Thought for the Day:
“You’ll never truly know how damaged a person is until you try to love them.”
Question for the Day:
Do you know how to love?
Today, I’m in the mood to talk about love. Now, if anyone heard me say that aloud, this would likely be the point when their ears would perk up, they’d clear their throats, and slide to the front of their chair because, when it comes to love, everybody has something to say. Our society is completely obsessed with romance and relationships, and frankly it’s getting out of hand. I don’t know if Hollywood can even come up with any more reality show ideas centered around finding love. We now have shows about people dating in boxes, blindfolded, from behind walls, in isolation on social media, naked, while traveling the world, and, in some cases, despite them already being in relationships with other people. We’ve turned marriage into an extreme sport and live for the twisted voyeurism that drives shows like Married at First Sight where folks wed strangers who they’re just meeting at the alter, or Labor of Love where a woman picks the father of her unborn child out of a bunch of random guys who agree she’s hot. We tune in to watch lonely American singles cruise impoverished villages overseas for mates and then fly them to the states as if a healthy marriage is as easy as baking a cake. Add man (or woman) then stir. And we continue to support the Bachelor franchise and take bets on who’s gonna get the first impression rose as if candlelight dinners on a gondola in the French Riviera is anything close to the Cracker Barrel and bowling dating experience most of us can relate to. Guess Who’s Coming to The Bachelor
Yet in my opinion, it seems that no matter how “love” focused we become, we’re actually moving farther away from having a real understanding of what it actually means. We’re so caught up in the idea of it and the #PowerCouple and #BlackLove hashtags, that we’re starting to believe that relationships are substantial even when they amount to little more than a series of overly-filtered Facebook posts and a pair of matching tattoos. Listen, if a twice divorced Steve Harvey can become a relationship expert by writing a book that mansplains how women should act in relationships, clearly we don’t know “love” from a hole in the wall.
(Yeah okay, Steve)
Like anything else, loving someone is a skill that must be taught and learned. Yes, you can listen to songs about it, read self-help books, and follow Russell and Ciara on the Gram, but none of that will teach you how to be emotionally honest, vulnerable, open, and trusting enough of another human being to fully share your heart. Images on a screen won’t teach you how to navigate conflict and well-crafted captions can’t demonstrate for you what it means to pursue your highest potential while supporting someone else in doing the same. You can’t learn how to communicate, compromise, and share responsibility by watching Hallmark movies or subscribing to every relationship podcast under the sun. The truth is, the education that most of us needed in order to learn “how to love” should have been received in childhood, but very often wasn’t.
In a perfect world, all of us would have been raised by two parents who were in love and committed to each other. They would then raise their children with the unconditional love, guidance, protection and support all of us need to develop intellectually, spiritually and emotionally. When you are affirmed as a child by your same sex parent, who is your first role model, and your opposite sex parent, who becomes the first validation received from the opposite sex, there’s usually very little one would end up believing he/she can’t do or doesn’t deserve. A child who is raised in a secure and affirming environment will likely be confident in themselves. They won’t be afraid to take risks because they know there’s a network of support they can always depend on. Even if they are rejected, they can be assured that they are still valuable because mommy and daddy said so. They might be more willing to extend trust to those who appear to deserve it and they probably have at least a basic knowledge of how to communicate their needs and disagree respectfully. And most importantly, they come to believe that others should care about their feelings and therefore they expect people to treat them well. Those with secure attachments in their family of origin might be less likely to tolerate abuse because healthy parents teach their children how to set and respect boundaries . And, if no one in their history who’s claimed to love them ever harmed them or did anything to violate their trust, why would they hesitate to take a chance on romantic relationships in adulthood?
Yet that ideal scenario is sadly out of reach for many. Instead of love between one’s parents, there may have been fighting, abuse, infidelity, or irresponsibility. Instead of both parents being in the home, there may have been a single parent working multiple jobs in an effort to do the job of two people on their own. And instead of unconditional love, guidance, protection and support, there may have been addiction, neglect, abuse, sexual trauma or abandonment. The inability to successfully navigate romantic relationships in adulthood is therefore NOT a function of one’s unlovability or, for women, the consequence of some other defect that our misogynistic society incessantly tries to pin on us. Instead, it is very likely the result of unresolved relationship trauma that probably began in childhood and continued. We all tend to take the lessons from our childhoods into our adult lives, whether good or bad. The circumstances and environment in which we were raised leaves us with beliefs about ourselves, our relationship to others, and life itself. Those beliefs can either be positive and support a healthy outlook on life, or be negative and present a barrier to the life we aspire to have. In the world of therapy, we call these negative assumptions about life, core dysfunctional beliefs. Below are a few that can stem from trauma. When taken into romantic relationships, these core dysfunctional beliefs can make it almost impossible for one to give love freely and receive it in return, even from a well-intentioned person.
Adverse Childhood Experience: Parental Conflict/Domestic Violence
Core Dysfunctional Beliefs: “Drama and chaos is normal,” “All couples fight when they love each other,” “Other people’s conflicts are my fault,” “I’m responsible for keeping the peace,” “Relationships aren’t safe,” “I’m better off alone.”
Adverse Childhood Experience: Parental Absence/Abandonment/Incarceration
Core Dysfunctional Beliefs: “I’m not lovable,” “I’m not good enough,” “I wasn’t worth sticking around,” “If I was just prettier, smarter, more athletic… they would have stayed,” It’s my fault,” “Everyone will leave eventually,” “I’m not worth it,” “I don’t matter.”
Adverse Childhood Experience: Parental Substance Abuse
Core Dysfunctional Beliefs: “I’m not enough reason to do the right thing,” “I’m not important enough,” “I don’t matter,” “Drinking and druggin’ is normal and to be expected in relationships,” “It’s up to me to fix everything,” “I have to take care of others mistakes,” “I can’t tell the truth or people will judge me.”
Adverse Childhood Experience: Parental Infidelity
Core Dysfunctional Beliefs: “All men/women cheat,” “I don’t deserve faithfulness,” “Anybody I love will eventually leave me or hurt me,” “Men/women can’t be trusted,” “All men are dogs,” “I should settle for what I can get since there’s a man shortage,” “Women just have to settle sometimes,” “I shouldn’t expect too much from the people I date.”
Adverse Childhood Experience: Parental Abuse/Sexual Trauma
Core Dysfunctional Beliefs: “I should be ashamed,” “I’m damaged goods,” “I’m dirty,” “No one will ever want me,” “I’m ugly,” “I’m not loveable,” “It’s my fault,” “I deserve mistreatment,” “I have to tolerate mistreatment,” “No one cares about me,” “No one will believe me if I share my pain,” “I don’t matter,” “People have a right to my body and can do what they want,” “I’m not worth it.”
I’m aware that these dysfunctional beliefs don’t apply to everyone and that many people from troubled pasts are able to successfully break generational curses and reach their highest potential despite the obstacles they’ve faced. However, I’ve talked to enough clients as a therapist to know that unresolved relationship trauma usually begins in childhood and can greatly impact how worthy or deserving of love a person believes themselves to be. The beliefs that we hold at the core of our being do end up manifesting in our lives in one way or another. Though the “idea” of love we consume through social media, movies and reality television may inspire us to want a relationship, it’s the intentional commitment to healing, conscious deconstruction of dysfunctional core beliefs, and willingness to adopt a new perspective that can actually teach an unhealed person how to love.
“So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, an God abides in him.”
1 John 4:16