Livia asks: Like many of your readers, I came to the realisation that I’ve dated an emotionally unavailable man (Mr Unavailable) for 6 years, plus I’ve realised that he’s not the only one in my past. I recently broke up with him, and I’m committed to that decision (finally!). I’ve been working on my own emotional availability, boundaries, fear of commitment and unhealthy patterns of behavior. And as I proceed, I feel as if I was living in fog for years, and it’s clearing now little by little. It feels great!

But with that I am also starting to face an issue that is difficult for me to manage. I feel very ashamed and guilty for letting myself down and allowing unpleasant things to happen to me over and over again for years. To make things worse, I know what I should theoretically be doing (in short, accept that my old self didn’t know better and that I’m human who makes errors and learns), but as I’m failing in the attempt to apply that knowledge in reality, I’m creating a vicious circle of ‘should’ and shame. How do I break that cycle?


Something I often say to people is that it only takes one. I have been in one mutually fulfilling relationship with love, care, trust and respect, and it’s with the man I’m now married to. I’ve been out with pretty much every variation of both of my parents, and I’ve been in all of the types of unavailable relationship, and I did this all by twenty-eight. I tell you this because it would be easy to have written myself off, figuring that no one would want me and that with a 100% track record of ‘failure’, that I was doomed.

You can't know who you are without discovering who you're not

Adulthood is about unlearning all of the unproductive and downright harmful habits of thinking and behaviour so we can become who we truly are.

You would not know what is or isn’t working for you and you would not know where you need to adapt and change (become more of who you are and help instead of harming yourself) without painful and frustrating experiences.

You can’t know who you are without discovering who you’re not.

Also, you can’t know what feels good and right for you without having discovered what doesn’t work.

Life cannot be all the same. It needs variance, flavour, ups and downs. It’s only with the benefit of hindsight that you will understand the significance of this time.

You are unfolding. You are emerging.

Every relationship is a stepping stone to the one where you’re truly meant to be. Relationships expose our wounds and show us where we need to heal, grow and learn. Fear, pain, guilt, stowed away baggage that you’ve forgotten that you buried or have tried to keep a lid on, surfaces in our relationships.

What we don’t sort out in one relationship, we will sort out in another.

What we learn from our relationships gets put to good use in another. We can only know what we’re carrying around through our relationships. This isn’t just with romantic ones; it’s all of our interpersonal relationships. Hence why I hear from so many people who say very similar things to you, only it’s about their boss, co-worker, friend, etc.

You are being cracked open by your experiences.

Yes, it’s painful, but if confronting certain things causes discomfort, it’s a sign they need to come out. With self-care, which can include support from third parties, you can can get through this. Long-time readers know I have a kinesiologist, acupuncturist and a few other sage people in my life who have helped me along in my journey.

Your past relationships are necessary stepping stones in the evolution of your authentic self and becoming available for a loving, lasting relationship.

The antidote to shame is compassion.

Shaming you over your past isn’t going to motivate you to move forward. Patience, tolerance, kindness, empathy, acknowledgement and a willingness to reach for a different feeling and thought from shame, propel you forward. Billions of people have been and done things that, in retrospect, they wonder the equivalent of, Was I smoking crack?

It would be wonderful if we could know everything up front without experience. It’s experience, though, that gives you experience, knowledge and courage.

Our greatest pains often contain our greatest growths.

There are very specific things that have happened in your past that have brought you to this juncture. To shame you is to deny the journey your younger self has taken. You did not get to this point by accident. And, yes, you have made choices, but so has everyone. Until you recognise that you’re using habits of thinking and behaviour that don’t serve you, you can’t make better, evolved choices. You’re not ever going to make perfect choices, but every day of awareness you have about this fog you’ve been in is a day out of your pattern and a day of building new habits of thinking and behaviour. Patterns happen when we’re living unconsciously. Choosing more of what you do with a greater level of awareness is a pattern breaker.

It’s also important to note that this is about commitment, which is making a decision. No commitment comes with every itty-bitty detail laid out. You have to make the decision and choose it each day with supporting actions and thoughts. Sure, you will have an idea of certain things that you will do, but the rest is about showing up and trying.

If you put your hand on your heart and ask yourself what is really happening here, you will also see that fear has come to call via your inner critic who wants to keep you in your comfort zone.

Your inner critic has one function and one function only, and that’s to criticise. If you listened to its shoulds, it would soon criticise you for doing so. When you try to listen to your inner whisperings, it shames you over your past and throws up a load of, well, crap.

Your inner critic isn’t you. It’s critical noise that’s like a recording of old criticisms that gets activated by you trying to be different. Don’t let it hold you back. Talk to it. Be your boss.

‘Shoulds’ are rules, which are counterfeit principles.

Where there are ‘shoulds’, you find guilt and it ends up, if you focus on it, pinning you to the past. Rules are based on guilt and pain over what you feel is a past screw-up, but all that’s going to happen is you will have a wall up. The fear of what could go wrong will still remain. It would be better for you to be boundaried so that you can forgive you and move forward.

The antidote to ‘should’ is authentic desire. Choose what you want to do instead of doing things because it’s what you think is expected of you.

Shame showed up because you’re making progress.

Instead of participating in the shame conversation when it comes a knocking at your door, consciously respond to it. It’s thoughts and feelings triggered by certain actions you’re taking, not a court order.

Also, check in with yourself about what you’re afraid of doing next. It sounds like fear of moving on to the next stage of your life is hidden in this thought process.

Keep a Feelings Diary, write Unsent Letters (you can get both of these guides from the downloads area) and write to your younger self (you can get the guide here). I recommend these along with any additional support you might seek, such as therapy, because they give you perspective which allows to let go so you can move forward. Acceptance gets you out of stuck.

Use the Feelings Diary or general journaling to note your triggers for shame.

What were you thinking, feeling, doing? What was going on around you? You can then respond more consciously because you know your cues and triggers for shame. Notice what shaming yourself helps you avoid. There may be other feelings layered beneath shame or it might be an action you don’t have to take. This is how you break the cycle. You allow yourself to become more conscious, aware and present.

Remember, whatever you’ve been and done previously really won’t matter when you move forward. The past can be a block to creating, forging and sustaining loving relationships or it can be the opening to more loving, available relationships and a happier, authentic you. Choose which one you want it to be.

Have you felt shame over past experiences? What did you do to break the cycle?

For more on emotional unavailability, check out Mr Unavailable and the Fallback Girl. Want to work on having a better inner relationship? Check out Tune In To Your Inner Voice (& Calm Your Inner Critic).

If you would like to submit a question, email advicewednesday AT If you want detailed personal advice, use the consultation service. 






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