On his daily television show, Dr. Phil McGraw likes to challenge his guests to "Get real!" So what does "Get real" really mean? I don’t know what Dr. Phil means, but what it means to me is described in the rest of this column.
Sometimes love hurts. Sometimes we become "addicted to love." Sometimes we confuse love with pain or attachment. When any of these misperceptions occur, we miss out on experiencing the most positive force in our lives…"real" love.
Learning to love without being addicted to it is a major challenge for the very young child. Many studies have been conducted on the importance of the infant’s deep biological need for a primary caretaker, usually the mother. Psychologists know that how your mother addressed this need had a major impact on your ability, as an adult, to establish healthy, loving relationships. It also probably determined how well you function without such relationships.
Howard Halpern, author of the book How To Break Your Addiction To A Person, indicates that if you are a victim of what he calls "attachment hunger," your primary adult relationship will be based on illusions "in the form of the wish, the fantasy, and the attempt to recapture the strength, security, and bliss of fusing with another person." If we build our loving relationships on this unmet need for attachment, we will become hurt, addicted and miss out on being "really" loved.
When a mother does not care for, cuddle and nurture a child enough, the need for attachment (necessary for early survival) is never met. When you grow up in a family in which this need remains unsatisfied, you live in a state of unresolved dependency on others. In her book From Love That Hurts To Love That’s Real, Sylvia Peterson writes of this dependency saying: "Your dependency stems partially from the fact that your basic need for love, trust, warmth, communication and intimacy was not fulfilled in your dysfunctional family of origin and partly because the intricate developmental task of separation and individuation from mother, father and family did not take place in a positive manner."
So how do we rectify our unfilled dependency needs and their unhealthy consequences impacting our adult relationships?
In one of my favorite children’s books, The Velveteen Rabbit, Margery Williams writes: "The Rabbit sighed. He thought it would be a long time before this magic called ‘real’ happened to him. He longed to become Real, to know what it felt like; and yet the idea of growing shaggy and losing his eyes and whiskers was rather sad. He wished that he could become it without these uncomfortable things happening to him."
Rabbit has to go through some painful, often frightening experiences, to become "real." People often need to do the same. Becoming a genuine, healthy, autonomous grown-up often requires you learn lessons from painful and fearsome experiences. If these lessons are not learned, you will generate more hurtful and anxiety-ridden relationships, until you learn them.
Moreover, the primary lesson to be learned for becoming real is: You alone are capable of creating your own happiness and fulfillment. When you realize this lesson, fear diminishes, self-confidence grows, peace of mind develops and real love begins to evolve…you begin to become "real."
Become a "real" lover of yourself, others and Life, and you become genuinely human. Self-love is not selfish. It is the primary psychological task of all responsible adults. Loving others is a gift you give freely in your relationships. It is not motivated by your own need to be attached, to be cared for or to be loved. It is based upon your desire to participate fully in relationship to others.
When we outgrow (heal up) from our need to be attached to another, we begin the process of becoming the real person we were meant to be. We recognize life as a gift we did not ask for. Being alive as a human, is the most wonderful experience any creature can have. Having language, self-awareness, a complex human body, a mind, a loving heart and soul, are all potentially the most delightful and powerful characteristics anyone can have. When you acknowledge these characteristics within yourself, through whatever it takes, you become a "real" human being.