11/24/2012 10:18 am ET Updated Jan 21, 2013

The Risks of Loving Fully: Do You Hold Back Out of Fear?

One of my favorite quotes is this one by C.S. Lewis in The Four Loves:

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket - safe, dark, motionless, airless - it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.

It takes great courage to love fully.

Take a moment right now to think about this: What is more important to you -- to love fully and run the risk of heartbreak, or to hold back opening up your heart, trying to be safe from the "risk of tragedy" and "the dangers and perturbations of love"?

The point C.S. Lewis makes is that closing our heart to the risk of heartbreak creates a living hell. The truth is that while heartbreak is extremely painful, it is not nearly as painful as the hell we create for ourselves when we hold back loving out of our fear of getting hurt.

Yet, many people choose to keep their heart closed rather than risk the intense pain of heartbreak. The reason for this is that most people have never learned how to manage heartbreak. If you believe that you cannot survive the heartbreak of losing a loved one, then how can you take the risk of fully loving?

We love fully only when we believe we can manage the pain of loss. Heartbreak is a fact of life if you choose to love. "To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken."

Managing Heartbreak

If we want to love fully, then one of the most important things we can do for ourselves is to learn to manage the smaller losses of life -- the everyday rejections and the various common losses -- so that we know we will be able to manage the bigger losses and tragedies should they occur.

When you know you can manage heartbreak, then you don't have to avoid opening your heart and loving fully. Here is the process for lovingly managing heartbreak:

• Name the feeling, fully acknowledging that your heart is broken.

Heartbreak is such a painful feeling that many people have learned to bypass it, instead numbing out, getting angry, staying focused in their head rather than in their heart, going into denial, or turning to various substance or process addictions. All of these avoidance behaviors serve to keep the heartbreak stuck in your body, causing much distress or potentially even illness.

• Embrace your heartbreak with deep compassion, being very kind and gentle with yourself.

Compassion is a very powerful feeling and is the only feeling powerful enough to make our heartbreak bearable. While compassion from others is helpful, we can't always rely on others to be there for us during heartbreak, so we need to learn to be present for ourselves with compassion -- i.e., kindness, gentleness, tenderness, caring and understanding for ourselves.

Heartbreak generally comes in waves, and each time it comes up, embrace it with compassion for yourself.

• When the heartbreak starts to subside, be willing to release it, consciously letting it move out of your body.

If you have a spiritual belief system, then give the heartbreak to spirit, God, or whatever is your higher power, and ask to have it replaced with peace and acceptance. Do this as often as you need to. If you do not have a spiritual belief system, then imagine the heartbreak being released from your body into the air.

• Once you feel some relief for the moment, open to learning about anything you need to learn regarding what might be happening and what is loving to yourself.

There can be much to learn as a result of opening to and managing your feelings of heartbreak. You might need to explore whether you are taking someone's behavior personally, or if you are blaming yourself for something, or what someone's unloving, rejecting behavior is saying about them. You might need to open to the huge challenge of accepting the finality and complete lack of control over death.

When you can lovingly manage the smaller heartbreaks of life, as well as bigger experiences of rejection, then you will know you can manage the tragedy of losing someone you deeply love through death -- which is the greatest challenge of all. You will be free to fully love when you reach this place of inner strength -- the place of knowing you will be okay even if you lose the person you love.

Margaret Paul, Ph.D. is a relationship expert, best-selling author, and co-creator of the powerful Inner Bonding® self-healing process, recommended by actress Lindsay Wagner and singer Alanis Morissette, and featured on Oprah. To begin learning how to love and connect with yourself so that you can connect with others, take advantage of our free Inner Bonding eCourse, receive Free Help, and take our 12-Week eCourse, "The Intimate Relationship Toolbox" - the first two weeks are free!

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