’t worry. You aren’t alone in that. We’re all bringing parts of our past into our future, but it’s high time to learn that you don’t have to be controlled by it. Awareness, recognition, and choosing to be open to new and different ways of showing up for yourself and in your relationships is key.