He broke your heart, violated your trust, betrayed your confidence, ignored your needs, and disrespected you. When you tell your friends, they shake their heads, clucking, shaming. You’re better off without him. He doesn’t deserve you. You can do better than him. You make up a story, one that casts him as the villain and you as the victim of his dastardly deeds. It’s a good story, the kind they make movies about. You feel righteous when you kick him to the curb. You did the right thing, they all say. There’s lots more fish in the sea.
But deep down, there’s hurt underneath the anger. And beneath the hurt lies Something Larger, something that understands why he did it, something you’d have to reckon with if you acknowledged it, something that disrupts your story. So you stick to your story, ignoring what lies beyond it. It’s easier that way. You have to protect yourself, after all.
But I ask you this. What would Love do?
She blames you. It’s all your fault, you a-hole. If you hadn’t done what you did, her life would be roses and violets. How could you? How could you? That thing you did—you know the one—how could you do something like that? What kind of person are you anyway? Who would do something like that to someone you love? You don’t deserve to breathe the same air as her. She’s right. You’re a schmuck and you deserve to be punished. They should just brand you with a scarlet letter so everyone can see. You could traipse around with your walk of shame and pay the price publicly. Let them spit on you. You are the devil. You deserve to rot in hell. Her friends think you’re Lucifer. They guard around her, minions protecting their queen. You dare not get close, much less try to apologize. Forget that. You tried apologizing. She couldn’t hear you. She was too angry, too stuck in her story of what an ass you are. She couldn’t hear that you never meant to hurt her, that you love her, that you were doing the very best you could in the moment.
You knelt at her feet and asked her forgiveness, at least you did in your mind. You would never intentionally hurt her. You would tell her you still love her, if only she’d listen. She’s probably right. You’re just an a-hole. You should skulk away with your tail between your legs, cut your losses, hope for better luck next time.
But I ask you. What would Love do?
You tried so hard to save her, even though she wasn’t interested in saving herself. You put your heart and soul into the rescue attempt, invested your money, energy, time, and love into the intervention. You thought it might finally work this time. Yes, you’ve tried and failed before. Yes, maybe you should have learned your lesson. But this time you really believed she might be ready to finally receive your help. You thought you might save her this one last time. Who would do it, if not you? Who would keep giving her the benefit of the doubt, if not you? Who else but you loves her enough to keep putting up with her shit? All the lies. All the broken promises. All the times she said what you wanted to hear and you believed her. Again.
But God damn it. She did it again. You did it again. You let her do it to you again, and she’s not even grateful. How can she not be grateful, after all you’ve done for her? What kind of person uses people that way, sucking them dry and then leaving them, worn, depleted, and drained on the side of the road, without even looking back? You should just cut your losses. Give up on her. She’s a lost cause.
But who will take care of her if not you? Maybe you should give her one more chance. Forgive her again. Keep trying. If you don’t, what will become of her. Yes. She needs you. She’d fall apart without you. You can be the bigger person, keep showing up for her, be the one person who will never abandon her, no matter how bad thing get.
But I ask you. What would Love do?
We’re all at risk of falling into one of three patterns in an unhealthy triad of victim, perpetrator, and martyr.
Sometimes we play the helpless victim at the mercy of bad people and a hostile universe. Sometimes we cast ourselves or let others cast us in the role of the villainous perpetrator. Other times, we play the self-sacrificing but resentful martyr. None of these roles are healthy. All of them stem from the Small Self’s story of separation. Every one of these patterns arises from fear.
But we can disrupt these patterns with one simple question gifted to me by my spiritual counselor and transpersonal psychologist Ted Esser, PhD.
What would Love do?
I dare not suggest I ever know the answer to such a question. But I pose it to myself often these days, and more often than not, I find myself choosing to do the kind thing when I ask myself this question. This question softens hard edges in me and disrupts my victim, perpetrator, and martyr stories.
What Love Does
Sometimes Love forgives what feels unforgivable.
Sometimes Love questions everything from a place of curiosity and humility.
Sometimes Love sets boundaries.
Sometimes Love prays for help.
Sometimes Love opens the heart even further than you ever thought possible. @Lissarankin (Click to Tweet!)
Sometimes Love confesses an unspeakable truth.
Sometimes Love leaves you bare and vulnerable, a turtle without a shell in a briar patch.
Sometimes Love leaves.
But always, Love makes choices that unlock the soul cage and help you and those you love grow. Always, even when dosing up tough love, Love is kind. And always, just as you can always recognize the ocean because it tastes like salt, you’ll recognize Love because it tastes like freedom. Yes, it takes courage to do what Love would do. But as Sara Bareilles dares you in her song “Brave,” “Maybe there’s a way out of the cage where you live. Maybe one of these days, you can let the light in. Show me how big your brave is.”
Lissa Rankin, M.D., New York Times bestselling author of Mind Over Medicine and the upcoming The Fear Cure, is a physician, author, speaker, and founder of the Whole Health Medicine Institute, a training program for physicians and other health care providers. She is on a mission to merge science and spirituality in a way that not only facilitates the health of the individual; it also heals the collective. Lissa also co-teaches teleclass programs about spirituality, such as Medicine For The Soul with Rachel Naomi Remen, MD and Coming Home To Your Spirit with Martha Beck, PhD. Read her blog and learn more at LissaRankin.com.
For more transmissions on what Love would do (so you can show us how big your brave is), preorder my new book The Fear Cure here if this feels resonant with you.