Getting over unrequited love: 5 steps to free you from the pain
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 is a one sided love, an intense emotion that is unreciprocated. And, although it's extremely common (according to a study by social psychologist Roy Baumeister, 98% of people have suffered from unrequited love at one time or another.), it can hurt.
That's why we've prepared five tips to help you free yourself from the pain of unrequited love.
Rejection can sting - but don't assign blame
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, overanalyzing 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. But it's important to not assign blame: not to the object of affections and not to yourself. 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.
Unrequited love can hurt everyone involved
Of course, it's also wise to acknowledge that, when unreciprocated feelings arise, both people involved can get hurt. 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’.
For, while the person in love is suffering under false hopes, their beloved knows their own mind and that the feelings therein will not change. And, inevitably this can induce 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 only serves to prolong the suffering of both people involved.
Dealing with your feelings starts with acceptance
So, ultimately, unrequited love is difficult for all parties concerned; no one gets what they want and, if you let yourself dwell, it can take a long time to move past it. But it is important to remember that, while unreciprocated love hurts, people can and do get over it.
The healthy choice, then, is to stop questioning yourself, and start to dealing with your feelings. 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 and to continue the journey with the five steps below. There may still be a road ahead, but at least your journey to healthy love will have begun!
5 tips for moving on from 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 subconsciously 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.
- Read more: it can be hard to tell if someone is open to the idea of love. Learn the 5 warning signs that someone is emotionally unavailable
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.
- Read more: EliteSingles psychologist Salama Marine gives her expert advice for dealing with rejection
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 on.
- Read more: not sure how to start the next chapter? Read tips from Mary Lamia, Ph.D on how to move on
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.
- Read more: the holidays are coming and holding onto old love is tempting. But you'll have more fun alone! Here are 10 reasons why it's great to be single at Christmas
5. Date other people
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.
- Read more: once you move on from unrequited love you can start dating someone who loves you back, opening your eyes to the emotional intimacy that you deserve