A good friend of mine recently wrote a social media post about saying the words “I love you” and how difficult it was for him at times to share that sentence. Thinking back, I realized that I have rarely, if ever, heard those words said out loud.
In my family, it was understood or assumed that you were loved—but those words were almost never spoken. The way love was communicated growing up was through teasing—slightly sarcastic, mildly insulting quips. Saying “I love you” directly was somehow not part of my family’s communication.
Last weekend, I went to visit my mother after not having seen her for several years. Being in her presence and having a cascade of memories go through my system brought all of my questions about love into direct focus.
My quest to find what real love is stems from my relationship to my parents and in particular my mother in this iteration. (I know: “Duh.” Right?) It may seem obvious or common—but was not so apparent to the young part that lived in me. That young part within kept trying to believe that my mother did love me.
Another friend recently wrote a post about how treating your children without warmth and care instills in them a lifetime of relationship issues, as well as confusion about love. He also just posted another piece on how our childhood trauma directly impacts our health in later life. In the Somatic Psychotherapy field we have known this to be true for many years. Today there is a tremendous amount of information about this idea. This article from the American Academy of Pediatrics talks about the research and effects of ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences).
Yet another reminder of what I know to be true and what I myself actually teach; but somehow when it relates to ourselves, we seem to forget everything we know until it gets really loud. Sifting through the memories of my childhood, I realized in the first part of my life, that I kept thinking the lack of my mother’s love, and instead her unbridled hostility, were because of something I was doing wrong.
One of the ways we protect ourselves as children is to make virtually everything about ourselves. It’s a way of claiming power during the confusion and challenge of growing up. If we make a situation about us, we believe we can change what we are doing or how we are being and make it okay—and possibly either get the love we are looking for or, at least in my case, get out of trouble.
I spent years trying to “fix it” without much success. It was in my 36th year when I finally realized that whatever I was doing wasn’t working—and so I stopped. I stopped being afraid of a narrative that my mother would finally get fed up and 'leave' me, even though I had left home at nineteen years old.
Children can’t understand that a person who withholds love, but is supposed to care for them, may find it difficult to actually feel care. In my mother’s case, I experienced a lifetime of her limitations in expressing love or affection. From my years of therapy and training as a healer and practitioner, I thought I’d come to an understanding about what her limitations meant. I really felt that I could manage her treatment of me with compassion. I also believed I wasn't affected every time I had contact with her.
That was bullshit.
As much as we think we've dealt with our wounds in life, there will always be a little part of us that keeps hoping that, this time, it will be different—that, maybe, if we were a little less “X” or a little more “Y”, she/he/they would love and care about us.
It is in this yearning that we transfer unconscious hope onto our intimate relationships, as we try to get from our partners what we didn’t receive from our parents.
In that last visit with my mother, the little part of me finally understood that it was over: I realized, after all, that my mother actually did hate me in ways—and funnily enough, I felt relieved—that I haven’t made this whole drama up, that I could let go of that minuscule kernel of hope and instead relax into the truth, which in turn has been its own revelation.
There is so much tension tied up in our bodies trying to hold on to that tiny kernel of hope. We’ve built so many defenses around not wanting to feel the pain of the rejection (or in my case, cruelty) that was untenable to the children we once were and is untenable to our inner children now. We have created so many beliefs to protect (and at the same time, tear down) that child. It all leads to so much unfelt pain—and in my case, at this moment, an amazing amount of space.
I feel incredibly free right now—and deeply saddened. I’m saddened for all those years of fruitless trying. Saddened for that part of me that never really got the love I deserved. Saddened for my mother, who may never be able to feel how much love I had for her (or any love for that matter). Saddened for the time lost, during which I quietly believed I was unlovable and therefore somehow innately “bad.”
I see how tortured my mother is and also understand that the way she was/is, wasn’t about me, really. It was always about her own self-hate.
As for that young part within that carried hope all that time, she’s at peace right now and feeling pretty well held—happy and sad and, yet, for the most part, content.
Sharing my quest to understand love has been a vulnerable experience. I thank all of you who have kept in touch and gone with me in this discovery. I continue the journey with a clearer focus and a lot of excitement.
I now understand why I chose the picture I did for The Attraction To Love workshop I’m leading in Amsterdam this May 19–21. It always comes back to the healing of the child within that lets the love seep in.
I hope you’ll join me... 😊