February is the month of love and reminders are everywhere as stores have large displays of Valentine’s Day merchandise. This can be a challenging time for those who have recently (or not so recently) been through a divorce, break-up, or negative relationship. It can seem like the whole world is in love and you are sitting there just trying to keep it together. One might question, “will I ever be ready for love again?” Or “do I have the courage to be vulnerable in love again?”
As we have relationships, we take pieces of that relationship with us into the next one. Some people call this their “emotional baggage” but in attachment theory it is called your internal working model. This is a cumulation of how people perceive you, your perception of yourself, and your reactions to others. For example, if you are in a relationship where your significant other tells you that you are ugly, stupid, and worthless, over time you will incorporate this into your internal working model and your self-perception and interactions with others will adjust. This is a slow process but one that can alter your ability to enter into a new relationship as you have in the past.
But not all hope is lost. You can choose to work on these perceptions and disentangle what is true from what was the result of a negative relationship. It is through introspection and developing the self that you can learn to let go of the past and enter into the future. Gradually you will get to a place where the sight of Valentine’s Day candy does not send you into a depressive state and the thought of dating does not make you cringe. Then one day, you will be ready to seek out a new relationship with the knowledge that you will need to be open to the experience and vulnerable in the best way possible. At this point, you will be ready to accept happiness and love back into your life.
Michelle A. Culver, MFT