How Do I Cope With And Move Forward From Unrequited Love?
Studies showcase that humans are social beings, having a fundamental need to belong in their communities and foster healthy interpersonal attachments. Many people desire to experience relationships that are fulfilling, joyous, and reflected in love. For this reason, it can be challenging when you have intense feelings for someone who doesn't feel the same way about you.
Unrequited love occurs when your love or attraction for someone else is not reciprocated. Movies, books, and social media have perpetuated the notion that if you love someone long enough, deeply enough, and stubbornly enough, they may eventually love you back. However, these messages may not reflect reality.
Looking at your current relationship with this person and recognizing the reality of your connection can be beneficial. If you're looking to move on from these feelings, understanding how unrequited love might impact you and how to cope healthily may help you begin the process of moving forward.
Steps for moving forward from unrequited love
Below are a few steps to move forward from unrequited love and learn to cope with these feelings.
Understand the mental health impact of unrequited love
According to research conducted by psychologists at Appalachian State University, unrequited love can include a crush founded in a passing acquaintance to someone close to you who has previously loved you but no longer does.
In the study, one person felt or found out that their love was unreciprocated or unequally balanced, leaving that person yearning for a more complete love. The researchers in the study also found that unrequited love was associated with significant emotional turmoil. In contrast, consummate romantic love can be reciprocal, fulfilling, and often characterized by trust, care, and intimacy.
Loving someone who doesn't return the feelings may lead to depression, anxiety, and distressing euphoria. Even if you're not experiencing challenges with mood, focusing all your attention on another person can cause you to neglect your friends, family, and job. It might also keep you from dating around or finding a partner that feels the same way about you.
When unrequited love continues long-term, it can begin to affect the quality of your life. You may cling to the hope that the individual will see you and start loving you if you show them enough affection or are patient. However, waiting for someone can lead to feeling inadequacy, insecurity, and fear, which may contribute to chronic stress.
When the other individual is aware of your feelings, they might take advantage of you or joke about how you feel. Being used or joked with in this way can take a toll on your emotions, potentially leaving you sad or unfulfilled. Some resources show that turning toward self-love can be one of the most fundamental ways to love others.
Look for evidence that they don't feel the same
Many people seeking love in a one-sided relationship spend time and effort trying to find evidence that the person they love reciprocates their feelings. They might cling to any possibility of hope and ignore signs that the person does not love them. These attempts to find meaning can be human, but they may also cause mental health challenges.
If you are committed to moving on from your desire for the other person, try to take the opposite route. Rather than looking for signs they love you, search for indications they do not. Your fascination with them may subside if you understand their actions don't necessarily indicate love.
Try radical acceptance
To practice radical acceptance, use the following steps from the dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) handout:
- Observe how you might be questioning or fighting your reality.
- Remind yourself that your reality cannot be changed in this situation.
- Try to note any causes for the reality. Acknowledge how many people do not have control over who they fall in love with, but you can control how you proceed.
- Practice acceptance with your mind, body, and spirit. Use positive self-talk to tell yourself you are willing to accept this situation, even if it is difficult.
- List all the behaviors you'd partake in if you already accepted this situation. Then act this way until you find it aligns with your reality.
- Cope ahead by thinking of ways to accept the situation if it worsens.
- Attend to your body sensations using mindfulness or meditation to connect with yourself.
- Allow disappointment, sadness, grief, or anger to arise if they do. Note them and do not act on them. Give them the space to exist.
- Acknowledge that life can be worth living, even when there is pain.
- Create a pros and cons list if you are resisting acceptance further.
Get the opinion of someone you trust
You might also find it valuable to ask for the opinion of someone you trust who is an objective party in the situation. Tell them you're experiencing unrequited love and ask for advice or support. They may help you see a logical side to the situation you might not have considered before due to your emotional pain.
Focus on self-care and self-compassion
It may seem romantic to live for someone else. However, living for yourself first can be healthier. Even in healthy relationships, those with secure attachments often practice self-care and assert boundaries. Attend to your life rather than leaving it for someone else to fix. As you concentrate on being the hero of your own story, you might notice your feelings for the other individual subsiding.
When looking for a relationship, it can be beneficial to focus on what you have to offer to others. Many people use the phrase, "You can't pour from an empty cup," to explain how it feels to love someone without loving yourself or caring for your needs. Taking time to focus on yourself, establish your needs, and get to an emotionally safe place may enable you to have lasting and fulfilling relationships in the future.
Take time away from the idea of a relationship
As mentioned in the above study by psychologists at Appalachian State University, unrequited love is often less founded on trust, honesty, and passion than reciprocated love. Researchers found that unrequited love is often founded on the desire for a relationship. If you struggle to be alone or stop trying to connect with others, consider the reasons you feel so strongly toward this person.
When you struggle with the idea of being single, consider taking time away from your ideals for a relationship. Spend time with friends when you can and focus on the activities that bring you joy. If you have hobbies, try to enjoy your spare time by focusing on how they make you feel. When you're ready for a relationship, you may notice that you are seeking people who feel the same as you and are better able to move on when they don't.
Unrequited love is unreciprocated love that can be challenging to cope with. You may find that you feel powerless to change your feelings despite your efforts to move on. Talking to a therapist may offer you the skills to move forward, accept your situation, and cope with your feelings. However, it can be challenging to find a therapist when barriers are present, such as cost, distance, or availability of providers. In these cases, you might benefit from online counseling.
Online therapy has been found as effective in the medium and long term as face-to-face therapy. One study reviewed 373 other studies exploring the efficacy of online cognitive-behavioral therapy. Their results found the therapeutic intervention as effective, and sometimes more so, as in-person therapy for treating depression, anxiety, relationship challenges, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), mood disorders, and specific phobias.
Furthermore, participants in the study reported that online therapy removed many barriers they experienced with face-to-face therapists. For example, online therapy can be readily available to those living in rural areas and those with busy, non-conventional schedules. These sessions can be conducted anytime from anywhere with an internet connection, including your home. If you're interested in getting started, a platform like BetterHelp can match you with a unique provider, often within 48 hours of signing up.
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What causes unrequited love?
Unrequited love is a result of a person having romantic feelings for someone who does not feel the same way in return. There can be many reasons that a person does not wish to reciprocate feelings of love, including:
- Previous Friendship: If two people are friends, but one decides they want to have a romantic relationship, this may result in unrequited love. If an individual wants to preserve their friendship or avoid hurting a person’s feelings, they may not be able to be honest or clearly express their lack of interest. This could be interpreted as mixed signals, which may further complicate the situation.
- Lack of Attraction: In some cases, unrequited love is rooted in a lack of desire from the other party. Mutual attraction can be complicated, and it may not be possible for a person to create romantic feelings without a preexisting or organic spark of passion.
- Current Relationship: Some people may not reciprocate feelings of love due to their current relationship status. If an individual is already in a partnership or marriage, they may not be able or willing to create another romantic connection. In these cases, expressing one’s love may be inappropriate, and could have a negative effect on one’s current relationship.
Is unrequited love unhealthy?
Unrequited love has the potential to be unhealthy and may lead to a variety of harmful outcomes. Here are a few ways that one-sided love could have a negative impact on a person’s mental health and physical health.
- Lower Self-confidence: The experience of rejection associated with unrequited love may harm a person’s self-esteem, which could cause them to lose confidence in unrelated parts of their life. If a person does not feel wanted, they may start to doubt their ability to perform at school or work. Those experiencing rejection may also lose interest in previously pleasurable activities, such as hobbies or spending time with friends.
- Depression and Anxiety: Unrequited love has the potential to aggravate the symptoms of depression and anxiety. One may begin to ruminate about the situation or enter a depressive period as a result of rejection, which could be difficult to cope with alone. In these cases, it may be beneficial to reach out to a mental healthcare provider for support.
- Stress: According to research in the field of social psychology, the experience of unrequited love has been said to be “bilaterally distressing” and could potentially create higher levels of stress. In addition to its potential mental health effects, Increased stress can negatively impact a person’s physical health, leading to problems with sleep, cognitive impairment, high blood pressure, increased risk of heart attack, and even physical pain.
Does unrequited love last?
There is no set duration for how long unrequited love will last. If you continue to have unreciprocated feelings for someone and they are a consistent part of your life, unrequited love may persist for months or even years. There are many potential ways to deal with unrequited love, such as addressing your feelings, finding acceptance, or utilizing mental health resources.
- Address Your Feelings: The first step to ending unrequited love is to address your emotions and state of mind. This can be a practice that may involve taking time alone to write down your thoughts, consider what course of action is best for you, and look for viable solutions.
- Reach a Place of Acceptance: Once you’ve considered your feelings, you may find that the best way to proceed forward is to accept the situation. In most cases, there are more opportunities to find love in life, but it can be difficult to find someone new when you are still in love with another person.
- Consult a Therapist: If you are having a difficult time assessing your feelings or reaching a place of acceptance, you may want to consider talking to a therapist or counselor. These professionals can help you address the challenges associated with unrequited love and find actionable solutions to help you move forward.
How painful is unrequited love?
While the precise degree of pain one will experience during unrequited love will vary, feelings of rejection do have the potential to cause bodily distress. Research suggests that the same regions of the brain that are activated when our bodies experience pain are also activated when we go through rejection. This means that, in some cases, unrequited love hurts in a comparable way to physical injury.
In addition to the rejected individual experiencing pain, the rejector may also experience challenges relating to unrequited love. If the relationship between two individuals was previously platonic, but the friendship can’t proceed due to unrequited romantic love, the rejector may feel guilt and anxiousness due to turning down someone they care about.
Is it normal to cry over unrequited love?
As with all grief-related experiences, it is perfectly normal to cry in response to unrequited love. Humans often use crying as a coping mechanism during periods of grief due to its ability to release built-up stress hormones like cortisol, as well as suppress further production. This tends to be an involuntary response to overwhelming or negative emotions, which can trigger your brain’s limbic system to start to produce tears. In addition, crying can cause your body to release oxytocin and endorphins, which can help you feel a sense of calm.
Is unrequited love worse than a breakup?
It can be difficult to determine whether unrequited love is worse than a breakup, as every situation can have unique circumstances and outcomes. In some cases, unrequited love may feel worse due to the unrealized potential a relationship may have had. Unrequited love can also create many of the same feelings as a breakup, including anger, low self-esteem, sadness, anxiousness, and numbness. Individuals who experience unrequited love may also have trouble accepting the situation and moving forward, which can also occur with a breakup.
How do you get over your feelings for someone?
The process of getting over someone can vary from person to person. However, an effective first step to take can be to acknowledge and accept your feelings. While you may consider it helpful to ignore how you feel, this could lead to higher stress levels or potential harm to your mental health. Instead, it could be beneficial to write down your thoughts about the current situation or discuss your feelings with a friend. From there, you may be able to create a path toward acceptance.
If you find that you cannot get over someone, it could also be helpful to seek out the support of a mental health professional. By discussing your unrequited love with a therapist or counselor, you may find the causes behind your inability to accept the situation and start the healing process.
How do you know if you're in unrequited love?
While unrequited love can feel different depending on the situation and individuals involved, there are several signs you may be able to watch for.
- They Seem Disinterested: If you frequently notice the person you love seems disengaged in conversation or doesn’t wish to spend significant time with you, that may indicate they do not wish to reciprocate your feelings. This can manifest in a number of ways, such as taking a long time to respond to messages, canceling plans, or avoiding places they know you frequent.
- You Are Experiencing Emotional Distress: Finding yourself in emotional turmoil when you are around or thinking about a person can be a sign of unrequited love. If you consistently feel nervous, stressed out, or overwhelmed around an individual, that could mean you are suppressing your strong romantic feelings or avoiding addressing their disinterest.
- They Are Interested or Involved With Someone Else: One of the biggest signs of unrequited love is that a person already has a partner or another love interest. In these cases, divulging or trying to act on your romantic feelings may be inappropriate and cause harm to your current friendship.
How can I accept that they don't want me back?
In many cases, the first step to dealing with unrequited love is to acknowledge your feelings. Rejection can be a difficult and sometimes painful process, and pretending that you aren’t experiencing any struggles during this time may impede your ability to accept the situation. In addition, you may need to go through a period of grief before you can reach acceptance. Unrequited love can feel much like losing a loved one or breaking up with a partner; such a loss may take time to process. While this process can be challenging, taking the time to recover can be necessary before one is able to focus on creating a new, healthy relationship with someone else.
Why am I holding on to someone who doesn't want me?
There are a variety of reasons that you may want to stay in a state of unrequited love, even if you realize the other person is not interested.
- Hope That The Situation Will Change: Sometimes, a person may continue to hold out hope that a situation will improve and their love will be reciprocated. These situations may further be complicated if the other party isn’t clear about their intentions, or if you have an attachment style that makes it difficult to leave a relationship.
- Low Self-esteem: If a person is struggling with their own self-confidence, they may not believe they are worthy of having their love returned. This could cause them to stay in a state or unrequited love, even if the other party has made it clear there will never be a romantic relationship between them.
- An Inability to Reach Acceptance: One of the only ways to move on from unrequited love is to accept the other person’s feelings, but this process can be challenging. If a person isn’t able to reach acceptance, they may not be able to leave the situation on their own. In these cases, it can be beneficial to discuss the situation with loved ones, or seek out the help of a counselor or therapist.
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