You don’t see these definitions of love in our culture. Romantic movies only expand upon an exclusive relationship between two people. Even with romance being a large part of society and most people’s ultimate goal outside of maybe career and financial freedom, is it awkward to say that we are all afraid to love? If we could love someone we deem special, why can’t we do the same for everyone else? Why is it that we can be vulnerable to one person and guarded towards everyone else?
For true love to occur, we must be willing to open ourselves up to other people with the risk of getting hurt. At least we now know that no one person can hurt us. That alone should make it easier for us to be vulnerable. Vulnerability is key in every relationship, not just romantic ones. Relationships with family and friends can all benefit from us letting down our guard. When we allow for deeper connection, we make it easier for a deeper understanding which will enable us to be more empathetic to each other.
There are a lot of references to Brene Brown in this book, but I can’t talk about vulnerability without mentioning her name. In many of her books, Brown describes vulnerability as a courageous act. I have to agree with her. When opening up to someone there is a lot of unknown, and as we know, with the unknown comes fear. In a world that dictates the person, you should be with its obligations and expectations, showing a person your authentic self is an act of resistance. Yet we are afraid to do so because this culture that we live in will easily shame us if our true self isn’t the same as the dominant culture.
The reason why I know being closed off is a learned behavior is because we weren’t this way when we were babies. Toddlers are very open and will do just about anything until an authority figure tells them to stop. They aren’t afraid, to tell the truth, even if it hurts our egos. They are open books and will tell you stories about themselves even if the stories make no sense. As we get older, we lose this sense of vulnerability. We learn to hide our emotions because of the negative feelings we feel if someone exploits them. Boys, in particular, are taught masculinity in a way that they are not allowed to express emotions. Boys don’t cry. Instead of being authentic to ourselves, we believe that love comes from our performance. To be loved we have to do rather than be.
Instead of knowing our innate perfection, we strive for perfectionism. We try to be buttoned up and any mistake is a case of not receiving love. Our negative self-talk tells us that we don’t deserve love. Even worse, we do the same thing by projecting this negative talk toward other people when their love isn’t perfect. It’s very hard to love someone that hasn’t been forgiven. As perfect people with imperfect egos, we are bound to make mistakes. Some mistakes are going to have a more significant impact than others. Does that mean we should close ourselves off to their love? If we do, it just means we are giving power to mistakes that aren’t meaningful to us.
It’s hard to love when we have the shadow of past hurt influencing our relationships. A child feels as though they’ve been abandoned by a parent early in life, it would be hard for that person to trust anyone else as the fear is that anyone who gets too close will eventually abandon them. It’s easier to be closed off. It’s easier to build a wall rather than expose themselves to what could hurt them. The higher wall, the harder it’s going to be to connect with another person. When we build barriers away from others, we expect people to be a certain way for a slight chance of finding the opening. If the person doesn’t meet the criteria, they have no chance of finding the entrance. We’d like to believe that building this barrier gives us control against hurt, but really, it shows how much our past has control over us.
We know that our past hurts are influencing our relationships because the hurt continuously comes up unconsciously in the form of arguing and fighting. As we just learned, arguing isn’t love and when we choose to fight with the people we are supposed to love, the fight itself is typically not the reason for the apathy. We could be having a conversation with another person and something they say triggers a history that you’d like to avoid. We avoid it by being defensive while distancing ourselves from the other person. It’s quite interesting that we aren’t aware of larger things at play when we fight about the same thing with different people. It could also be the case where you’re seeking justice, but the reaction is greater in proportion to what the other person did or said.
For us to gain intimacy in just about any relationship, we are going to have to give up control. You can’t be loving and controlling at the same time. The father who knows best probably doesn’t receive much intimacy. We can talk about the physical control a dominant person may have on their spouse, or simply trying to control a friend with unsolicited advice. You read that right. Unsolicited advice is a form of manipulation that subtly tells the other person to change your perspective. How could we want intimacy and yet do the very things that push people away?
To practice love and be It, you’ll have to give up some control. When we seek to understand and accept people as they are, there is an atmosphere of love. When this isn’t possible, love would have no place in such a relationship. Judgment and love are not possible. Obligation and love are not possible. The best we can do is focus on the positive. Find the good in each individual we see. I have to admit that I have a hard time doing this. Especially with people who find to have emotional pain every time I see them in our common spaces. It was very easy for me to complain about every irritation. Now, I’m choosing not to. I’d rather focus on the positive qualities and dismiss what is not real.