“Awakening to love can happen only as we let go of our obsession with power and domination … cultures of domination rely on the cultivation of fear as a way of ensuring obedience.” bell hooks
The first place that each of us learns about love – what it feels like to be loved, what it means to be loved – is in our relationship with our parents and caregivers.
We start out dependent.
We depend upon them to meet our needs.
We depend upon them to interpret our cries, attune to our distress, respond to our desires.
When our parents respond to us in attuned, timely and reliable ways, our nervous systems settle down and we learn to trust and rely upon our relationships with other people for our well-being. We experience relationships as safe places to be ourselves, get our needs met, be vulnerable and as sources of comfort, nurturance and pleasure.
However, when our parents and caregivers aren’t able to meet our needs in these ways, instead ignoring us, neglecting us, criticizing us, shaming us, trying to coerce and shape us into someone that actually meets their needs–when that happens, we suffer. And then to cope with our emotional distress and unmet needs, we adapt.
Perhaps we learn to become self-reliant, to put ourselves and our needs away.
Perhaps we try to fill up other people in hopes that they will then be able to finally turn around and meet our needs, too.
Parts of us become shameless: entitled and righteous, believing others are the problem and detaching from needing them at all, or only seeing them through the lens of how they might be useful to us.
Other parts become shame-based: perfectionistic, anxious, codependent and self-negating, constantly shapeshifting to avoid conflict and make other people happy.
Along the way, we can become very confused about “love.”
Gabor Mate describes this well: “The love that a child experiences, is not the same as the love that the parent feels. Of course your parents loved you. As a parent, of course you love your children. However, if you’re told that when you express anger that you have to be alone, what message does that send to the child? It sends the message that they are acceptable and welcome only when certain emotions are present, or absent.”
When we are being neglected, and told this is “love,” we become disoriented.
When we are being hit, smacked, pushed or pinched, and told this is done out of “love,” it’s confusing.
We begin to see “love” as something that feels bad, that hurts, that causes suffering.
We begin to experience “love” as a deep emptiness and craving to get our needs met.
We might confuse “love” with feelings of self-abandonment, or self-sacrifice.
Imagine what this means for the kinds of romantic relationships that might seem alluring, familiar or “like home” to us. As bell hooks so eloquently puts it, “Only love can heal the wounds of the past. However, the intensity of our woundedness often leads to a closing of the heart, making it impossible for us to give or receive the love that is given to us.”
On this day of love, let’s get clear about the ingredients of loving relationships – whether they are parent/child relationships, or romantic partnerships.
Humans require two primary things:
- We need secure, safe bonding, belonging and connection with others.
- And, we need to be able to do so while maintaining our autonomy and authenticity. We need to be allowed to be in touch with our feelings and needs, and to be true to them.
Essentially, we need secure relationships in which we can be true to ourselves, without harming or losing connection with others.
Love is about extending ourselves for our own and other people’s growth and development. It’s about creating relational conditions in which our goodness and generosity can easily emerge and be expressed. Conditions in which we grow, learn, heal and connect.
Learning how to love in these ways often means revisiting our childhoods so we can understand how we came to be the way we are. And, it means learning a new language, a new way of doing things. It means learning to reconnect to ourselves and others in nonviolent and relational ways.
This week, I will be opening registration to my Parenting Masterclass, and we will be diving more deeply into both how we were parented ourselves, and how we interact with young people today.
What cycles of domination, of abuse, of violence can we interrupt and redirect in the ways that we parent and care for our young people today?
And what kind of healing and restoration might we be able to make with our own inner children, so that can we move into truly loving, connected relationships with one another in our adult lives today?
The ways in which we were both parented, and are now parenting, so deeply affects our abilities and capacities to be in truly meaningful, loving relationships with one another. The deep examination of our parenting practices, and what these teach us about our relationship with power is a foundational aspect of our personal growth journey.
I hope you’ll sign up to join me.
Finally, I hope today is filled with deep love for you.
What are the ways in which how you were parented affect your current relationships? I’d love to know–please leave a comment below.