by Mary Russell, M.S.
In my work with teenagers at the Institute and in school settings, the issue of heartbreak is an almost inevitable point of discussion. Perhaps it’s the hormones or the freshness of the hurt, but when you see heartbreak in teens it always seems particularly raw. I often wish I could tell my young clients and students that heartbreak is a passing phenomenon of the teenage years – like acne or curfew. In reality, rejection is not an issue that goes away when we graduate high school or reach any particular milestone in our lives. It remains an issue that inevitably comes up throughout our adult life. Rejection – romantic or platonic – is an unfortunate side effect of opening our hearts up to other people and living in the social world. This is not so say things can’t get better for teens OR adults who identify with concept of heartbreak. While rejection may never “go away,” it can “get better.” In a sense, it may be possible to turn our heartbreak into a more tolerable heartache.
It will never feel good when our love is unrequited. When this is the case, we often wonder what is wrong with us and assume that this MUST be why we are unloved. Indeed, there are things wrong with all of us – if we look for them, we will undoubtedly find them. But knowing this about ourselves does not mean we are unworthy of love (if this was the case, no one would ever love anyone else). Flaws do not make us worthless or unlovable, it simply makes us human. Moreover, we are not mind readers. We only know the facts: at this point, for whatever reason, we are incompatible with someone we care about.
Then there are the “woulda, coulda, shoulda” thoughts. What if I had or hadn’t done X, Y or Z? What a so-and-so I am for doing that.” Our behavior is bound to be just as riddled with flaws as we are. The idea that we will never make a mistake in a relationship OR that there is always a right or wrong way to act is just unreasonable. One behavior is not always our undoing but in the rare case it is, we can acknowledge it as a mistake and try not to repeat history. The important piece will be to acknowledge our mistakes as our behavior and not make it a reflection of ourselves.
Rejection may never stop hurting. It may always sting a bit. But if we decide that forming relationships with others is worth the risk, we have the choice to let the occasional person’s opinion of us break our heart or simply make our heart ache.