Feelings from childhood
Being left by someone is hard both on our ego and on our inner child – often even when we are left by a person we didn’t really love all that much. Suddenly losing a source of human connection and attention, whether we appreciated it or took it for granted, usually evokes childhood memories of loss and abandonment, sometimes followed by fear and despair. These childhood feelings often overpower both our adult realism and our self-esteem.
One of the most common motivating messages you can encounter online is something like, “Trust your feelings – follow your heart!” Yet sometimes it’s important to not follow our hearts – when we recognize our emotions are childish – but to temper those emotions with the rational mind and the objective perspective. After that, you need to focus on turning those childish emotions into adult ones, rather than trying to control your external experience. This is harder, but so much healthier and more helpful in the long run.
I’ve written before about how falling in love is often tied to unconsciously seeking a replacement for parents (see: Muster in Liebesbeziehungen). When our “inner child” becomes bonded to a loved one, we might unconsciously perceive them as irreplaceable, the most important person on Earth – just like parents were for us when we were small.
This might not be so obvious as long as the relationship is stable; in those times our conscious adult minds prevail (hopefully). But as soon as we are faced with losing that person, suddenly they become essentially important and keeping them around becomes our priority – just like a child feels with a parent. I’ve seen that happen with many people who previously took their partner for granted (see: Fühlen Sie sich als selbstverständlich betrachtet? Missbrauch und bedingungslose Liebe).
Our childish needs and a childish feeling that we only have that one opportunity to be loved and to feel a deep connection suddenly arise. That’s why people so often say things like “my world crumbled” or “my life is empty without him/her”! Many fear they won’t have another chance or that they’ll never find somebody who comes even close to their ex. In the same time, their environment might wonder what on earth did they even see in their ex.
Should I try to get them back?
Who doesn’t love you is by definition not compatible with you. They either don’t recognize and appreciate your qualities – or perhaps they recognize them and have decided they don’t want them. That’s not something on which you can build a healthy, passionate relationship.
Almost certainly, you have experienced ceasing to love someone you once loved, or at least not loving back someone who loved you. Remember how it felt. Would pleas, reasons, being coddled and appeased, or being made to feel guilty have changed your emotions? In particular, could such attempts have created in you that deep attraction and passion you felt when you naturally fell in love with somebody?
It’s much more likely that you felt annoyed, pressured, felt pity and ever decreasing respect for the person who tried to influence you in such ways, and felt even more repelled by them.
Even if such a person managed to convince you to try again, how long do you think it would have lasted? Would you have been able to focus on them with trust, passion and intensity? Or would you have wondered most days if you’d be happier somewhere else? Once they inevitably fell back into their old habits, would it have been any easier to tolerate them than before? Or would it have affirmed your previous decision to leave?
Imagine, on the other hand, that the person you broke up with (or couldn’t love) continued treating you with courtesy and respect, perhaps warmth, but focused primarily on improving their own life and increasing their own happiness and self-esteem. How would you then feel about them? I’d bet you’d feel more respect and more interest even if you couldn’t love them. Perhaps that person would have become more attractive to you, and, if you’ve been in a relationship before, you might have felt nostalgic about them. This certainly wouldn’t have happened with someone who acted dependent, desperate and pitiful.
Dependence and dignity
Feeling dependent of somebody else makes us want to control them, even if we don’t consciously realize it. What sane person likes to feel controlled? Would you like it if somebody tried to control you? That’s not love, that’s just a needy child acting out. The only responsible, respectful, adult thing you can do is to recognize that another adult has the full right to choose for themselves and acknowledge their own emotions.
If there is any little shred of self-esteem, pride and dignity you can find inside of yourself, focus on it and hold on to it with all your strength. In any difficult moment, ask yourself how would a dignified, self-respecting person now act. Then act like it, no matter how difficult, and save your childish emotions to work with them later. You’ll be grateful to yourself later.
Take a long hard look at the other person. Are they really so wonderful as your desperate inner child imagines them to be? It seems there is no end to illusions and fantasies our minds can create as long as somebody reminds us even a little bit of our parents. In this context, again, it’s better to rely on your objective adult mind than your turbulent emotions. While adult emotions are an essential source of valuable information, childish emotions only give us information about our inexperienced, troubled past self.
Ask yourself, how would a person who really loves you act around you? Certainly not lukewarm, dismissive or indecisive. Compare what you want with what you have. Then consider, are you ready for a healthy love? Or maybe you’d find it not challenging, not tumultuous enough? Maybe you don’t feel you deserve it? (Check out: What Does Your Subconscious Believe About Love?).
Maybe you are not seeking love so much as recognition, validation, approval, sense of worth? Then you might be tempted to fall to anyone who offers you some attention, and the more status that person has in your eyes, the more desperate you might be to feel validated by them. Recognize that this is a childish feeling which nothing from the outside can truly fulfill. The only way to fill this inner void is from the inside.
How to increase your chances
People tend to respect people who respect themselves. Independence and inner strength are attractive. Even within a relationship, it’s important to preserve your boundaries and emotional independence. This becomes especially important if you ever hope to be attractive again to someone who already lost their feelings for you. While there isn’t too much hope, that’s not unheard of – but your goal when building yourself from inside must be that you are doing it for yourself rather than to win them back. Focusing on your ex rather than the quality of your life would make your efforts superficial and fake.
Many people and websites advise you to “focus on your life and goals” – which is a good advice – but don’t tell you what to do when your emotions start fighting back. And that will happen. When childish emotions arise, most people either succumb to them or try to suppress them. Don’t do either. Focus on loving and comforting the panicking child part of you the way a loving (even if mildly frustrated) parent would do with a real child. Some people feel helped if they imagine loving parents comforting them, or a friend, or even an imaginary (new) partner. Some turn to spiritual support. Whatever works for you, use it.
A part of becoming stronger can be to focus on increasing and deepening your social connections. Renew old friendships, seek new ones, strengthen the existing ones. Go to meetings, events, hobby or volunteering activities, group excursions, dance … Rather than hoping to receive, focus on giving: give your warmth, your kindness, your support… Giving often feels better than receiving and creates more self-esteem, too.
Keep working with your inner child even as you start feeling better (and definitely don’t stop even if your ex comes back). Childish imprints go deep and a few weeks are not enough to change them. You will know that you have achieved a change once you feel really good in your own skin and attracted to healthy relationships.
Check also my workbook “How To Fall Out Of Love“.