Keeping an Open Heart in the Age of Digital Dating

Someone liked my profile. A surge of endorphins.IMG_5861

An instant message arrives. The heart flutters.

He hasn’t signed in for two days. Is our future over?

Dating in the digital age poses many challenges. How do set boundaries in a pixelated world of anonymous personas and selective self-representation, yet still maintain the open heart that is needed to embrace opportunities of true connection?

We live in unprecedented times in this world of winking, liking, and hearting each other with the touch of a finger behind a mask of i-invisibility. There are no role models, no navigational maps, no how-to manuals. Thousands of years of courtship history are hardwired into us, causing us to respond to a 😉 on our screen with the same surge of hormones and emotions that we learned to have through an actual real life seductive smile from across a room.

How are we supposed to hold back these bursting-at-the-seams emotions when our interactions with the attractive gender are increasingly carried out over apps and websites? What is the appropriate level of emotional response to these minimally significant communications? The mind says “it’s not real,” but the body says “YES!!!” The disconnect between the rational and irrational parts of our minds can cause a lot of distress, leaving us insecure and unsure how to engage.

Finding appropriate boundaries in the world of online dating is something that we are collectively figuring out. Just as the generations before us carved out societal rules and expectations around courtship and marriage, we are the ones to figure out what the new levels of appropriateness should be, for ourselves, and for the generations that follow.

Hypnotherapy is a powerful tool for accessing your inner creativity and problem solving capacities. I often use hypnosis with my clients to help them to develop new strategies and boundaries that are aligned with their values. Those who experience this work are continually surprised by how much genius lies within the self when they are simply given the right tools for access.

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Why did I think he might take me back?

This post is part of a series that explores individual thoughts, feelings, and experiences that are common during a breakup and recovery from heartache.

Your partner has broken up with you, and you are hoping that he will change his mind and take you back.

You may be clinging to this hope, despite all evidence that his decision was firm and final.

You may want him back, even though he was bad for you.

While your heart is desperately holding out for the possibility that he’ll reverse his decision, your mind is beating you up for being so foolish. You feel powerless, like your entire sense of self is caught up in the balance of his whim. The position you find yourself in is degrading. You feel like you have no self-respect, no dignity, no ability to do anything but focus all of your attention upon the idea of him.

Why does this happen? How can love be such an addiction that can take hold of us as though it were heroine? How can our desire for a relationship override our sense of reason, even our sense of what is actually best for us. Even if he was a completely insensitive jerk, you still want him back. How can this be?

This internal battle makes you feel like you have completely lost your self and your ability to think, reason, and make decisions. This further diminishes your sense of self-esteem and throws you deeper into pits of feeling powerless.

Here are some explanations about why this happens. Later, we’ll look at what you can do about it.

Why this happens:

  • It’s natural to be hopeful about something you care so much about, and have invested so much time and energy into.
  • You took time to open up, share secrets, become intimate, be vulnerable. That door can’t be closed in an instant — it takes time. In the meantime, the door is still open, but there’s nobody on the other side of the threshold. It is painful to be that emotionally open and exposed, and to no longer have the care, love, and acceptance that came along with it. Being in love allows us to open our hearts, but within a safe container. When that love is gone, the open heart is exposed to the harshness of the world, and it hurts.
  • As discussed in my book, HeartBreak Therapy, the heart is a transceiver of love — that is, it is the part of the body that metaphorically sends love out, and receives love in. Love flows out to those we love, and love flows in from those who love us. When we’ve put all our love eggs in the one basket of a romantic partner, it’s like we haven’t diversified our love portfolio, and any shift in the presence of that one person has a tremendous impact on our love flow. If that person leaves us, both the destination and the source of our love disappears at the same time. Our heart quivers in the pain of anticipation of the love that is not coming, and pulses in the generation of a love that no longer has anywhere to go. Our love circuitry short-circuits and it throws our entire emotional being into chaos.
  • As human beings, love is our primary emotional food. We need love in our lives to feel complete. But love isn’t always easy to get from our families, friends, and colleagues. And with the loss of the interconnected nature of tribal and village living from which we evolved, we tend to rely ever more so on our partner for our love needs. When that lover heads for the hills, he often takes our only real source of love that we’ve ever known, with him. The mind can respond with thoughts such as “I’ll never find that love again,” which cause us to spin into even darker states as we imagine future scenarios of loneliness, isolation, and depression.

With all of this emotional weight, its no wonder we cling to any thread of possibility of him coming back. Even if the relationship was far less than perfect. Even if we were disrespected and degraded in the relationship. There really are some great parallels to a drug addiction – a drug that was the only way we ever found in life to feel free, safe, peaceful in the mind, and open in the heart.

So what can you do about this?

When love is devastating in this way, it nearly always means you have lost your sense of self. Getting back to a good place mentally and emotionally requires a willingness to be really honest with yourself about:

  • Who you were before the relationship – your emotional state, vulnerabilities, unresolved emotional pains from the past, attitudes about relationships, etc.
  • Who  you were in the relationship – why  you were in the relationship, what were you looking to get from the relationship, where you weren’t being honest with yourself or your partner, what parts of yourself you ignored, sacrificed, or negotiated away for the relationship.

As you contemplate the above ideas, and more, you can realize how you perhaps weren’t in the relationship for the right reason. Or how you weren’t discerning enough with your choice of partner. Or how you weren’t tuned in enough to your partner’s needs and desires. The quicker you extract learnings from the relationship, the quicker you’ll be able to reframe the breakup from being a loss, into being a powerful catalyst for your self-realization and growth. This should be a key area of focus, and it is explained more deeply along with guided processes in HeartBreak Therapy.

This is a huge piece in your journey to peace and fully moving on. You need to take away lessons from the relationship that will teach you how you must be better within yourself, and better within future relationships. The lessons are inevitably gifts that strengthen you, and set you up for better relationships in the future.

In the meantime:

  • Focus your thoughts on the next steps
  • Stay busy implementing those next steps
  • Continually divert your attention forward, always correcting that impulse to look back
  • Actively visualize your positive new life of the future – the mind hates a vacuum, so don’t let emptiness fill your images of the future. HeartBreak Therapy leads you through exercises to pull you forward.
  • Move the picture of him from in front of you, to behind you. As your thoughts continue to go back to him, close your eyes and imagine moving the images of him to a location behind you. That tells your subconscious to file him into the “past.”

Birthing HeartBreak Therapy – A story of healing and inspiration

In September of 2008, while wrapping up a joyfully tearful hypnotherapy session for a friend who had been six months into a hellish post-break-up heartache, the seed of this project was planted into the cyber garden of the internet.

For a few years prior I had been amazed at the ease and speed with which hypnotherapy was able to help people emerge from all-consuming heartache. My affinity for this topic came early in my career as a hypnotherapist, starting with a pro bono session I did for a friend of a friend when I was still cutting my teeth at doing emotional healing work back in 2004, the year after my training.

I had been out at a bar one evening, catching up with some friends, when the topic of my entry into seeing clients for hypnotherapy came up.

“You must help my friend Paul,” pleaded my friend. “He got dumped two months ago and has been a mess ever since. He cannot be alone and he goes out drinking every night.”

My friend connected Paul and I, and we set up a time for me to go over to his apartment to do a session. He was nervous, and so was I – I was new at this, and the pressure was on to help a real person in real suffering.

Paul had allowed his entire sense of self to get tied up with his ex-boyfriend. When his ex ended the relationship, Paul was completely devastated and unable to cope with the inner emotional turmoil without constant social interaction/distraction and numbing the pain through alcohol. It was a familiar story, and not a difficult one to relate to. I had been down that trail before, as had most people I knew.

The roommates were out of the apartment. The phone ringer was turned off. The sounds of evening rush hour traffic rumbled their way through the single paned, street-facing windows. Paul lay on his bed, which was a twin mattress placed on the floor of his room. I sat on a chair a couple of feet away. I used some of the standard hypnotic induction techniques I had learned back when I first started studying hypnosis on my own back when I was 15 years old, and which were reiterated to me in my formal training some 13 years later.

It was his first time to experience hypnosis, and Paul seemed to take to it very well. After several minutes of slow, deep breathing, we moved into visualizations. I could see his eyes dance from side to side underneath his eyelids, which let me know he had entered a hypnotic state and was fully engaged in the imaginal world I was verbally crafting for him.

Paul was suffering from what many of us do in his situation – a distorted sense of self. Even though Paul had likely spent most of his life as an independent, single person, he had somehow allowed his identity to get entangled with his romantic partner. And when that partner left, so did Paul’s sense of self. I knew that this distorted sense of self was the low hanging fruit that I needed to address with him right away.

Acknowledging that, as with any client in such a situation, there was the possibly that his trauma from this breakup could be partly due to unresolved childhood issues such as abandonment or lack of solid love from parents, I knew that Paul’s main priority was to feel better – and right now. Healing childhood issues can require a longer time and a greater commitment to the therapeutic process than the single session that he and I had arranged. I knew I had to do what I could to help him in this moment of his life – to give him quick relief. His childhood would be there to deal with later, if that even turned out to be an issue for him.

My main goal was to reactivate Paul’s sense of self. To guide him to feeling good about himself once again. In hypnotherapy circles, we call this “ego strengthening.” Spiritual and personal development circles often talk about the detrimental effects of having a “big ego” but we rarely discuss the implications of having a diminished ego.

The diminished ego is the domain of victimhood, fear, vulnerability, and dependency. And for those suffering from heartache, one of the main causes of emotional pain is a lack of self worth, self-regard, self-esteem — whatever words we choose to use. This weakened ego manifests as regret, self-blame, self-doubt, and self-loathing, and can lead to thought patterns such as:

  • “I’m not worthy”
  • “I don’t deserve”
  • “I’m not likeable”
  • “I’m not lovable”

All of these can easily translate into “I’ll never find someone and I’ll be alone and miserable for the rest of my life.” Yes, it looks dramatic written out, but that’s the reality of the heartache mind. Its no wonder that devastating breakups are a common predecessor to depression and suicide.

Paul, despite the emotional intensity of his subjective experience, was actually an easy case. His circumstances were ideal:

  • He had a stable, loving childhood (strong foundation at the base family level)
  • He had happy, socially successful teen years (positive validation from the outside world)
  • He had a vibrant adult social and work life (continued positive validation from the outside world thru to the present)

These positive realities are what we call “inner resources,” which can be tapped into and activated during hypnosis to remind the person of how likable, lovable, and successful in life they are. And in the case of Paul, this is all we needed to do.

After establishing the hypnotic state, I simply guided Paul to recall a happy, loving, and fulfilling time from his past. He scanned his memory banks for a period in life that fit this criteria and was soon back in the high school play: performing on stage, receiving accolades from his teachers, and enjoying incredible love and support from friends and family. It was his golden moment. After 10 to 15 minutes steeping in these good memories, I gently guided him to return to the waking state bringing all of those good feelings back with him. The session was complete.

Paul emerged jubilant. He felt like he had been transplanted into a new body and new brain. He felt light, happy, and completely free of all of the terribly consuming thoughts and feelings he had prior to the session. While his body and mind were experiencing bliss, Paul’s intellect was in a state of disbelief at the complete shift in his subjective experience within a 30 minute session that simply involved recalling some good memories.

I was likewise overjoyed. It was one of those moments in life that let me know I was on the right track. That this was important work. That I needed to continue with it. That there was so much healing to be done. So much suffering to alleviate. And that so few of those suffering from emotional turmoil had any clue that such direct and rapid healing was available to them through this bizarre and little understood practice of hypnotherapy.

Paul continued to reach out to me for several weeks, letting me know that the healing had lasted and that he was now in a in a sustained joyful and vibrant place in his life. The last check-in I had with him, he was happily in a new relationship that felt stable and healthy to him.

Can healing really be that simple? In many cases, yes. When we understand the technology of hypnotherapy and when we understand the rules of engagement of the mind and emotions, we can be incredibly effective with very little effort. It’s like the status quo is thinking that to get through a set of doors, we will need a battering ram and ten strong men. Then comes along a frail old man with a key, who slips it into the keyhole, makes a subtle turn of the wrist, and then the doors pop open all on their own. Depression and anxiety can seem insurmountable and clinicians often don’t know what to do aside from prescribe medications. But there are other gentle approaches, such as hypnotherapy, that bring actual healing at a fraction of the cost and with no biological toll on the brain and rest of the body.

Four years later, its 2008. I’m back at the end of wrapping up the heartache healing session with my friend I mentioned at the beginning of this story. He, like Paul, was overwhelmed with joy at his liberation from heartache after a 15-minute guided process. I told him that I had had many such incredible experiences of healing with clients, and was contemplating sharing the techniques with the world via a website called “HeartBreak Therapy.” He responded with “You HAVE to do this!” and insisted that we go online, in that moment, and buy the domain name www.HeartBreakTherapy.com. And we did.

It took me nearly a year to set aside the time to start transcribing the techniques I had been using. From 2009 through 2012, what started out as a simple website with a few audio links morphed into a full-fledged book project. HeartBreak Therapy coverAll these years later, the book is finished.

What a thrill and adventure and series of joyful collaborations it has been to bring this project to fruition — from the cover graphic, designed pro-bono by a Mexico City-based graphic designer I met at a beach on vacation, to the book’s subtitle “Repair Manual for a Broken Heart,” which was suggested to me from an activist-photographer I began chatting with one afternoon at my local coffee shop, to the book’s comedic illustrations, which were generously gifted from my cartoonist brother. This book is the product of the gifts of many and was created in the spirit of love and generosity and the desire to make the world a little easier to live in.

I hope you enjoy this book and that you and those you share it with are able to benefit from the fruits of all of the labors, inspirations, and good intentions that went into making it a reality.

May we all live with open hearts.

Andrew.

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