An examination of the way that people love in the ways that we were raised, often to our detriment.
Love is something that gets hardwired into our bodies when we are preverbal. The nature of our mother’s attunement and relationship to us is our first and primary imprint of what love is. Our father and other caretakers secondarily imprint what love “feels” like into our bodies.
I am talking about a vibrational energy that dwells within the body, not in the conscious mind. This energy acts like a blueprint for our future experiences, because our bodies will choose familiarity over value.
I am a marriage and family therapist: In case this sounds like psychobabble to you, I’ll offer an illustration from my own life. My very charismatic alcoholic father was rarely around when I was young. He left my mother when I was four years old, and after that he was supposed to visit his three daughters every Sunday. Most Sundays he didn’t show up, and when he did, he was usually extremely late. My sisters and I had to sit and wait by the door in our dress clothes complete with coats and gloves. We protested our physical discomfort, but our mother made us stay and wait for hours sometimes. We’d watch her anxiety grow with every minute of his tardiness. She was an anxious wreck, and we’d feel her disappointment each time he didn’t show—our little bodies were imprinted with the vibrational energy of abandonment.
Soon my father moved across the country. He might reach out with a phone call on a birthday, but sometimes he had the day wrong. Some years he didn’t call at all. The disappointment was palpable. We’d see him about once a year. He always had us meet in a restaurant with a bar filled with fellow drinkers who would tell us that we were the most important people in his life. I recall feeling really confused by that since we really didn’t know him—and he didn’t know us.
This mixed message, lack of attunement and abandonment was written in my body as the blueprint for what the love of a man feels like. So, what kind of partners do you imagine I picked in my life? Steady men who showed up, were present and wanted to commit to a loving relationship? Or charismatic alcoholics who were unreliable and unavailable emotionally?
I, of course, chose the latter—over and over—because that’s what had been hardwired into me. This was the kind of man who activated my love receptors. I could feel this kind of man across a crowded room, and without a single word between us, I would know that he was the one for me. When I met warm and loving men who were interested in me, I never felt any chemistry. I’m wired to choose familiarity over value.
Does any of this ring a bell for you? Have you chosen partners who are reflective of what love felt like from either your mother, father or a primary caretaker?
I never understood that I was duplicating the imprint of my father’s love in my relationships. I thought my lovers were letting me down and hurting me because one or both of us were doing something wrong. I was blind to the unconscious choosing I had done to duplicate a love that felt familiar to my childhood.
Often, I see clients who are not aware that they train their partners to treat them in a way that will fulfill the experience of love they had as a child. I had a client whose mother criticized her terribly when she was young, and that criticism was coupled with her mother’s love. This client would unconsciously antagonize her husband—a typically aﬀable and easy-going guy—until he would lash out at her in ways that felt criticizing.
He loathed treating her that way. She didn’t like it either. But this was “love” for her; this was the familiar, and she was training her husband to perpetuate it for her. She had a history of being able to tolerate feeling criticized even though it upset her. Her body chose familiarity over value.
So, how do we break this pattern?
First and foremost, we need to take responsibility for the “one person themes” we bring to a relationship. I knew I was repeatedly choosing men who would disappoint me. But until I understood that I was duplicating the imprint of my original “love,” I couldn’t change. Believe me, I had tried.
The aforementioned client thought her husband was doing something wrong—he was too critical. But she was the one unconsciously antagonizing him until she could get him to be critical. She needed to see her part in re-creating her original “love” imprint in order to be able to transform their relationship.
Another important step in transforming this pattern is to stop looking at love as something that comes from the outside, and start accepting the truth that it comes from the inside. Then we can begin to cultivate an internal feeling of constancy and wellbeing.
If you look to others in order to feel loved, you are vulnerable to their human inconsistencies. They are likely to be perpetuating the patterns of their original “love” imprint. Your wellbeing will ride the rollercoaster of the love that inevitably comes from others simply being human. It is far more reliable to find love inside you.
You don’t need love, you are love.
Lean into the idea that you are love. It doesn’t come from externals: It’s internal. Can you imagine how that could change your paradigm on relationships and life?
Here is a little exercise that can support you in experiencing love as coming from within. Take at least five deep breaths inhaling and exhaling from your mouth—expanding your chest and ribs. Fill your lungs up as much as possible. Then put your hands on your heart.
Imagine a time you felt a profound sense of love, perhaps with a pet, child, parent or lover. Then let the story go and just stay with the feeling of love. What are you feeling in your body? Calm, heat, expansion, openheartedness, joy? Can you feel a sensation of love inside you that exists just because you exist? You can generate it all by yourself just by taking a moment to go inside and feel it.
An important step toward transformation is beginning to hardwire love into ourselves. That love can’t come from another person, it must come from within. We need to re-parent ourselves with an attuned reliable love.
Imagine you are carrying your “baby-self,” in a baby carrier in front of you. Imagine you are carrying your very special “baby-self” right on your heart—every day you tend to him/her with all the depth of love you have in you. You talk to your baby-self and reassure him/her that he/she is loved, special, important, not alone.
This is how you can re-parent yourself and imprint a positive “love” experience into your body. Make this imprint a “feeling” of love that is completely ingrained and a constant—integrate it so completely that when you choose familiarity, you are choosing value.