Dating Dilemma: Like many women Julia has a low body-image and finds it hard to trust the partners that she chooses. Once a partner senses that something is wrong he usually backs off, leaving her disappointed. But now she's ready to change her love life! Julia's goal during this Love Lesson is to improve her self-esteem. Then she'll be ready to find (and begin) a healthy new relationship.
Now: Julia had a low-key lunch date with a guy who she met online. "We kept the conversation light, talking mostly about music and movies," she says. "It was great." Although he called and emailed her afterward, he hasn't asked her out again. This is the point at which Julia's "neurosis" usually kicks in and she worries about being rejected because the date didn't like her looks.
She is having that reaction, but much less intensely than in the past: "When I have a negative thought I replace it instantly with a positive affirmation."
I tell her to go out on other dates and to not allow the thoughts of this relative stranger consume her. I also suggest she try a radical but effective thought- or habit-stopping technique called stop-erase-replace: "Research proves that you can literally reform the makeup of your brain in that time by creating new neural pathways."
It works like this: When she gets the unwanted thought (Men reject me because I'm not attractive), she stops it. She can do that by mentally screaming Stop, Stop, Stop; visualizing herself writing the thought on a blackboard, then erasing it; or seeing the intrusive thought on a computer screen, then hitting Ctrl, Alt, Delete. She replaces that thought with: I am a beautiful woman whether a particular man wants to date me or not. She must pummel that new thought into her head: write it out 500 times, scribble it on Post-Its and attach them all around her, record herself saying this new belief and play it over and over while she sleeps.
"Wow. It sounds like a lot to write it out 500 times," she says. "But I've probably repeated old negative thought to myself 5 billion times through the years. I'll try it."
She hasn't destroyed her Romantic Resume yet: "I want to read everything over, share it with a close girlfriend to get her feedback, then burn a copy of the resume to get closure."
The love quester admits to feeling excited and happy but a bit in limbo. "I have had life-changing revelations since we started working together," she says. "I'm not who I was. I won't fall back into the old patterns, but I'm also not yet who I'm going to be. So I feel good but a little uncomfortable." I suggest she imagine romantic scenarios in her head with the old negative endings, then spin out the scenarios
I also tell her to create a maintenance plan for herself, as we're drawing near the end of our sessions and she needs to safeguard against falling back into familiar ruts.
The next time I speak with Julia, she ebulliently describes the ritual she and a friend performed last weekend. "We read over these masses of pages I wrote about my old romantic patterns. It was very emotional. Then we trundled it all onto a wheelbarrow
Out with the old ways of behaving
He emailed Julia back that work stress had kept him from calling her, and he later left her a phone message.
"Even if I don't ultimately get the outcome I want in a particular dating situation, I'll no longer allow myself to feel like a victim of circumstance," Julia says. "That self-knowledge is very empowering."
She began the thought-stopping technique and found it affirming to replace negative self-talk with a positive phrase: "It's exciting to realize that we can loosen the chokehold the past has on us. Every day is a new beginning."
Her game plan is to take time to process her recent radical inner changes before plunging back into a frenzied round of dating. "In a 9-month period during 2000, I went out with 10 men. Right now I need to breathe and just be with me. I liken it to a caterpillar. Although it looks dormant and shut down, a lot is happening inside that ultimately gives it the strength to break free from the cocoon and transform into a butterfly."
I tell her that just because she's not actively seeking romantic love at the moment, she is nonetheless a conduit of love to and from the people in her life. She says, "That's exactly right. I don't need a date on Saturday night. Instead of worrying about that, I'm going to concentrate on ways to let my friends and family know how much I love them. "Last week I said I was in limbo. That's not true anymore. I am on the brink of becoming a butterfly."
Your homework: Bring this lesson to life by doing the following exercises:
- Perform a closure ritual.
- Try the stop/erase/replace negative-thought-stopping technique.
- Initiate a maintenance plan
--where do you go from here?
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Do you have a dating dilemma of your own? Tell Sherry about it and find out how other women are handling their love lives on the Dating Doyenne message board.