I fell in love with Glennon Doyle Melton’s book “Love Warrior” earlier this year and can’t recommend it highly enough! Here’s why–
In February, I traded in the gloomy winter skies of Amsterdam to spend two weeks in sunny, tropical Costa Rica. I visited a volcano, hiked in cloud rainforests and spent several days on picturesque beaches. But, truth be told, one of the highlights of my trip was reading Glennon Doyle Melton’s book, Love Warrior. While my family was jumping waves and floating in the salt water, I sat on the sand devouring page after page of this memoir, underlining passages that I wanted to look back on and scribbling notes to myself in the margins.
Seeing just how absorbed I was in this book had everyone wondering what exactly it was about. But I struggled to sum it up for them. I’d seen Glennon’s TEDx talk and knew that she’d struggled with bulimia and alcoholism. But I also knew this book would touch on her coping with a crisis in her marriage. It seemed like it could be about a lot of different things, so I needed to read more before I could give them a proper synopsis
The following week, when I laid the book down next to me at the pool we were sitting at in Manuel Antonio, and announced to my partner that I’d finally finished it, he looked at me and asked the question I already knew was coming,
“So, what did it end up being about?”
But even though I’d finished the book, was overcome with emotion in response to it, and had bought copies to gift to my friends, I still didn’t have a clear answer to that question. One of the reasons that it’s so difficult to sum up this story is because it’s about a little bit of everything, which is also why I believe so many people could connect to it. I can recommend it to clients struggling with
It’s also for partners supporting someone in therapy and for parents who need to understand and believe that their child can get better.
But that’s not the full story of why this book resonated so deeply with me. The reason I want my clients to read Love Warrior is because through the telling of her story, Glennon brings to life what I see as an underlying issue in most of the clients I work with–
Although they may seek therapy for a variety of different symptoms, underneath there is very often a broken relationship with their emotions, which has resulted in a broken relationship with themselves.
Throughout the book Glennon describes herself as someone who feels emotions very deeply. In one excerpt she says:
“I think I love my people more than normal people love their people. My love is so overwhelming and terrifying and uncomfortable and complicated that I need to hide from it. Life and love simply ask too much of me. Everything hurts. I don’t know how people can just let it all hurt so much. I am just not up for all this hurting. I have to do whatever it takes not to feel the hurt. But what I have to do to avoid the hurt for myself hurts everyone else. My survival means I have to keep harming my people. But it is not because I don’t love them, it is because I love them too much.”
Many of my clients describe themselves as “overly sensitive,” and explain that this is one of their traits they need to fix in therapy. However, through Love Warrior the message that I try to convey to them is made clear—
The problem is not their emotions, but how they’ve learned to respond to them.
In therapy I often introduce them to the concept of the Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) as a way for them to begin to reframe how they view their tendency to feel deeply. We work to see that instead of seeing this as a character flaw, it is actually something that they can harness to their benefit. As Glennon says towards the end of the book:
“My tenderness is my strength.”
“Now, when someone asks me why I cry so often, I say, “For the same reason I laugh so often—because I’m paying attention.”
In the brave and bold telling of her story, Glennon shows us just how damaging it can be to live in an environment where we’re told that certain emotions are good, while others are bad. If certain feelings are bad, then we assume we should eliminate them. When Glennon reflects on her own early judgement and escape of her feelings, she writes:
“I understand that my entire life has been a race from the hot loneliness. I picture ten-year-old me, feeling my anger, fear, jealousy, otherness, unbelonging for the first time and understanding these uncomfortable but normal human feelings to be wrong, shameful. I thought I needed to hide these feelings, escape them, fix them, deliver myself from them. I didn’t know that everyone feels the hot loneliness. I didn’t know that it would pass. So for the next twenty years, every time anger or fear or loneliness starting bubbling up, I reached for an easy button.”
Her story so beautifully illustrates how if we stop trusting our emotional compass, which is ultimately designed to help us, we may also lose touch with our intuition and a highly critical inner dialogue may develop instead. The result of this may be an erosion of our sense of self-worth and confidence, which can lead us to engage in self-destructive behaviors or actions that harm those around us. As she explains:
“We either allow ourselves to feel the burn of our own pain or someone we love gets burned by it. “
Another consequence of closing ourselves off to the so-called “bad” emotions, is that we inevitably close ourselves off to the ones that feel good too. If we don’t trust in ourselves to be able to self-soothe through the pain of disappointment and betrayal, how can we dare to open ourselves up to love? Glennon explains it this way:
“I’ve never let myself trust love because I’ve never let myself trust pain.”
My clients describe being terrified of the journey of changing their relationship with their emotions. After all, if they’ve been running from these emotions, how will they handle feeling them again? Glennon’s story illustrates so well some of the ingredients for this journey of relearning how feel:
1. Baby Steps
“Usually I just lie in bed and practice feeling my feelings. The music is a safe place to practice being human…the song always ends. I survive every time. This is how I know I’m getting better: I become able to survive the beauty of music. I have accepted another one of life’s dangerous invitations: the invitation to feel.”
2. Changing our mindset about “bad” emotions:
“Grief is love’s souvenir. It’s our proof that we once lived. Grief is the receipt we wave in the air that says to the world: Look! Love was once mine. I loved well. Here is my proof I paid the price.”
3. And accepting that the only way to get through the emotion is to accept that it exists and remind ourselves that it’s temporary
“My grief is a solid brick wall in front of me. I want to bulldoze through it, scale it, tear it down a brick at a time. I’m desperate to get to the other side of the wall so I can see what’s waiting for me down the path. But the wall will not budge, or let me climb, or let me remove a single brick. All it will allow me to do is lean against it exhausted. Grief is nothing but a painful waiting. A horrible patience. Grief cannot be torn down or scaled or overcome or outsmarted. It can only be outlasted. Survival is surrender to the brick wall.”
Glennon’s story is one about trying to find a sense of self-worth and fulfillment in something outside of herself, only to realize that in order to fully heal she had to reconnect with her inner voice.
“Finally, I was being quiet and still enough to hear the truth: You are not supposed to be happy all the time. Life hurts and it’s hard. Not because you’re doing it wrong, but because it hurts for everybody.”
I want my clients to read this story because too often they feel alone and their struggle is made harder by the fact that they judge themselves for what they’re going through. It’s ironic that the time in our lives when we need our support the most, we tend to abandon ourselves. In Love Warrior there is a reframing of this crisis that often propels people to seek therapy. Glennon describes it as an invitation, a chance to grow:
“[A crisis is] an invitation to allow everything to fall away in order to be left holding what can never be taken. The invitation in this pain is the possibility of discovering who I really am.”
Ultimately, this is a story about learning to be true to yourself. But it doesn’t spare any details on just how difficult of a process it can be to learn to reconnect with yourself. The process you must go through to “unbecome,” as Glennon describes it, so that you can connect with yourself, is a journey. It requires the fierce courage demonstrated throughout the pages of this book.
I want my clients to read Love Warrior because I want them to trust that when this journey towards healing gets difficult, they’re exactly where they need to be, and that it’s only a temporary place. I want them to see the beauty and power that come from healing their relationship with themselves, which Glennon describes as becoming a “Love Warrior.” Because, as she explains towards the end, a woman (and I would argue a man as well),:
“ …who has recovered her true identity as a Love Warrior is the most powerful force on earth. All the darkness and shame and pain in the world can’t defeat her.”