Wounded by Love
Shane, a 34 year old man, had not had an intimate relationship for 16 years. Recently divorced, he even described his marriage of five years as lacking real love.
I asked him, “What happened 16 years ago?”
He readily admitted, “In my second year of high school I fell in love for the first time. We were together constantly all through high school. Theresa was my one true love. Shortly before we graduated she ended the relationship. I really to this day don’t know what happened. But I do know one thing. In the depth of my misery I made a vow never to open my heart again. Somehow that felt like I was protecting myself from ever being hurt that deeply again.”
In fact, Shane was true to his vow. His life went downhill from that point. He started using drugs and alcohol, and women became, for him, a means for sexual satisfaction. And deep under the hardened crust of his broken heart, he rarely felt the aching loneliness lurking there.
I asked, “What ever happened to Theresa?”
“Oh, she’s around I suppose. I haven’t seen or heard from her since I was 18, but I know her address. I don’t blame her anymore for leaving me. She did what she needed to do.” Shane looked sad.
“Well,” I continued, “It’s time to break the spell.”
“What?”, said a confused Shane.
I looked him in the eyes, “Do you want your heart to be available again for love?”
“Yes,” Shane said softly but soberly, “I’ve been wanting that all these years.”
I suggested he write Theresa a letter. I coached him about what to write. Here are some of the highlights of that letter:
After we broke up, I made a serious mistake, one that has deeply affected my whole life. I vowed never to love again. I closed my heart not just to women but to all of life. I somehow thought that would protect me from being hurt again. But I was wrong. I’m writing to let you know that I want to love again. It’s just too painful to keep my heart closed. I can now see the beauty of the love we shared and the gifts you gave to me. I’m wishing you all the best that life has to offer.
With all my gratitude,
That letter turned out to be the key ingredient in Shane’s recovery of his open heart. His relationships with women deepened immediately. He discovered he could be friends with women, something he didn’t even realize he was missing.
Joyce and I have seen similar situations many times in our counseling practice and workshops. “First love” can be so tantalizing … and so devastating when it doesn’t work out. Although Shane remembered making a deliberate vow not to be vulnerable again, for most people there is an unconscious “self-protection” that happens, an unnoticed resolution to keep the heart protected.
This backfires though. Closing the heart is never a protection from pain, but rather an open door for more pain from the lack of love that follows. In Shane’s case that lack of love manifested as self-abuse. The only true protection in life is an open heart willing to love and at the same time having the wisdom to know when to show that openness. It’s not wise to keep opening the heart in abusive situations, where it may be better to simply leave.
Whether or not you have been wounded by “first love” or later love, (everyone we’ve met carries some wounding), your heart doesn’t have to be kept in a prison. Like Shane, are there persons in your near or distant past who you need to set free or forgive? A letter to these people can be a powerful catalyst for your own healing — as well as for their healing. Even if you don’t have their address or can’t find it, write the letter anyway without sending it. After all, it’s mostly for you. Why keep a protective shell around your heart, when you have the opportunity to love abundantly, or to deepen the intimacy of your current or future relationships.