Monday, March 16, 2009

Love - Part 1

Love... that mystical feeling that we can't quite describe. What exactly does love feel like? Do we know when we are in love? When and how do we learn what love is? Why is love important? These are questions that people have been asking for thousands of years.

We learn about love primarily from our family of origin during our childhood. We observe our caretakers as they interact with one another, our siblings, and their world. We may be unable to provide words to what we view, but our young brains record the lessons through our senses. As we grow and interact with others, we may modify what we have learned to reflect our values. We may position ourselves in relationships mirroring that which we learned from our primary caretakers in our family of origin. We have learned what love feels like in our early years and may try to recreate that familiar and comfortable pattern in our adult relationships. We feel in love when the pieces of the puzzle with our partners mesh in that same way we observed in our family of origin. Love becomes the bonding agent of our lives. It ties us to our partners in a predictable and important way. We feel connected, valued, understood and respected in this primary and crucial relationship.

What happens when our family of origin is dysfunctional? When there is much stress, and arguments dominate family life. When one or both caretakers are unable to express love, either to each other or to us as children, how does that affect us?

When caretakers are emotionally unavailable, we as children feel a void we cannot comprehend or explain in our lives. We cannot process that an adult may have issues that hinder their ability to express their feelings. We may internalize the belief that somehow we are inadequate. We may try to be perfect so as to gain favor and admiration instead of love and acceptance. We may act out... recall that "negative attention is better than none"... trying to find a way to force a caretaker to notice us. We may withdraw into ourselves believing that we will be safer if we go unnoticed. We may begin to associate love with being in emotional pain. We create and maintain a system of defense mechanisms which protect us from the pain of feeling the lack of love, intimacy and closeness we desire during our childhoods.

As adults these defense mechanisms continue to operate on an unconscious level. We may be unaware of our reactions and behaviors emanating from these childhood wounds. We have come to a time in our lives where our defense mechanisms no longer serve the function they did when we were small. They were a key to our survival as children, but become a burden to us as adults. They may be inhibiting our ability to feel warmth, love and intimacy. We may be unable to feel comfortable in close relationships. We may find ourselves in a series of partnerships that inevitably end painfully. We may believe being in a relationship filled with drama and pain is being in love.

There is hope. We do not have to continue on this path throughout our lives.
To be continued tomorrow...

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