Hero's Journey, My Journey & Yours
Loved the Wrong Way
A journey of breaking free from dysfunctional relationship patterns and relearning how to love and be loved unconditionally.
I spent years in a relationship that, in retrospect, I describe as torturous.

The source of our extremely unhealthy relationship was never solely the person I was with or myself; it was he and I combined. In fact, he was giving me exactly what I was looking for. If there was emotional unavailability, confusion, and neglect, I called it 'true love' and believed it was worth fighting for.

The spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle says, “Life will give you whatever experience is most helpful for the evolution of your consciousness.” This relationship, as an experience, was what Life was giving me, though I was utterly unaware of its message.

At the time, I genuinely believed that to attain something as worthy as love, one had to go through a significant amount of struggle and pain. Therefore, I was determined not to give up until I came out the other side.
From the book: The Myth of Normal by Gabor Mate
Pain = hope for love; no pain = no hope for love
The unconscious belief formulated above was what kept me, willingly, in a futile misery. Believing I could turn hope into love through enough effort and pain, I stayed committed to my mission for years, until it left me downright heartbroken, tired, and convinced that there was something fundamentally wrong with me.

How could it not be? According to people around me, my love was not love; it was an obsession—love gone wrong. So I thought, 'If even a person's love is broken, how could they themselves not be?'

Yet, one day, I was presented with a revolutionary idea: You can love someone, and still, choose to walk away.

This idea was exceptionally powerful for two reasons. One: It was healing because it implied that my love was okay, that there was nothing wrong with it. Two: It was liberating because it gave me the option to leave without asking me to stop loving.

Finally, I was free! I kept the love I had for him, gathered my hard-earned learnings, and ventured onto yet another imperfect journey: healing.

Thanks to this relationship—and a few other recreations of the same hurtful play:
  • I've learned what I didn't want love to feel like.
  • I've seen the dysfunctions in my understanding of and expectations from love.
  • I've realized that it was me seeking hurt in love.

From the book: The Myth of Normal by Gabor Mate

For the sake of simplicity, I divided this journey into two parts: The Unlearning and The Relearning. Though summed up in a handful of sentences, the process has taken me years and, presumably, will last a lifetime.

The Unlearning
From the book: The Myth of Normal by Gabor Mate
I was not a victim. I played a big role in the making of what was happening in my life. Though unknowingly, I sought hurt in love by being interested in emotionally unavailable and neglectful men. In fact, when attention and connection were presented to me with no effort on my part, I looked down on them. As hurtful as it was, I had to accept the truth and take responsibility for my part.


Understanding the roots of my maladaptive beliefs and the reasons behind my choices and behaviours was essential for me to move forward, because in the absence of it, the feelings of guilt, shame and self-blame were becoming too painful to coexist. I listened to Rumi and kept my gaze on the bandaged place since, as he beautifully puts, "that's where the light enters."


We learn how to be loved and to love from our caregivers as infants, toddlers, and young children, just as they learned from theirs. Having understood this, practicing compassion has become easier. To this day, whenever I find that fingers of blame have turned back on me again, I remind myself, "There is no one to blame; no need to blame. It is what it is, and 'what it is' is life. You're life. Let it be."


Being aware of my distorted view of love didn’t make my attraction to neglectful-and-unavailable go away, but it made me aware of my inner workings. I didn’t know what healthy attraction felt like, but I knew what unhealthy did. I didn’t know what to look for, but I knew what I needed to avoid. That's why I made one thing very clear: whenever I experienced my usual attraction signs—I identified exactly how and where they appeared in my body—the instruction was clear, “Nope. This is not it. Turn away and never look back!” Over time, what I thought were 'love' signals have been re-associated in aligned with their true intention: danger. The same signals that caused me so much hurt and pain in the past now provide me with a healthy sense of vigilance, security, and protection.

Rebuilding Self-trust

After years of making self-destructive decisions, I had to earn my self-trust back. To do so, I needed to prove to myself that I was reliable at getting my own back. Here is one incident that makes a great example of how rebuilding self-trust looked like in practice: I was chatting with a man through an online dating app who started to display some avoidant characteristics. As soon as I perceived him as distant and unpredictable, it was on for me: excitement mixed with fear and the thrill of the unknown, risk, and hurt. I felt alive, but this time I was aware that this exhilaration was not the peaceful kind I was looking for. It was very difficult to resist the drive that had ruled my actions for years, but I managed to choose healing over my addictive dysfunction. I unmatched him and ensured there was no way of future contact. It was shocking! I was amazed by myself. I felt proud, liberated, and empowered. I believe this incident happened to be the turning point for me because it gave birth to a new self that was strong, reliable, and most importantly, self-caring.

The ReLearning
This is the phase I feel will last a lifetime.

For love to be healing and nurturing in our lives, we need to be exposed to love that heals and nurtures. Love that is unconditional; that is given to us without the need to 'fight for' it.

For this reason, I'm forever grateful for my partner, who teaches me unconditional love by loving me unconditionally, who proves to me time and again that it is possible to love a person for who they are without expecting or demanding any change.

To be honest, this new realm of love still blows my mind and feels unreal at times. I look at him holding my hand happily, willingly, and not wanting to let go, 'How?' my mind wonders, 'How is this real?' Then, I smile, full of gratitude and joy.

On the flip side, I still experience periods of distrust and hypervigilance toward him, mostly triggered by my deep-seated fears of abandonment. This is followed by immense guilt, which slowly dissipates in the big, gentle hug of compassion and is reborn as a focus on learning and expanding my capacity to love and be loved unconditionally.

When we first started our relationship, the path from distrust to guilt, to compassion, to openness took me months. Now, it unravels way faster—depending on how safe I feel physiologically, it varies from an hour to a week or two. It doesn't feel great that sometimes I still need a week or two to find my inner balance, but it's okay. The journey ahead is unknown, but I am aware of how far I've come and am committed to moving forward.

I See You
If you are someone who is stuck in a hurtful relationship, 
I understand you.

I know how hard it can be to walk away from someone you deeply care for, how alone it can feel to be judged for your love, and how desperate it can get to be trapped in unhappiness.

But I also know that it doesn’t have to last forever. You can love someone, and still, choose to walk away. You can commit to loving yourself even more.

Last Words
I want to leave you with the lyrics of a beautiful song, 'The Man I Love' by Hindi Zahra.

Some day he'll come along, the man I love
And he'll be big and strong, the man I love
And when he comes my way
I'll do my best to make him stay

He'll look at me and smile, I understand
And in a little while he'll take my hand
And though it seems absurd
I know we both won't say a word

Maybe I shall meet him Sunday
Maybe Monday, maybe not
Still I'm sure to meet him one day
Maybe Tuesday will be my good news

He'll build a little home, just meant for two
From which I'll never roam, who would, would you?
And so all else above
I'm waiting for the man I love

Feel free to share your reflections, questions, or simply connect with me by clicking here – I'd love to hear from you!

Selen Yesilada — a life coach on an "Authentic Quest"
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