Getting over unrequited love: 5 steps to free you from the pain
Sylvia Plath once stated ‘When you give someone your whole heart and he doesn't want it, you cannot take it back. It's gone forever.’ This aptly summarises the tragic feeling of unrequited love. Unrequited love is a one sided love, an intense emotion that is not reciprocated. While it may seem romantic to love someone with all your heart and soul, even when they don’t return your feelings, the reality is unrequited love hurts and here are the best ways to deal with it.
What does unrequited love feel like?
As Psychotherapist F. Diane Barth writes on PsychologyToday, ‘The pain of loving someone who doesn’t feel the same way about you can be almost unbearable. It certainly doesn’t feel romantic. It just feels devastating‘. Being in love with someone is one of the most vulnerable positions you can be in.
Often people find themselves revolving their lives around the person they’re in love with; counting down until they’re next seeing them, overanalysing each individual conversation, reading into every form of physical contact. It can become obsessive and when the love is not reciprocated it can be extremely difficult to recover from. Many individuals feel themselves sinking in to depression, resultant from this emotionally brutal form of rejection.
James Russell Lingerfelt, in his article ‘Don’t apologize for loving someone – not ever’ emphasizes the fact that you cannot help who you fall in love with and that it’s not a conscious decision. It’s not your fault that the other person doesn’t feel the same way.
So before you start questioning yourself, consider the fact that many people are victims of unreciprocated love but there are ways to deal with it, starting with acceptance. It is important to remember, that while unreciprocated love hurts, people can and do get over it. Here are some insights into the best ways of dealing with unrequited love.
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How to accept unrequited love
According to a study by social psychologist Roy Baumeister, 98% of people have suffered from unrequited love at one time or another. He maintains it is also important to consider the pain of the individual who does not reciprocate the love. According to Daniel Goleman on the New York Times, ‘The first studies to look at the two sides of unrequited love -- the would-be lover and the rejecter -- show there is pain on both sides and, surprisingly, the rejecter often suffers just as much as the rejected’.
While the person in love may be under some false disillusioned hope, the beloved knows exactly how they feel and that it will not change. Inevitably this induces an influx of other emotions including overwhelming guilt, leading to suffering on their part too. Many deal with this by laying low and perhaps avoiding the person who is in love with them, hoping that it will go away. This sadly often does not work and prolongs the suffering of both people involved.
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How to deal with unrequited love
Ultimately unrequited love is difficult for all parties concerned; no one gets what they want and it can take a long time to move past it. However, acceptance is the first step. As soon as you accept that this is the situation you are in, you are able to begin to move forward. That’s not to say that there isn’t a long journey ahead, but at least it means the journey has begun! Here are the 5 steps on how to deal with unrequited love.
1. Consider whether you’re getting a thrill from unrequited love
If you seem to find yourself frequently in the position of unreciprocated love, it may be worth you taking a step back from the situation and seeing if this perhaps is a decision you are consciously making. Of course, we all get a certain thrill from wanting what we can’t have, but if this is becoming a reoccurring situation you need to start confronting it head on.
Diane Barth references psychologist Philip Shaver in her article, who maintains ‘falling in love with someone who will reject you can be a repeated pattern for some people’. He suggests that individuals should question whether they have ever fallen in love with someone who has rejected them before. If this sounds familiar, do address why you keep choosing these kinds of unavailable people and try to get to the root of the problem.
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2. Try not to take it personally
Of course it’s much easier said than done, but it is important that you try not to take this form of rejection personally. People cannot consciously decide who they fall for so just like you can’t help being in love with them, they can’t help not being in love with you. It doesn’t mean that you’re not good enough or unlovable but rather at this time it’s not meant to be.
It may actually have nothing to do with you at all but rather be to do with where they are in life – they could already be in love with someone else or simply not want a relationship. And while you may have a lot of resentment towards the person who has rejected you, don’t blame them. They too will feel guilt in this situation and equally cannot help how they feel. Accept it as one of those unfortunate situations in life that’s no one’s fault and begin to move forward.
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3. Don’t torture yourself
When love goes unrequited it may feel devastating but you can’t torture yourself. Acceptance will help you through the healing process. According to Susan J Elliott on PsychologyToday, once you have realized your love is not reciprocated, ‘It’s time to let it go completely and do something new. It’s time to think about it differently. It’s time to renew, reverse and reject the rejecter’.
It can be very difficult to feel so powerless in a situation but ultimately that is the case; you are powerless to change their feelings but you are not powerless to change how you deal with it. Reverse your disappointment and anguish; don’t torture or question your worth and you’ll start moving forward.
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4. Distance yourself
In light of ‘rejecting the rejecter,’ it is important that you distance yourself from them. Any form of contact, however small, will only make life more difficult for you. You will inevitably start reading into every small interaction and you need to evade this by avoiding them.
Perhaps at some point you can have a friendship with them but at this point it is not possible. Be tough on yourself. Keep yourself busy; throw yourself into work, catch up with your old friends or pick up a new skill (learn French or start painting). Whatever you choose to do; keep yourself occupied and distracted! You do not want time to dwell on this situation and distance is the best healer of this.
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The easiest way to move on — and this goes for any situation, not just unrequited love — is to fall for someone else. Obviously don’t start dating while you’re completely in love with someone but once you’ve followed the first 4 steps your feelings should be subsiding and you can start to contemplate dating other people. Even just being out lots will enable you to meet a host of new people and spend less time thinking about your previous love.
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