How to deal with the pain of an unrequited crush as an adult

Isn’t crush the most perfect word for what it means?

The power and pain in it. The loveliness and the hurt that five letters represent.

Because a love crush has the power to crush you.

To be in love, in lust or infatuated means to give yourself over to vulnerability, hormones and the opinion of another. That ‘other’ has power over your smile and tears and thoughts.

In those first throes of passing fancy, it feels like obsession. You twist any topic back to that person when in conversation with friends. Getting the bus is no longer a commute but an excuse to imagine your life together.

And you can finally relate to love songs because, in actuality, they were written just for you.

However, this flame can quickly be quenched when you realise the feelings and affection are not returned. When your imagined love is in fact a figment of your imagination, it feels like the world around you is crumbling

While this may sound like a bad teenage drama, crushes aren’t ageist. Whether you are 20 or 40 or 70, a crush can form at the most unlikely of times. It’s a collective experience and could even be described as a right of passage, but when it doesn’t go the way you imagined, the memories are sore.

Because at its core, an unrequited crush is a rejection. No matter how much life experience you have collected, a dismissal of the heart never gets any easier.

So why does it hurt so much?

Margaret Bankole, a relationship expert who has been counselling couples and individuals for over 10 years, says it’s because having an unreturned affection leaves us in a vulnerable place.

‘I think that there is nothing more painful than unrequited love or crush because you have invested all your heart and soul into that being,’ Margaret tells

‘When it is not reciprocated it can unnerve you, it can crush your very spirit and leave you in a very vulnerable place. It can really knock your confidence and self-belief too.’

Margaret explains that it is often the ‘what could have been’ that makes an unreciprocated crush so agonising.

‘We tend to hold this one person in our mind and can’t let go of because we have painted a picture in our minds of how life could be with that person, and after, we need to take the picture apart and start afresh.’

‘But always remember, it takes time to get over long-standing hurts and emotions. And what you are feeling, no matter how intense, is normal.’

Relationship expert Cheryl Muir believes our response can sometimes be more complicated than it seems, with feelings connected to our childhood. ‘Unrequited love is one-way,’ she explains.

‘We love or like them but they don’t feel the same way in return. It seems harmless on the surface but sometimes it’s a sign of a very raw, sensitive memory or emotion that we haven’t addressed. It takes us back to a small, vulnerable place where we didn’t receive the love and nurture we craved.’

Cheryl explains that to properly deal with our issues, we must acknowledge where these feelings are stemming from.

‘Nobody really wants to be asked “so, tell me about your father” because it’s not sexy or especially pleasant but it is your ticket out of this hell loop,’ she says.

‘Firstly, we pinpoint the moment we didn’t receive the love we wanted as a child. It can be helpful to hire a coach or therapist for this process. During this, we often grieve for the child in us who didn’t receive compassion and warmth.

‘Secondly, we now choose to give ourselves the empathy we needed back then. When you were small, and you didn’t feel loved, what did you need? Give that to yourself now.

‘The unrequited crush is, essentially, a mirror for the parent, sibling, friend or teacher who didn’t give us the love we needed. By addressing the cause of this we break the cycle and become the person who receives love with ease and can deal with the pain of love or lust that isn’t returned.’

NLP Practitioner Rebecca Lockwood says to remove yourself from the situation and to never seek approval from outside influences.

‘It’s not you, it’s them. It’s nothing personal,’ she explains. ‘I know this may sound silly, but when you think of it this way it makes sense.

‘The other person has their own internal perceptions of what is attraction and what affection is too.

‘This will be different for every individual and when someone doesn’t like you back it is because of their own internal version of themselves.

‘Always validate yourself from within, rather than something or someone outside of yourself.’

To successfully ‘get over’ the heartbreak, all the experts say self-care and compassion are vital.

‘We get over this by having supportive people around us and have empathy for ourselves,’ Margaret says. ‘There are many options including focusing on your work, friends or hobbies and basically distracting ourselves and giving ourselves time to heal. If you are finding things particularly difficult and feel your reaction is connected to something else, it’s a good idea to chat to a professional.’

Speaking from personal experience, Cheryl advises to go through the stages of grief, even though your feelings may just have been a burst of infatuation.

‘This is not only is this something I help my clients with – it’s also something I went through for the entirety of my 20s,’ she says. ‘So, I understand. It’s a very tender and raw experience’

‘Be very kind and gentle with yourself. This is a tender process, which often involves grief and sadness.

‘Speak kindly to yourself and surround yourself with things and people that help you to feel safe, warm, and loved.’

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