“We accept the love we think we deserve” – The Perks of Being a Wallflower
This post started out as a message to a friend of mine, but it made me think of hundreds of others I’ve known, who, like me, struggle to receive love.
Sometimes I think taking good things to heart is like trying to hit a vein through scar tissue.
“I tear my heart open; I sew myself shut. My weakness is that I care too much. The scars remind us that the past is real. I tear my heart open, just to feel.” – Papa Roach, Scars
Childhood abuse and neglect, adolescent and young adult trauma, it all adds up in layers like sediment that can’t be permeated. The water can’t reach our roots. The fruit withers, and gradually, the tree becomes hollow from infection, but it doesn’t die. It doesn’t live. It just survives.
How can we feel so empty when our hearts are full of pain?
Therapists are pruning shears but we can’t let go. Who would we be without our pain? We’re so afraid of what we might become that we never really develop identities. The guiding principles of our lives are what not to be.
We don’t protect what we weren’t taught to value. We become adults who place ourselves in harm’s way. We’re desperately hoping someone will care enough to push us off the train tracks. We forget that being protective was the job of a mother or a father and not a lover. We overlook that it’s now our responsibility. How are we so cynical and yet believing that the perfect love might heal us?
Seeing ourselves as broken, we follow patterns that lead inevitably to heart ache. We seek familiarity because we confuse it for comfort. We accept predictability as a poor substitute for security. We choose people who are just like the ones who failed us – desperately seeking a different ending to the same story.
We live self-fulfilling prophecies. We can’t bring ourselves to ask for reassurance, so we push people away just to see if they come back. Then we push one time too many. Then they leave, just like we always knew they would.
And we can’t really blame them – we can barely stand ourselves.
And yet inexplicably, in spite of ourselves, sometimes we find someone who is broken like us and loves like we do and it’s magical. But it’s also terrifying because sometimes they get better and we stay the same. So, we sabotage it. That way we’re in control. Let me show you how to leave me. After all, you deserve more than I have to give.
I’m often asked as a couples counselor why so many partnerships fail. I say that two people who don’t like themselves try to love each other. I say that what we learned about intimacy and partnerships was too often taught to us by very unhealthy people.
We need to learn a better way, but we focus on how to relate well to others and not ourselves.
Bottom line: The relationship I have with myself and the relationship I have with a Higher Power are the foundation upon which all my other relationships stand. The foundation I was given as a child had a lot of cracks and holes in it.
Moving away from self-destruction makes it possible to create and become. Repairing and fortifying that foundation begins with fairness, self-respect, and taking the advice you’d give to a friend:
Reach out and let good people help you. Stop worrying about your deservedness and start recognizing that there are lots of others like you. Just let us pay it forward.