In a previous article titled, Building Blocks of Love (over on my personal blog), I talked about the four types of love one needs to experience throughout their lifetime to be open and available to experience healthy friendships and romantic relationships in adulthood. Allow me to quickly summarize those four types of love.
The first is called parental love. This is the love that flows from parent to child throughout infancy, childhood, and adolescence. Experiencing appropriate amounts of parental love fosters one’s ability to trust themselves and the world around them, gain a sense of personal control and independence, and learn to assert that control within their sphere of influence. The second type of love is called friendship love. This is the love that flows back and forth between two individuals and is characterized by mutual respect and time spent together. A healthy experience of friendship love builds interpersonal skills such as communicating, collaborating, caring, listening, and problem solving. In addition to developing interpersonal skills, friendship love is a major contributor in the development of a healthy self-esteem. The third type of love is called romantic love. Romantic love begins in adolescents in conjunction with one’s sexual development. This love expression is characterized by a personal vulnerability experienced by turning inward towards another. The final type of love is called sexual love. This love expression begins in late adolescence and continues throughout adulthood. It involves two individuals fiercely committed to each other’s best. It is about equality, mutuality, safety, and trust. It is helpful to understand each as a building block that stacks on top of the next. Parental love lays the foundation for one to be developmentally and emotionally equipped for healthy friendship love. Parental love and friendship love provides the canvas for one to be developmentally and emotionally equipped for one to experience healthy romantic and sexual love. Make sense?
We are relational beings created to give and receive love from others. The experience of giving and receiving love is not merely a luxury but rather a deep life-sustaining need ALL must experience to thrive in life. Understanding the building blocks of love helps us identify potential deficits that may be impairing our ability to have healthy friendships and love relationships in adulthood. The majority of individuals come out of childhood and adolescents with certain “holes” in their developmental growth. Experiencing and navigating these deficits is a part of the human experience. Developmental deficits often stay hidden from one’s awareness and silently wreck havoc on relationships. When one brings awareness to their unique relational deficits and acknowledges the ways it has kept them from experiencing intimacy and wholeness in their relationships, healing and change will happen. Deficits can be repaired. Holes can be filled. But how? Let me offer a few suggestions.
The first step to any real change comes with a honest assessment of one’s relationships. Asking yourself question like these: Do I have variety of healthy relationships in my life? Do I experience deep connection, safety, and intimacy in a few of those relationships? Is there a predominant sense of joy and gratitude for these relationships? Am I able to identify and express a full range of human emotions within those relationships? If the answer to these questions is primarily “no”, then why? As the apostle Paul reminds us, relationships infused with true love have specific characteristics attached to them. Love is patient and kind. Love is not envious, boastful or proud. Love does not dishonor others nor is it self-seeking or easily angered. Love does not keep record of wrongs but rather always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres (1 Corinthians 13 4-7). Do your relationships embody these characteristics? Is this the kind of love you experience? If not, then why? I would suggest certain developmental deficits such as: lack of trust in self and others, lack of individuality and personal power, poor communication skills, and a low self-esteem, are likely contributing to your relational struggles. Having awareness of one’s dysfunctional relationship patterns and taking personal responsibility in co-creating the dysfunction is a very powerful step in changing those patterns.
The information gleaned from self-awareness work can feel overwhelming and scary; but if brave enough, is an invitation to a deeper reflection on one’s childhood. One of my favorite spiritual teachers, Eckhardt Tolle, suggests that upon first breath, our bodies begin storing information about the world we live in. Am I safe? Am I loved? Can I trust myself? Can I trust others? Am I okay in this place or with that peron? He goes on to say that every time a person does not get a legitimate need met and/or experiences a physical, psychological, emotional or spiritual wounding without any recognition, validation, or repair alongside it, negative emotions get stored inside our body. These negative emotions accumulate over time and leave residue of emotional pain. Eckhardt termed this stored pain as our “pain body”. Not experiencing an appropriate degree of parental and/or friendship love contributes to one’s developing pain body. Becoming aware of your pain body and how it gets activated it is critical in healing those old wounds, repairing developmental deficits and eventually experiencing healthy relationships.
Asking for Help
Seeking support and guidance from a counselor or mentor once becoming aware of dysfunctional relationship patterns and identifying unique developmental deficits can be invaluable. This work usually takes us to the truth of ourselves. When we spend a lifetime avoiding or running away from past pain, going straight towards it can feel terrifying. However, it is the only way to healthy relationships, authentic joy, and a fulfilling life. Pain is our best teacher. Glennon Doyle poetically states, “Pain is not a sign that you’ve taken a wrong turn, or that you’re doing life wrong. It’s not a signal that you need a different life, or partner, or body, or home, or personality. Pain is not a hot potato to pass on to the next person or generation. Pain is not a mistake to fix. Pain is just a sign that a lesson is coming. Discomfort is purposeful. It is there to teach you what you need to know so you can become who you were meant to be. Pain is just a traveling professor. When pain knocks on the door—wise ones breathe deep and say: “Come in. Sit down with me. And don’t leave until you’ve taught me what I need to know.” This is completely countercultural wisdom and most do anything and everything to avoid pain. Be brave my friends and head straight towards the pain. It is the only path towards an authentic and healthy experience of friendship, romantic, and sexual love.
C. Paige Smith, M.A., LPCC
Paige Smith has a Masters of Arts in Clinical Mental Health from Denver Seminary and is a Licensed Professional Counselor Candidate in the State of Colorado. As part of her studies, Paige was an intern at Where Grace Abounds. She is passionate about understanding and knowing individuals as biological, psychological, social, and spiritual beings. She believes that these factors are always interacting with one another and each needs consideration when seeking optimal health. From this perspective, she works to help her clients understand their complex nature and experience holistic healing. Paige strives to create a warm and inviting space for all of her clients through acceptance, authenticity, and support. Her desire to walk alongside those hurting is evident through her caring and understanding presence.
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