Let’s start with a short recap of your life lately: Someone you cared for deeply broke your heart. You have emerged from the initial shock and numbness of Denial; you’ve exhausted your Anger (at them, at a higher power, at life in general); you’ve given up desperately Bargaining; and you’ve ugly-cried out most of your Depression. Time to enjoy the comparative calm of Acceptance, right?
Not so fast.
This is the transition point in the grieving process when many of us (myself included) make a critical error. We finally begin to see the object of our affection — and the former relationship itself — more realistically and three-dimensionally, recognize all the things that weren’t working and were never going to work, and start to approach a reluctant kind of peace with the fact that things are over and life must go on. All of that is excellent progress!
But if we don’t forgive ourselves for loving the wrong person, we won’t truly heal.
I realize that statement might immediately bring out some defensiveness. So let me explain what I mean. We all fall for people who don’t end up being right for us, and rarely are the red flags apparent from day one. Even relationships that face challenges immediately (existing spouses/partners, large age gaps, major cultural differences, etc.) offer enough promising signs that it seems possible that love will conquer all. We love who we love, no matter how well (or terribly) we may match up with them on paper.
So, if it’s normal to go into relationships overly optimistic and blinded by new love and lust, why would we need to forgive ourselves if they end? We shouldn’t have to, that’s true. But in reality, as we grieve our heartbreak and gain clarity into all the ways our pairing was doomed, many of us start to ask ourselves some very painful questions that are laced with self-blame and can do a real number on our ego: Why couldn’t I see the problems when we were together? I did see the problems, so why didn’t I get out sooner? How can I trust myself next time if I fell for someone so wrong for me this time?
The answer to the first two questions is love. We loved this other person and desperately wanted it to work — so much so that we ignored or put up with the parts of the relationship that weren’t healthy for us. When it comes to matters of the heart, only hindsight is 20/20.
The answer to the last question is trickier because it boils down to faith in ourselves — something we often lack when we’re heartbroken. Loving someone requires vulnerability and risk, and there is no online dating algorithm that can guarantee we’ve chosen correctly. All we can do after one relationship fails is try to learn as much as we can about what wasn’t working and what was missing, and then use that knowledge to inform our future choices.
It’s deeply unfortunate that the realizations we make as we grieve lost love can raise unfairly self-critical questions. I mean, haven’t we suffered enough already?! But if we take the time to recognize the root of those criticisms — lingering sadness and pain, the fear of having to go through heartbreak again — we can “forgive” ourselves for being imperfect humans who love deeply and sometimes a bit blindly.
Then maybe we can take some of that incredible capacity to love and turn it back toward ourselves.
This post was previously published on MEDIUM.COM.
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