We’ve all heard “it’s better to give than receive.” While giving has many rewards, when it comes to our love lives, the biggest, often overlooked and obvious factor in relationship fulfillment is the ability to receive love.
It’s difficult to receive love because in the past, it was not the love we gave that hurt us most, but the love we didn’t receive, and so it is more risky. The source of this goes back to childhood and the various ways we were not loved or even acknowledged as children.
To be loved as a child is to have most of your experiences and emotions acknowledged. This doesn’t mean that your parents approve of “bad behavior.” Rather, your parents help you realize that your behaviors are either appropriate or inappropriate while acknowledging your feelings. This can occur in statements such as, “I know you want Johnny to share his candy, but it is not right for you to grab it from him.” In short, with this acknowledgement of her desires, the child’s wants get mirrored back and integrated with the appropriate behavior.
In contrast, if the parents respond saying, “stop that, don’t be a bad girl,” this shames the child and the child will take it to mean that she is “bad” when she expresses her needs. When such messages are repeated, as they often are in a shaming parenting style, over time, the child will have difficulty asking to have her needs met, or even allowing her needs to be met, including in adulthood. In term of her sense of self, she may come to believe “there is something wrong with me, I am unlovable.”
When emotions and needs are not mirrored, met and fulfilled, it hurts, and so those emotions are cast away. We feel that those parts are unacceptable, and that we are not deserving of love. Because of the pain, those emotions are then protected. So we don’t dare risk exposing the needs, and this keeps love out. Giving love involves much less risk, and so it is easier to give than receive love, but it is only half of the equation and is unfulfilling.
So, what can you do? You can tune into the ways you do not let love in. For example, when you are with your beloved or close friend, you can look inside and notice when you put up a wall, detach, don’t accept a compliment, and generally don’t settle into and receive what is being offered.
With long-term relationships, both partners can get into a habitually distant pattern with one another, a sort of agreement “not to go there.” It’s best when couples work on this together as both are contributing. Because there is a lot of sensitivity and vulnerability around the issues involved, often professional help is needed.
In any situation, when your withdrawal persists, you may become aware of childhood memories of emotional neglect, shaming, and other negative interactions with your caregivers. These are the actual source, and can be worked through in Experiential Therapy and other approaches that directly heal those experiences. You may know that you are more open when the receiving causes you to feel a bit childlike and vulnerable. When this happens, just pause, relax and receive, let it really sink into your heart. Know you are loved. Because it is so satisfying and fulfilling, it will get easier over time. It will also get easier to ask for the love you really want.
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*”The Field” is meant in two ways: First, from the professional field of Transpersonal Psychology, how psychology and spirituality interact. Second, it is my lived, often felt and intuited awareness of myself and others. Many of these insights come from my own personal experience and my “growing edge,” i.e., insights I am realizing for myself, about mine and other’s growth, and my interpretation of the realities of being human.