Posts in Category: Love

The Ultimate Life Hack: Love, Power, Boundaries and Vulnerability

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I’m a big fan of Brene Brown’s work.  Daring Greatly felt like it was written for me and my family.  I saw shame and armor at every turn.  When I read it, I was thrilled to finally have a target for releasing so much of the tension written into the way I see the world.  Embrace vulnerability, even though it’s painful – it’s worth it.  Clear, concise, even some practical examples of how to do so.  It was still difficult and unnatural and exhausting, though.  Then came Rising Strong, with some more tips and examples of how to take the lows and use them to bounce back better than before.  How to make that vulnerability a little less scary and learn from it.  Helpful, but still painful and difficult.

Then I read a simple picture book, The Conquerors.  With it’s clunky drawings and war theme, I was a little turned off, but then it changed my life.  In the book, the general goes and invades all the countries around and conquers them all because he has the best, strongest army.  Then he goes to the last country that was so small he hadn’t bothered before.  This one, however, he can’t conquer like he’s used to.  They welcome him and his army with open arms and teach them all about their way of life.  The soldiers go home and bring the little country’s customs with them.  The general sees it as “spoils of war” but the little country isn’t destroyed in the slightest.  Everybody wins.

When I think about Brene Brown’s vulnerability with myself as the little country, that it’s not me against the world, but rather me showing the world how I do things… Then it becomes really easy to just show up and be myself.  Be seen.  There is no threat, the threat is just a perception.  I can be completely myself and not have to use tons of defensive armor, because this is *my* turf and therefor I’m in charge and you can’t touch me.  If someone comes in and doesn’t respect that, then it’s easy for me to see that it’s their problem, not mine.  Because this is *my* turf and nobody is in control of it but me.  For someone else to try and take control is laughable.  Show up, be seen, live my authentic life.  Ask for help when I need it, learn from my mistakes, go see how other people live *their* lives (but don’t think that I can control the place just because I’m there).  Aaaahhhh.  I can feel the shame melting into a puddle on the floor and leaving me there, strong, myself, and with the strongest boundaries yet.

Then.  Then.  Then, power and love surfaced as relevent topics.  The idea of using my power to do things on my own, power to ask (not demand) for help when I need it.  Power to stand up for what I believe in.  Power to make change.  Power to choose my own life.  Power to keep trying when the first, second, hundredth time doesn’t work out.  This is personal power, and it’s in direct contrast to using power over someone.  With power over someone, you take away their choice.  You gain power while they lose it.  Or else you give your power away to them.  Let them control you.  You create power dynamics, power struggles.  It’s the opposite of consent, and it’s what most of us think of when we think of power as a dirty word.  Or as a holy grail.  Striving for promotions, sibling rivalry, parents yelling at their kids.  Evil overlords.

Finally, love.  Mr. Rogers said, “Love isn’t a state of perfect caring.  It is an active noun like struggle.”  If love is an action, what are the everyday actions we use to show we care?  How do I love someone?  How do I show my love?  What does love feel like?  What does it take to be lovable?  What is self love?  I realized that the actions I use to express love – helping, guiding, teaching, protecting, preventing pain, not causing hurt – those are all power dynamics.  If I show love by helping, then to receive that love, you need to be helpless.  If I show love by guiding, then to receive that love, you need to be malleable without strong will of your own.  If I show love by protecting, then you need to be weak.  If I show love by preventing pain, then when you are in pain, I’ve failed and I’m not lovable.  If I show love by not causing hurt, then how do I speak up for myself when it conflicts with you?  How do I hold strong boundaries and stay true to myself when you are helpless and weak?  And how do you stay true to yourself when I need to feel lovable and I’m trying so hard to help and guide you?  This kind of love feels like strength and weakness.  Power and control.  It’s easy for me to see how we get our identities wrapped up in power dynamics.  I am the teacher.  I know stuff.  Lots of stuff.  More than you, so I can show you I love you by teaching you.  I am lovable because I teach.  How dare you tell me I’m wrong?  How dare you not accept my teachings?  How dare you be uninterested?  Don’t you understand that those things hurt my identity?  Don’t you LOVE me?  Am I not lovable!!?!?  And if I’m hurting, then who caused it, and why wasn’t I protected??  I must not be lovable.

Show me you love me

I want love to feel like acceptance, to feel expansive, like being understood, like safety and security.  Like the best place to explore and experiment and figure myself out.  The safe landing pad.  Open, cozy arms.  Shoulders to cry on.  And so I’m upgrading my love actions with listening, understanding, and respecting boundaries.  Self love as understanding myself, figuring out my own boundaries, and respecting them.  I’m releasing the power dynamics and outgrowing the need for an identity in order to be lovable.  I am unconditionally lovable purely because I exist.  I am lovable because I have needs and limits and I communicate them.  I am interesting because I’m a person and I have a story.  I’m lovable because I don’t have it all together.  I can see and respect and love you and not be threatened by you, because there are no power dynamics in our relationship.  

And just like that, the vulnerability armor explodes into a cloud of glitter that sticks to the puddle of shame on the floor.  And I’m free, and can walk away.  There is pain, and there is hurt, there is old trauma that I can finally process and it will cause tears, but there are shoulders to cry on and feeling low is just another way to be lovable.  Conflict is a chance to better understand someone (love!).  Failure is an opportunity for understanding (love!).  In order to be lovable I just need to exist.  I just need to exist.  And when there isn’t someone right there to shower me with love when I need it, there’s always self love – it’s not a booby prize.  I can always understand myself and my own needs and limits better, and use my power to get them met.  And that feels really, really good.

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All You Need is Love

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People need love.  Period.  With love, oxytocin flows, your heart opens up, colors are brighter, and life is easy.  So put on your rose colored glasses and get to it already!

Oh wait, that doesn’t work.  It’s more complicated than that.  And yet, it isn’t.  If the goal is a balanced nervous system, then the nervous system is in charge.  Your basic needs need to be met, and you need to trust that they’ll be met.  Trust.  Trust comes with oxytocin.  Oxytocin breeds trust.  You know what else you need in order to trust your needs will be met?  You need to feel worthy.  The seeds of worthiness are seeds of love.  To feel like you matter.  To someone.  To yourself.  To anyone, to anything.

In order to digest your food and get the nutrients out of it, in order to not associate it with toxicity, you need a healthy gut.  In order to get a healthy gut, there is a ton of advice out there – whole foods, paleo, gluten free, GAPS, low FODMAPS, open detox pathways, fiber, probiotics, prebiotics, I could go on and one…  But the undercurrent that I don’t see many people talking about is the terrain.  In order to make any meaningful shift, you have to shift the terrain.  The neurotransmitters that control the gut.  And what controls those neurotransmitters?  Your mind.  Your nervous system.  Your stress levels and associations.  How much you trust and how much you feel love.  In all situations.  Because your gut is with you in all those situations, you don’t leave it behind at home.

In order to rest, your mind has to be able to rest.  If you’re busy or anxious or checked out or in any other way not present, then your mind is working in overdrive to keep you away, and that’s not resting.  If you’re feeling loved up, you want to be here, now.  You can relax into the present moment.  Rest.

I could trace the lines to Movement and Engaging your Mind as well, but won’t for the sake of getting on with it.  If you’re curious, Connect and ask me (wink).

So now we’re left with love.  And how to feel love.  How to trust that love is there.  There’s love in relationships.  Parent-child, friendships, romantic love… And then there’s self love.  If the goal is to trust that love is always there, and you start with the assumption that none of us are at the endpoint yet, then the most reliable solution is going to be one that doesn’t rely on anyone else and their own issues.  Self love.  You know best how to love yourself.  You might be able to feel it best when it comes from someone else, but what about when they’re having a bad day, when you’re clashing with them, when the insecurities in your head grow and nobody’s there to stamp them out for you?  What happens if your beloved dies, and that bond of love is shattered?  The most reliable love is self love.  You are worth it.  So get on with it and you’ll be golden.

Oops, still not that easy.  That logic got me to the point that I could accept love without flat out assuming the other person is lying, and to want to feel the love.  Once you can feel the love, then it’s time to learn to generate it on your own.

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Loving unconditionally

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There are a couple parts to the idea of being loved unconditionally.  Of feeling unconditional love.  First, you need to be able to feel the love.  Second, unconditional means the love needs to not be tied to anything you have control over.  A few generations ago, parents punished their kids for “being bad” and then we wised up to the harm that was causing and started instead to love up our kids for “being good.”  But it’s two sides of the same coin.  Both are using love and connection as power over another to change their behavior.  That’s not unconditional love, that’s manipulation and it blurs the lines between self and other.

Or maybe it’s love in response to achievement or lack of love (I’m thinking about time outs or just not giving attention) in response to difficult emotions.  Maybe it’s jumping in with tons of “I love you’s” in response to a meltdown, with the goal of stopping the outburst.  More blurred boundaries. 

Unconditional love means loving someone up just because they’re there, not because of anything they did or didn’t do.  It doesn’t mean loving them up because they’re having a hard time, and it doesn’t mean loving them up because they’ve done something you’re grateful for.  It’s loving them up because they exist, or because they asked you to.  It means the only reason you say no is because of your own personal limits and boundaries.  Not because of anything on their end. 

Imagine you’re dealing with anxiety and you’re not sure right from wrong.  You want to try to sort it out, but you’re scared of making a mistake.  You’re scared of offending or inadvertently pushing someone away.  Now imagine the feeling of love and acceptance.  If you knew, beyond a doubt, that that feeling of love was waiting for you no matter how your experiment turned out, you would be free!  You could figure out right from wrong, you could make mistakes, you would have no fear of social reprocussions.  Or rather, no fear that a mistake would cost you your self worth.

What if as a parent, or a partner, or even a friend, “loving up” were tied more to the clock/calendar than to actions?  What if you knew that you would be safely held, physically or metaphorically, at a given time?  And that nothing would get in the way of that?  

What if you needed to be loved up, NOW, before it’s “your turn” and you could just ask for it, without feeling ashamed?  Without fear?  Knowing that the only reason you would be turned away is because of the other person’s needs, which have nothing to do with you?

Unconditional love is feeling loved, just because you exist.  As a parent, my current experiment is to make sure to carve out some time of each day to enter the world of each of my kids and try to love them up in various languages.  No matter what’s going on, who’s doing what, or whether it’s a good day or bad.  To not only be sure I’m loving them in languages they understand, but to check in with the other languages and see if there are any holes in the buckets, see if there’s any mending that needs to be done. 

How do you love your loved ones unconditionally?  Do they feel your love?

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Love and Boundaries

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As I ponder the love languages, I personally have trouble with a few of them due to boundary violations.  The five languages are: quality time, acts of service, words of affirmation, receiving gifts, and physical touch.

It has been groundbreaking recently for me to figure out something that would really be helpful, that would truly be of service to me, and to not only identify it, but to ask for it and then receive it.  Wow.  Bliss!

Up until recently, acts of service, to me, has meant being grateful for the things that others are doing for you.  Which doesn’t particularly feel like love if it’s not something I wanted in the first place, and can kind of feel like twisting a knife if it’s something I specifically wanted/needed to do myself.

There’s a boundary and self worth thing going on here.  A few things.  Knowing what’s me and what’s the other party is a big part of it, and then there’s drawing a line against the stuff that I don’t want, and drawing a line asking for the things that I do need.

I’m learning, there are a few facets to the nebulous concept of “boundaries.”  There’s understanding what’s me vs you, what’s my motivation vs your motivation, my needs vs your needs.  Where do I end and you begin?  And then there’s finding the needs and limits and enforcing them – making sure that I don’t overextend or take on too much, and making sure that I get what I need and the help I need.

So when someone does something for me in the name of love, but it’s not something that actually services me, it blurs the line between me and you (why *are* you doing this “for me”? And begs for stronger lines, clearer communication.  “Thank you for doing that, but I’d actually rather do it myself.  What I could *really* use help with is ______.”

And then there’s the love language, words of affirmation.  Another that I bristle at.  But there have been times where I soak it up like a dry sponge.  I think the difference is when words of affirmation is being used as a manipulation tool.  If we’re in agreement that my job is to get on your track (as some see child-parent or employee-boss relationships) then words of affirmation are great – they confirm that you’re on the right track and you won’t be shamed.  (Me vs you is getting seriously blurred here) But if you see people as separate, with their own needs, desires, motivations, then words of affirmation just degrade that sense of self.  Another boundary violation.  Alfie Kohn has a lot to say on the topic in his book, Punished by Rewards, and Kelly Bartlett has some alternatives in her book, Encouraging Words for Kids.

So in order to *feel* loved by the various love languages, you need to be able to accept the love offering.  And in order to do so, healthy boundaries are a must.  Without them, “love” can degrade your sense of self, and make it hard to figure out what your own needs and desires actually are.

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Feeling loved and self worth

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In order to trust that your needs will be met, you need to feel like you’re worth it.

One of our basic needs is connection, but I’ve argued that it’s not something you get directly – rather it’s something you get by meeting other needs in a social environment.

I’m here now to talk about love.  Are love and connection the same thing?  Maybe?

When you feel loved, you feel valuable, and your self worth goes up.  You are better able to prioritize your own needs, you’re better able to meet your own needs, and thus you’re better able to trust that your needs will be met.  Love can be generated internally (self love) or come from friends/family/partners.  It can be big and encompassing, or it can be small and everyday.

To understand it better, I start with the five love languages, and the idea that you have a primary and secondary love language.  Quality time, acts of service, receiving gifts, words of affirmation, physical touch.  And I want to add to the list, listening time.  Holding space and acceptance.

I’m curious about how a language becomes ‘my’ language.  And, what about the others?  I’ve had love languages feel like the opposite of love before.  Specifically doing an act of ‘service’ that is more for the do-er than for me.  Or words of affirmation (“Good job, I’m proud of you!”) that feel more like manipulation than love.  Others I’m indifferent to.  Gifts don’t make me happy, but I don’t bristle at them either.  I see story and story again, though, of people giving gifts as a love language, as a direct result of living through a time of scarcity.

Here’s my hypothesis.  What if the ‘love languages’ are really more like buckets?  As we’re growing up, we need each bucket filled enough that we understand how to then keep it filled ourselves?  Kind of like how a parent will tie a kid’s shoe until they know how to tie it for themself. And the the kid takes care of it on their own.

Now suppose each of these languages is more like a place where that process is likely to break.  You need to know that you’re whole and can generate each of these things for yourself, but sometimes the trust is broken.  You weren’t ever shown how.   You have certain languages that feel really good, some that are neutral, and others that you don’t even bother with because either you don’t know how to receive love in that language or else it hurts too much and just feels irritating.  If you have holes in one language it feels like you’re unlovable there.  Or not worth it.  If you know how to receive love in another, you want more and more of it to try and fill the hole, but since it’s the wrong language, the process never really completes.  It feels good but you still want more.  It’s your ‘primary love language.’

I propose that we all need to learn our worth in each of the love languages so that we can turn around and take care of ourselves in each of those ways.   Each of the love languages becomes a bucket to fill, a developmental box to check off.  And then any time you are having trouble prioritizing yourself to get your needs met, you can love yourself up to calm the anxiety.  Or ask for love from someone else.  Ask to have your worth modeled to you so that you can learn or re-learn how to do it yourself.

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