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Unrequited Love: Why it hurts so bad and 15 crucial steps to take

Love is a heady emotion. No other feeling has the same effect on us as love does.

And it’s the most wonderful thing to have… if.

Yes, there’s a big if.

Love is magical and inspiring, if the person you love feels the same way about you.

But that’s not always the case, is it?

I think you’ll agree with me when I say:

There’s nothing worse than unrequited love. 

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You’ve given someone your heart, but the feelings aren’t returned.

The one thing you want is to be with them.

But for whatever reason, they just don’t feel the same way about you. Yet somehow, your mind can’t stop thinking about them.

And no matter what you do, no matter how unreasonable or crazy, you just can’t stop loving them.

So what can you do? How can you dig yourself out of this hole?

Don’t worry, many people have been there before and they’ve gotten themselves out of it through action.

We’ve prepared the 15 most effective steps to get over unrequited love.

But before we jump to that, let’s first define what unrequited love really is.

What is unrequited love?

Unrequited love differs from mutual love, just like delusion differs from the truth.”

– George Sand

There are two main kinds of unrequited love.

The first kind is the most well-known and often the most devastating because you’ve been drawing hearts around their name for weeks and now your plans have come to a halt.

When love is not returned at the outset of a potential relationship, it can be a hard blow to deal with.

Some people spiral into a depression or suddenly feel like they will never find anyone who is going to love them. It’s really messy at times.

You might find that things started out well enough, but have become cold. Or messages, phone calls or dates have started to become fewer and farther between.

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You are anxious about what this thing is and you find yourself looking frantically for signs that the object of your affection loves you. So to find out that they don’t can be really hard to process.

The other kind of unrequited love is when you find yourself not interested in the other person and need to manage those expectations.

First, you need to deal with the fallout of whatever their reaction is going to be. Make sure you are not cold or mean about your lack of interest in them.

Remember that we are talking about love here, and it can send people off the deep end. Put yourself in their shoes: what was it like to be turned down by the person you loved? Awful, right? There are no two ways about it.

So if you find yourself not interested in someone who is so very obviously interested in you, be careful to consider their feelings and let them down gently.

Now, let’s go over the 15 steps to ease the pain of unrequited love.

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1) Why unrequited love hurts so badly

Nothing burns quite like the realization that the words, “I love you” have not been returned by the person to whom you have declared your love.

Not only are you dying inside because someone has not told you they love you back, but you have yet to realize that you have also just ruined your friendship.

In a perfect world, your declaration of love would be returned and you’d live happily ever after, but in the real world, saying I love you and not hearing it back is a show stopper.

But there’s only thing you can do when it hurts so bad, and that is to…

2) Deal With the Loss of Friendship First

Reconcile that you may have lost a friend, in addition to the possibility of love. Even if your love is returned, your friendship and relationship will never be the same.

In this instance, love is not returned and you need to start getting into the nitty-gritty of having lost the friendship. This will bring with it its own brand of pain.

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You might need to mourn the loss of a friend while dealing with the potential embarrassing fallout of having declared your love to someone who does not love you back.

The answer to both of these problems is time, but right now, you want to remind yourself that you were not wrong for declaring your feelings. It’s not wrong to say what you feel.

3) Acceptance is the path to recovery

The first thing you need to do is accept the emotions you’re feeling.

There’s really no alternative.

Rejection hurts and denying that you’ve been hurt will only prolong your emotional pain.

Research shows that we feel an emotional wound in the same way as a physical injury. Emotional pain activates the same part of your brain as physical pain.

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So when you’re physically injured, what’s the first thing you do?

You acknowledge it and take care of yourself. You’re kind to yourself and you nurture your injured wounds.

However, this doesn’t mean you should just lay in bed all day.

It’s important to go about your life as you normally would, but understand that you’re not going to be at peak performance right away.

By taking action and gradually improving step-by-step, you’ll eventually get back to the way you were.

“Understanding is the first step to acceptance, and only with acceptance can there be recovery.” – J.K Rowland

4) Understand this: You’re not alone

We’ve all been there. Most of us have suffered from unrequited love and everyone has been rejected at some point.

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Research indicates that more than half of Americans have experienced unrequited love at least once in their lives. So it’s a common occurrence that we all experience at some point.

Right now, there’s two things making you feel hurt:

1) The fact that you feel sad and heart broken.

2) You feel ashamed, like there’s something wrong with you because the feelings aren’t returned. Self-doubt creeps in.

But what you need to realize is this:

It happens to everybody! Even those people you might consider “perfect”.

Why?

Because not everyone is looking for a relationship. People are at different stages in their life.

Or perhaps you’re just not the right person for them.

Whatever it is, it’s very unlikely that “you weren’t good enough”. Instead, they were just looking for something else.

Once you understand that, you’ll be in a much better place emotionally.

“Everyone at some point in life have faced rejection and failure, it is part of the process to self-realisation.” – Lailah Gifty Akita

5) Talk it out with someone who sees it from your perspective

When you’ve had your heart broken, you don’t need someone telling you how stupid you were for liking this person and that you should look elsewhere. Even if what they’re saying makes sense, this talk is better for another day.

Right now though, you need someone on your side who will just listen to your thoughts and feelings and agree with you.

If you don’t have a close friend that you can trust, you might want to give journaling a go. Grab yourself a notebook and write down all of your thoughts and feelings.

Writing helps the mind slow down and structure the information in your head. It will feel therapeutic as you’ll release and understand your emotions through your expression.

“Highly sensitive people are too often perceived as weaklings or damaged goods. To feel intensely is not a symptom of weakness, it is the trademark of the truly alive and compassionate. It is not the empath who is broken, it is society that has become dysfunctional and emotionally disabled. There is no shame in expressing your authentic feelings. Those who are at times described as being a ‘hot mess’ or having ‘too many issues’ are the very fabric of what keeps the dream alive for a more caring, humane world. Never be ashamed to let your tears shine a light in this world.” – Anthon St. Maarten

6) Is this a pattern?

According to psychologist Berit Brogaard, crushes become more “valuable” when they’re unattainable and some people can get lost in this pattern over and over again.

To find out if this is a common occurrence in your life, ask yourself if you’ve ever fallen in love with someone who rejected you before.

You may be attracted to rejection, and therefore seek people who are unattainable.

This only serves to reinforce the feelings that nobody wants to be with you.

Dr. Tarra Bates-Duford, psychologist and founder of Family Matters Counseling Group has some valuable insight.

“Studies conducted on the topic of relationships suggest that people who engage in relationships anxiously are more likely to experience unrequited love than those who go into relationships confidently,” she tells Bustle.

“We are also more likely to experience unrequited love when we have already fallen head-over-heels in love with the ‘idea’ of being in love.”

Ask yourself, are you only in love because of the idea of it? Because if you don’t truly love this person, then it is easier to move on.

But as Dr. Bates-Duford suggests, if you are the anxious in your relationships, then perhaps it’s better to work on your issues before you start dating.

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If you feel that this might be a pattern, the most important first step is to become aware of it.

Once you’re able to acknowledge it, you’ll understand why you’re attracted to certain people, and you can start focusing on dating those who are more suitable and won’t cause you hurtful rejection.

7) Are you happy that you loved?

Right now, you probably wish you never loved this person. That’s a natural reaction. The pain is still so fresh.

But in due time, once you’re over it, you realize how powerful and beautiful love is.

Yes, even if they didn’t reciprocate your love.

Because giving love is the most selfless thing a person can do. It meant you were willing to be vulnerable for this other person. And vulnerability involves having the courage to love someone despite the chances of being hurt. That’s a beautiful thing to do.

You saw them for their best self and for everything they could be. Give yourself kudos for that.

Sure, love hurts, but it can also make us feel alive in very special ways. And it gives us some of the most valuable lessons in life.

Once it’s all done and dusted, you won’t regret it at all because love is one of the greatest gifts of life.

8) It’s never going to be the way you want it to be

This one is going to be the hardest to accept, but it’s crucial that you do.

In this case, any hope of the two of you being together is futile.

You need to give up on your idea of getting closure. It won’t happen. You’re not going to be in a relationship with them in the way you wanted it to be.

Somehow, you’ve got to give up on the idea that it could potentially happen, and understand that it never will.

It’s the only way you’ll be able to get on with your life.

9) Create Distance in Your Life

When you are overcoming what probably seems like the end of the world to you, you might not be thinking clearly, but it’s important that you give yourself some time and space to deal with how you are feeling.

You might make the mistake of jumping into dating immediately, as a way of avoiding your pain. But this will not fix your problem. You will only carry unnecessary baggage.

A lot of people want to forget how they feel as fast as possible, but the truth is that if you sit with those feelings and spend time feeling the way you feel, you will learn to handle your thoughts and feelings and feel like you are in control of what is going on.

You were not wrong to say how you felt. It just didn’t work your way. And that’s the risk of putting yourself out there.

Now, you just need to be equally as brave in facing your pain.

10) Were they really perfect?

I can bet my bottom dollar that you’re telling yourself this:

“I’ll never find someone as perfect”.

The truth is, they weren’t perfect. Nobody is. That’s just the way you’ve built them up in your mind.

When we fall in love, we can’t find anything wrong in that person. All we see is their good sign. It’s like our brain is incapable of recognizing the bad things about them.

If you can’t stop thinking about how great they were, it might be time to write a list of things you didn’t like about them.

What you’ll likely realize is that they weren’t that good after all, and getting rejected by them isn’t really that bad.

In fact, it’s important to consider the very real possibility that getting rejected may have made your future life better.

Why?

Because this is another learning experience in life, which will make you more mature and wise.

“Experience life in all possible ways –good-bad, bitter-sweet, dark-light, summer-winter. Experience all the dualities. Don’t be afraid of experience, because the more experience you have, the more mature you become.”

11) Recognize the Mind Games

One of the hardest parts of getting over love that is not returned has to do with the mind games you will experience. Your brain is going to play some nasty games with you. It’s going to feel like torture.

You are going to question everything you think you know about yourself: you’ll feel like you aren’t good enough. You’ll feel like you aren’t worthy. You’ll feel like you’ve failed in some way.

The work you do to get over those mind games are the most challenging and important. Once you are able to wrap your mind around all the things you might be telling yourself, you’ll be able to get on with life in a more meaningful way.

Right now, you are probably placing a lot of your value in the hands of someone who has just rejected you, but in time you’ll see that it was just part of the recovery process.

12) What is the reason you wanted a romantic relationship in the first place?

Are you scared of being alone? Do you undervalue yourself?

One of the best ways to get over unrequited love is understanding your reason for wanting a relationship.

Often times, we want to be in a relationship because we don’t value ourselves. Therefore, we look for a relationship because we don’t want to be alone and we’re looking for validation. Or we don’t want to deal with our own issues, so we distract ourselves by having someone else.

The worst reason you can have for wanting a relationship might be to have someone to be totally dependent to. You might think that being in a relationship with this person will magically fix your problems. Chances us, they’ve probably felt it, which is why you’re in this dilemma.

If you think that might be the case, then your answer to getting over someone is loving yourself. Most of the time it’s even necessary to learn how to be alone until you find a good kind of love.

13) Appreciating yourself

Now is the perfect time to get to know yourself again.

I’m sure you’re experiencing self-doubt and you’re questioning your self-worth. That’s what rejection does.

You might think that this is lame but what will really help you is sitting down with yourself and writing down on a piece of paper your greatest strengths.

Understanding what your strengths are will make you believe in yourself and everything you have to offer.

Anyone that gets a chance to date you is lucky.

You also might want to write a list of things you’re grateful for, especially if you’re feeling down.

After all, it’s important to understand that there’s a lot in your life right now that you can be appreciative for.

“We often take for granted the very things that most deserve our gratitude.” – Cynthia Ozick

14) Consume to heal

A lot of people will shut the world out when love is unrequited, but if you really want to do some soul healing, spend some time with the people who do love and appreciate you and show you that love.

Surround yourself with people’s good vibes, listen to music that makes you happy, read a powerful story, write, draw, paint, or share your thoughts with the world on your blog.

But take time to bring good things in your life in addition to whatever good vibes you put out. When you give and take like that, it helps you to see that you have value to add to the world and you can let go of the notion that all of your worthy was tied up in a potential relationship.

15) It’s time to get out of your comfort zone

Once you feel like you’ve processed the pain of rejection and you’re ready to move on, it’s time to try some new things.

After all, it’s hard to grow when you stay in your comfort zone.

Discovery is an important aspect of life. It allows you to find which things you like or don’t like. You can’t discover your passions, meet amazing people, and have meaningful life experiences if you continue to stay in your secure little bubble.

You don’t have to do things that are extreme. Even doing something that makes you a little nervous will benefit you. Fear is a natural emotion. But instead of letting fear stop you from doing things, let it excite and motivate you. Conquer your fear.

Start going out with new people, or going on blind-dates. There’s a world of people out there and I can guarantee that there’s someone out there better suited to you. It’s time to find them!

“You never change your life until you step out of your comfort zone; change begins at the end of your comfort zone.”
― Roy T. Bennett

What to do if you’re on the other end of unrequited love: How to let them down gently

When dealing with matters of the heart, consider that you may be acting irrationally or not giving yourself time to think things through.

Crazier things have happened than falling in love with the short boy next door. If you don’t at least explore the options out there, then you end up believing there are none to be had.

Love is as much about making opportunities to find it as it is about chance. You never know who will love you, but if they get up the nerve to tell you, do your best to not break their heart.

Go out and find love

If you’ve been burned by someone’s unrequited love, keep that in mind next time you are faced with the prospect of having to let someone’s heart down.

Have genuine conversations about love and with people you love so that you aren’t uncomfortable talking about it.

If you are interested in someone, the best way to find out if they feel the same way is to ask. There’s no secret signs or code that you need to break.

You could spend years of your life wondering if every guy in a coffee shop could be Mr. Right, or you could sit down and talk to one of them.

Find out what they are all about and if you find yourself falling for them, don’t let it freak you out.

The worst thing that could happen is they decide they don’t love you. And that’s their loss.

In conclusion

There’s no question that unrequited love hurts.

But instead of wallowing in your pain, it’s time to accept it and move on.

Having your heart broken is one of the most excruciating things in life you can go through. So much so that it can traumatize you from finding love again.

But don’t let it. Love is amazing. I know it sounds cliche, but you will find the right person for you.

Until then, have fun discovering your journey. Be kind to yourself. Stay open to new opportunities.

Sooner or later, love will find you.

There’s a world of people out there for you to meet, and appreciating yourself and everything you have to offer will help you find the one that’s right for you.

NOW READ: 7 proven methods to getting over emotional pain


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Written by Lachlan Brown

I’m Lachlan Brown, the editor of Ideapod and founder of Hack Spirit. I love writing practical articles that help others live a mindful and better life. I have a graduate degree in Psychology and I’ve spent the last 6 years reading and studying all I can about human psychology and practical ways to hack our mindsets. If you to want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Twitter or Facebook.

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