Falling in love can be hard — and falling in love again when you've been hurt before can be even harder.
For some of us, the past is easy to let go of, while others really struggle to move on. "Some people find it difficult to come to terms with their past because they are so wounded by what happened, they become debilitated by it," Londin Angel Winters, relationship expert, intimacy coach, and author of The Awakened Woman's Guide To Everlasting Love, tells Bustle. "They cannot let go of obsessing over the details of what happened and what they could have done differently or what they wish they had said. They cannot relax their bodies and allow love to flow because it feels too dangerous to surrender in that way ever again." If this sounds like you, you're not alone.
A lot of people find that the past has a hold on them. It might be that they experienced trauma or had their trust damaged one too many times. But what makes things even more complicated is that sometimes we're holding onto our past and letting it control our romantic life without even realizing it. We think that we're just bored of the dating scene or that things never go our way when actually it's that something else is holding us back. If you know that you're having trouble letting go of the past — or think you might be — here are the three essential steps for finding love, according to Winters.
1. Forgive yourself
Firstly you need to forgive yourself. "There is a lot of talk about forgiving others, but what about forgiving yourself?" Winters says. "In my practice, this is KEY. No matter what has happened to you in your past, it is up to you to let it go and find compassion for yourself for what occurred."
Sometimes when difficult or traumatic things happen to us, we blame ourselves for not getting out of the situation quickly enough — or for letting it happen in the first place. "For victims of emotional or physical abuse in a relationship, they will blame themselves for not leaving or for covering up their partner’s bad behaviour," Winters says. "They ask themselves, 'What was wrong with me that I put up with that for so long?' Then they feel like they are as much to blame as them. They also lose trust in their ability to set healthy boundaries or stand up for themselves, so a relationship seems like scary territory since they feel ill-equipped to handle it. This makes them very hesitant to ever allow themselves to 'fall in love' again, where they might lose control and end up in trouble." Whatever you've been through, you need to remember that it wasn't your fault and that not all relationships turn out the same way.
2.Un-guard your body
It's amazing what we hold in our bodies without even realizing it. "When we’ve had terrible things happen in our past, those events leave a scar, so to speak," Winters says. "They make us want to take on a defensive stance in intimacy, with the idea that if we preemptively defend ourselves, we will ensure our safety, we will make sure we never experience that level of pain again. The problem is, the defensiveness creates its own problems. Not only do we feel separate and alone and unable to deeply connect with another person, we also lose touch with pleasure. The density of defense creates a numbing aspect in the body."
While this can sometimes be in the sexual sense, it's also true in a broader sense. "People who are doing this will often say, 'I’m just not meeting anyone interesting,'" Winters says. "They don’t realize they are CREATING boring relationship and dating dynamics by never really putting themselves out there. If you make it so no one can touch your deepest heart, no one will!"
3. Make the decision to love again
As much as people talk about "falling in love" like it's something that you magically slip into, there's actually very often a choice involved — you have to choose to be open to it. "Your past will only hold you back if you allow it to dim your love-light, if you allow it to harden your heart and shut down your sexuality, or if you allow it to make you paranoid and believe in the inevitability of pain and betrayal," Winters says. "Don’t let it. Make a decision to love like you’ve never been hurt. This doesn’t mean you go into relationships naive or blind. This means you let the past create the wisdom of discernment (you get the value of the lessons you have learned) but you are simultaneously willing to be vulnerable again, open again, and willing to love fully again." It's a crucial choice to make.
If you've been through trauma or been badly hurt before, it's difficult to open up to a relationship again. We carry those experiences with us, sometimes without even being aware of it, and they create distance between us and potential relationships. But going through something traumatic or difficult isn't your fault or a reflection on you — so forgive yourself and decide that you're ready to be in a relationship again.