I’ve often said I’d like to write a book and it would just contain one word: Love. That word says everything. In fact, it’s worth more than a thousand words, and that’s why it’s so easy to misunderstand.
For most people, it’s easy to give love, it is easy to take love, but so many people rarely allow themselves to receive love. To open your heart, to let someone — everyone — love you, and to accept it into your heart, mind, body and soul is to receive love. It’s especially hard for people to receive their own love.
Ultimately, our ability to receive love is tied to our ability to love ourselves.
My niece helped remind me about love. That I am love. It happened when we were visiting a museum. She was maybe 2 years old, and she was shining and smiling at everyone. And it wasn’t a random, vacant smile. When she smiled, you were the most special person in the world. You were the work of art and the pictures on the wall were your jewelry. She was giving unconditional love to everyone, and everyone was smiling in wonder back at her. It was then I realized I wanted to regain that state of grace. (Now, that doesn’t mean being naÃ¯ve, but it’s about the ability to receive and give love effortlessly.)
Ironically, there should be one condition to unconditional love. That you should love yourself. Not the cursory “of course I love myself,” but complete self-acceptance and complete nurturing and forgiveness of oneself. We can’t do for others what we won’t do for ourselves. It is not sustainable. We cannot continue to give if we become depleted.
A quick way to determine if you’re on the road to depletion is to ask yourself: Are you nicer to others than you are to yourself? Do you put your needs last? Are you overweight or relatively inactive? Do you say things to yourself that you’d never say to others? If you say yes to one or several of these, then there is room for improvement.
First, you should decide what your love currency is. Second, you have to decide if it’s too stringent or whether it serves. Often, our love currency is challenging, vague or tricky. We create too many conditions. We think we must be worthy or they must be worthy. It must come from the right individual, at the right time, for the right reason. There’s varying intensities and qualities of love. Is this love from a mom, dad, brother, sister, boyfriend, girlfriend, best friend, a child, a stranger? Is it for them? Do they reciprocate?
Often love comes with a price. If I love you this way, then you will do this or that. If you love me, then I must be this or that. It becomes an obligation versus an inspiration. Unfortunately, when the cost of our love becomes too steep, people give up. We give up. We lose opportunities to create emotional intimacy. We send love packing.
But what kind of bank creates this emotionally-barren currency? The roots lie in our childhood, and they’re created by fear. When we’re little, we realize if we’re not loved, we won’t get the time, attention and food to survive. If we feel deprived, regardless of the why (perhaps mom is sick, or a sibling was born), we start creating an expectation of a lack of love. If we’ve been hurt, we believe we will be hurt again. We also learn our parents’ abilities and inabilities to give or receive love. We learn how to become them by absorbing their behaviors. Those fears and behaviors become the prism — and sometimes the prison through which we view the world.
So, are we doomed to be our parents? No. I have a favorite quote from a Parker Posey movie: She says to another character: “You’re just like your parents.” And he calmly says: “No, I choose to think I started where they left off.”
And that’s what we must do. Our brain must reconcile the fact from fiction — changing the context from our childhood to the reality of now. Whether we are an apple that lands right at the foot of the tree, or we’re an apple that rolls far away and down a hill, we have a choice about what we think and what we feel. But it’s not through denial or rejection. That would suppress the energy within us and create problems later. We have to understand intellectually and emotionally. We have to help our inner child grow, emerge and understand the greater context that our parents faced and what we faced, but do it in a loving, non-fearful way.
In fact, we are so interested in not being our parents that we subconsciously project onto others what we don’t like about our parents and ourselves. Those suppressed aspects become our “shadow self,” and since it still has energy and needs to be resolved, it acts like a black hole, drawing similar energy, people and situations to us. We do that because it’s familiar, or we’re still trying to win the argument, or still trying to be loved.
That’s why we date our mom and marry our dad. Or vice versa. (Eww, right? Well, at least it’s not the complete Oedipal phenomena. We don’t have to kill our dad and then marry our mother.) Go ahead and think about your relationships from the past. Who do they remind you of? Who did you act like? Did you allow yourself to be loved? How have you changed, how have you shifted?
A philosopher and writer, George Santayana, once wrote “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Even more importantly, those who cannot understand the past and reframe it in a more forgiving and enlightened way will repeat it.
In fact, the next time you don’t like someone or something, ask yourself:
- What don’t I like about them?
- Who do they remind me of from my past? (Hint: Mom, dad, brother, sister…)
- How do I have those traits myself?
- How do I use them against myself?
- What is my fear?
- How can I heal that fear with myself? (How can I reframe it in an enlightened, compassionate way, i.e, nurture that inner child.)
- Why do I have that fear? Then keep asking why and answering why (trying to supply new insight) until that fear no longer has power.
We also project good traits and abilities that we don’t feel worthy of or capable of owning! In fact, the most devastating break-ups occur when people project wonderful abilities such as attractiveness, friendliness, creativity, musical abilities, etc., onto their partner. Then when the break-up happens, they feel less than what they were.
I teach my clients to identify those traits they are projecting and start recognizing them in themselves, deconstructing the limiting beliefs that stop them, and determine the ways they can bring those skills into their lives. They can bring that love and respect into their lives.
In fact, a couple of years ago, I was talking with my dad and he said, “How’s it going, monkey? Are you working pretty hard?” (I love it when my dad calls me monkey. And I had been working hard, or as I say now: diligently).
I suddenly smiled and felt real joy: “You know what, Daddy? I am working really hard. But I’m suddenly realizing that I really like being Susan.”
And he said, “Well, that’s good,” and he was proud of me.
And, he was right! It is good. I’d just realized how much love I’d developed for myself. I’m actually liking me. I’m no longer waiting for my life. I’m finally really enjoying being Susan. And, this is the only life that I get to be Susan and I want to make it the best, kindest Susan-life I can. When I walk the down the street, I feel the grass or snow smiling, the leaves are waving and the sky winking. I’m happy for all the people in my life. Thank you so much for even spending the smallest moment with me.
Luckily, all of our actions, emotions, thoughts, perceptions are choices. We should question our love currency and ask ourselves: Why do we need love a certain way? Why do we have to have a certain kind of love? Couldn’t we fill ourselves up with the love of our highest power? Couldn’t we give ourselves more love? Shouldn’t all love be equal?
Ultimately, before we marry anyone, we should marry ourselves. Before we enter into a relationship, we should have a relationship with ourselves that is based on love, not motivated by fear. Because we’re not just a work of art. We’re the whole museum, and this is the only life you get to be you.