Most people are not strangers to heartbreak. It’s something that leaves very few hearts untouched. The COVID-19 pandemic has created a lot of stress on relationships, and dealing with that stress is taking its toll.
In this article, Jay Shetty unpacks the three types of love, then gives four strategies for dealing with and healing from heartbreak. Whether a heartbreak is recent or in the past, these four questions and exercises will help you find natural, lasting healing. Once you understand the type of love you want to feel, you can identify when you have healed from heartbreak.
Love That Looks Right
Think back to your first love. Did you feel an obsessive desire to see and speak to them as much as possible? This love consumes you. You can’t eat, sleep, or focus on tasks because you’re always thinking about the other person.
In a relationship like this, we try to mimic what we see in popular media by giving gifts or writing songs or poems. We do whatever we can to shower the other person with attention and love.
Jay Shetty says this type of love, also referred to as early stage love, mostly consists of mimicked behaviors and feelings based on a person’s external qualities. We do what we think we’re supposed to do when we are in love, but it’s not yet proven to be true love.
“I experienced that when I was in elementary school,” Jay Shetty shares. “I had my first huge crush on a girl, and I obsessed over her. I remember just thinking and obsessing over this girl. It was all the highs and lows. What I felt was just a replication of what I thought I was supposed to feel and how I was supposed to behave when I had a crush on someone.”
In a 2005 study by the Department of Anthropology at Rutgers University, a team of researchers lead by Helen Fisher studied the effect of different kinds of love on the human brain on two groups of people.2 One group described their feelings toward their partners as steady and long-lasting. They had been in long-term relationships and were confident in their love for the other person. The second group expressed feelings of obsession toward their partner.
Each person was hooked up to a brain scanner. Researchers monitored brain activity as each subject looked at their partner’s photos. The brains of those who described feeling a more obsessive love lit up in the area that corresponds with addiction.
“In many ways, we really can be addicted to love or our perception of what love is,” Jay Shetty explains.
Early stage love behavior is not a negative thing, cautions Jay Shetty. It only becomes a problem when it doesn’t mature from that phase into a more lasting phase within a reasonable amount of time. If the obsession goes on too long, the relationship can tiptoe the line between obsession, possessiveness, or fixation on the other person.
Early stage love behavior can also eventually turn into lust—a fascination or obsession with the new. This feeling of excitement can be confused for love.
Hard love comes from painful relationships that bring difficult lessons. You find yourself trying to keep the relationship going because you want to make things work, but the highs and lows are extreme. The good times are excellent, and the bad times are horrible.
This can lead to fighting, friction, and lack of trust. It feels like a constant uphill roller coaster, and you end up giving too much of yourself.
“These experiences are hard, but learning those relationship lessons is important,” Jay Shetty explains. “They put us in a position to have better, stronger relationships in the future. We all make mistakes of some sort in our early relationships. No one is immune from that, myself included. We can either learn and grow from them, or they can leave us with deep emotional wounds.”
Love that Lasts
The third type of love is the love we all dream of—the love that lasts. This type of love is supportive and secure. The other person loves you just the way you are and wants you to be the best version of yourself. You can truly be yourself around them.
“I like to think of this love as a universal love,” Jay Shetty explains. “There are all kinds of love we can experience. Love for our family and friends, love for nature, animals, romantic love, God love, universal love, planet love, Earth love. All of it is encompassed by universal love.”
When you think of love that lasts, you probably think of unconditional love. This type of love encompasses all three types of love into one form. Love that lasts isn’t just romantic love. It can include friends and family too.
Just because you have love that lasts doesn’t mean you won’t experience pain and challenges along the way. Jay Shetty says the important thing is to embrace the lessons we learn so we can love better.
Love often requires sacrifices and the ability to take stress and pressure. Love is not about peace. Love is about getting through difficult times together and falling more in love as you go.
“What you need to do is learn to recognize and separate the pain that's a natural part of universal love from the pain caused by injury or wounds,” Jay Shetty shares. “Natural love pain is the pain we need to heal.”
So how do we heal from the pain we experience in hard love? With a physical injury, we may take over-the-counter pain medication to reduce the pain, or we may bandage the wound and rest while we heal.
Treating pain in love is different, says Jay Shetty. Often, we ignore pain and move on the best we can, or we hide from love for a time until we feel better about trying again. The problem with both these responses is that neither one heals us. We still have a wound that, if left untreated, just like when we injure a muscle, can worsen with time. Just as with a physical injury, pain from love requires treatment too.
“When you injure a muscle, your body doesn't replace that muscle tissue with more muscle tissue,” Jay Shetty explains. “It can't. The only thing it can do is replace it with collagen, which is denser and less flexible than muscle tissue. Because collagen is replaced haphazardly, it interferes with the way the muscle functions, and you're more likely to get injured at the same spot again. You're more likely to develop a new injury because you're trying to protect that spot from getting hurt. Your heart and your mind act similarly when you get hurt emotionally.”
“What's amazing is collagen is a lot stronger than muscle,” Jay Shetty shares. “When we take the time and put in the work to heal this way, we become stronger in the injured place. Your heart and your mind are the same way.”
Here are four ways to heal W.I.S.E. that anyone can practice from anywhere in the world.
Step 1: Weakness – The first step in wise healing is to find a site of weakness and pan out from there. When you suffer heartache, you are in that pain space and tend to hyper-focus on your identity’s wounds. You are functioning in many other aspects of life, but the pain gets the focus. Here is an exercise from Jay Shetty that will help you move past feeling wounded.
What You’ll Need: A large sheet of paper and something to write with.
The first W.I.S.E. healing exercise starts with a big blank piece of paper. Write a topic or a goal in the middle, then write down any ideas or thoughts that come to you that are related to that goal or that topic. It can be a great way to organize your thoughts or brainstorm. Here’s how it works:
- Write the word “Me” in the middle of your paper and circle it.
- Ask yourself the following questions: What are the other parts of my identity beyond being a romantic partner to someone? What do they mean to me?
- Now write down other roles you play in life and draw a line from “Me” to those roles. You might write down: sister, brother, son, daughter, mom, dad, friend, or co-worker.
- Choose the two most prominent roles in your life.
- Next to those two roles write three to five sentences of what those roles mean to you, why they are essential to you, and what impact it makes on the world.
This exercise reminds you that you are more than just your wounds.
Step 2: Insight – What insights can you gain from this experience? Did you learn anything about yourself in that relationship? Maybe you realized you want someone who shares the same values or makes healthy life choices. Perhaps kids are a dealbreaker for you.
Jay Shetty’s next exercise is to find a spot that feels comfortable and safe, and take 30 minutes to an hour to write everything down. The obvious things will come to the surface right away. The more profound answers will take longer to reveal themselves.
“You might come across some uncomfortable realizations, and that’s good.” Jay Shetty explains. “You may feel excited or energized by some things, and others may not feel so great. But just like getting scar tissue massage, some discomfort often accompanies healing. If we can't let ourselves go there, we can't truly heal.”
Love creates blinders that prevent us from seeing others’ faults and challenges. The desire to feel good allows us to overlook things we don’t want to see.
Questions to Ask Yourself: What did I do well in the relationship, and what do I not want to repeat? This allows you to look at the situation with fresh eyes.
Step 3: Service – The S in Wise is for service. Love makes you feel happy, and when you are happy, you pass it on. According to a study conducted at Notre Dame,2 you are more likely to volunteer an average of 5.8 more hours per month. Plus doing things for others just plain feels good.
“When we assume an attitude of service, even the things we do every day can help to serve us back because we're helping to heal the wounds and the heartbreak of the world,” Shetty shares.
Step 4: E – The final step in healing is to expand.
As a monk, Jay Shetty learned about “maya,” a concept that means “illusion.” Sometimes we have illusions about love.
“Part of the mire of love is that we think we can only access it in limited ways, such as only through certain people,” Jay Shetty explains. “That's an illusion. We imagine a door guarding love and believe that to experience deep love and happiness, we have to find the one key that opens that door, and that key is another person—or in their pocket at least. Fortunately, love is much bigger than just one person.”
It’s time to expand our view of love. According to Jay Shetty, when we broaden our concept of love, we realize there are many ways to access it.
“When you let go of the Maya that access to love is limited, you see there is no door at all,” says Jay Shetty. “The door blocking you from feeling loved and sharing love with others is one that each of us creates as a perception.”
Assuming love depends on one person often leads to the formation of unhealthy attachments. Jealousy and insecurity are quick to follow. You're so afraid to lose our key, and when a break up happens, you feel broken.
In order to heal, you need to relax your grip on love and expand your perception of how to access love.
Questions To Ask Yourself: What are the sources of love in my life? How do I gain some perspective and not put all of the pressure on one person or myself?
Take 15 minutes to list out everything that makes you feel connected to love in some way. Don’t overthink it. Simply ask yourself what makes you feel love and when, then record your answers.
A broken heart does not heal overnight. It takes time. By engaging in these four exercises, you can gain self-appreciation, perspective, and insight as you start the deep healing process.
There's a beautiful quote from Washington Irving that says, “Love is never lost. If not reciprocated, it will flow back and soften and purify the heart.” In other words no matter where or how you offer love, when it's sincere, it will come back to you in some way.
“I want you to know that you are never truly separated from love because you've chosen to live your life on purpose,” Jay Shetty explains.
More From Jay Shetty
Listen to the entire On Purpose with Jay Shetty podcast episode on “3 Ways We Fall in Love” now in the iTunes store or on Spotify. For more inspirational stories and messages like this, check out Jay’s website at jayshetty.me.