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Healing in Order to Know Love

by Debra Franklin, LCSW


Are you getting enough love? We all need relationships in which we find solace, care, friendship, and support. However, you might find yourself being attracted to lovers who are more disrespectful than caring. You may find you have some friends but you fear being able to really open up to them about some of your deeper thoughts and feelings. You may fear criticism if you are too open and honest with others. You may be good at taking care of others but have difficulty accepting care. On the other hand, you may be excessively critical toward others, thereby pushing people away. Or, you may be very shy. These are some of the many "walls" that keep real love out of your life, whether with friends or a lover. As a result you end up lonely, even though you may have friends available to you. You may feel depressed or anxious. Healing yourself in order to have a genuine, loving connection to the right people....that is, those that respect and understand you...is the most important thing you can do to have joy in your life.

In order to do this, it is important to work with a psychotherapist to help change the emotions and perceptions that get in the way of allowing you to connect in a deeper way to others. This involves gaining an emotional (not just intellectual) understanding of your walls and how they developed. It is important to note that the goal is not to lose your walls completely. What you really want is to maintain your walls only to gradually open yourself up to people you see as trustworthy of providing you genuine care and respect. You will know how to do this as well as whom you can trust after getting to know and trust yourself. After all, it is the way we see and feel about ourselves that affects our choice of relationships--albeit unconsciously--and this develops early in our childhood.

If repeatedly misunderstood, criticized, or hurt as a young child, you learn early to feel badly about yourself. Opening up your true self to another person, in turn, feels too vulnerable; too scary. It is then not unusual to develop a kind of "false self,” one that constantly seeks approval as if this is as close as you can ever get to feeling any kind of love at all. Behind this struggle for approval is a belief that your true self is inferior or not worthy of receiving real love. In turn, it is not unusual to then be attracted to people who are judgmental and critical. Or, you may tend to be openly critical toward others. That is a way of keeping people at a distance, a defense against the fear of feeling vulnerable. Of course all this is not what true love is about. So what is real love anyway? It is not unusual for the people I help in my practice to ask this question after doing enough inner work to realize that what they thought was love was really a kind of unconscious attempt to undo their own self-dislike or to repair the painful rejections they experienced with their parents.

To know real love, you must be accepting, loving, and appreciative of yourself. Behind self-deprecation is the difficulty accepting feelings of desire, anger, joy, and sexuality. Guilt keeps getting in the way of pursuing desires (as if somehow believing you do not deserve to take care of yourself). Because anger is a normal emotion that occurs when desires are not met, feeling guilt about anger is common and painful. Criticizing your own feelings this way is often at the core of what we often refer to as low self-esteem or feelings of inferiority or insecurity. Even if we know intellectually that we have certain abilities, without heartfelt acceptance about how we see, feel, and experience the world around us, how can we really feel good about life, love, or have much fun at all?

So how did you learn to put yourself down like this? Of course your parents believed they loved you. They did the best they could, but were themselves at the mercy of their own painful upbringing, giving you love that had limitations. Consider carefully, how did they show their love? How did they discipline you? How and when did they show their affection? How did they appreciate you as a person? Were they attentive and playful and affectionate? -- Or did they have difficulty ”enjoying” your presence? How did they approach discipline for wrongdoing? Did they validate your feelings behind what you did wrong, take time to understand or did they admonish your sense of being? For example, “You rotten kid! What a terrible thing you did!” could be the message they gave for your temper tantrum, or stealing those cookies before dinner instead of “now, I understand you are angry....I understand those cookies are really good, but it is important not to...because...” Putting you down wholeheartedly without taking time to understand is how you learn to not love yourself. That is how you develop self-negating and self-punitive thoughts, instead of self-love and constructive self-criticism. Then you can be driven by perfectionism, including too much guilt over minor mistakes or mishaps.

Healing in order to learn to love you involves a process of getting in touch with feelings that have been criticized and pushed away. It is deeply personal and emotional. The psychotherapist you choose should demonstrate the genuine, positive quality of care and understanding that you did not receive in your childhood. He or she ought to be able to have an intuitive as well as intellectual understanding as you both explore deep, painful feelings. This sets the tone to learn how to love and forgive yourself so you can let someone appreciate and care about you.

Then, bringing together feelings and imagination to heal the hurts of your inner child from the past is very powerful. For example, “Sara” came to me with depression and relationship struggles, choosing boyfriends who were somewhat rejecting. She described herself as feeling “numb” with little motivation or ability to enjoy life at all. We explored her shyness, her self-consciousness, as well as her difficulty in identifying feelings. She would respond to my questions about how she felt about situations with “I should be” or “I should feel.” It was hard for her to know what she really felt or what she really wanted. We learned her father was very critical of her. We discussed her experience of shame about showing me her “true self” or feelings. She noted how empty she felt and how much she feared I and others may judge her if she were to acknowledge her wants, dislikes, and fears. That is because she carried her father's judgment, turned against herself.

At one point I had her focus on the knot of emotional tension in her stomach and find an image there. Her "little girl,” she as a child, appeared. She began to cry, realizing the feelings that she had pushed away. “It feels better to cry than not feel,” she said. Exploring and nurturing feelings of her “little girl” permitted her to acknowledge, and begin to accept a wide range of feelings that she had constantly been judging. After experiencing my care and acceptance over time, along with the connection and communication she developed with her inner child, she was able to know wants, interests, and fears. Finding her desires and interests gradually brought her to smile more, and to discover and express herself in gratifying ways. She began to notice in situations that normally brought on undue anxiety that she was becoming more confident, and could use fear positively instead of it getting in the way. She noticed she could cry and get angry much more, about things denied without feeling overwhelmed or guilty by those feelings. She generally felt better knowing that she could feel, whatever those feelings might be. She could now make decisions about her life because it is permissible for her to want. Because she can want, she can make choices to engage with the people and activities that give her gratification. Hence, there is now the ability to enjoy life—and experience real love both from her own self and from others.

With a caring therapeutic relationship and exploration of self through feelings and the inner child, individuals are enabled to transform their lives. Developing the truer connection to self leads to genuine and deeper connections to positive interests and relationships.

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Debra Franklin, LCSW is a holistic psychotherapist helping adtults, children, and families in Granby and Hartford, CT. With over 20 years experience, she integrates her psychodynamic background with spirituality, intuition, energy, imagery, feelings, chakras, energy, inner childwork, dreamwork, and Hellinger's Family Constellations. She is also a former columnist for holistic health publications and past president of the Connecticut Holistic Health Association. For more information you may contact her: 860-413-9249 or check her website at www.progressivepsychotherapy.com.


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