I need your love. Without you, I’d be lost. I cannot go on without you.
WORDS BY: DR RACHEL HANNAM
From movie lines to song lyrics, from Elvis Presley, to Motley Crue, and Ellie Goulding, we have ended up with a mythology that equates love with craving and creates a stressful, all-consuming quest for attention and approval.
In our culture, we learn how to attract, impress, seduce, and often pretend we are something we aren’t. This approach doesn’t work. It leaves millions of walking wounded who, having failed to secure love or approval, blame themselves and conclude that they are unworthy of love.
What is love?
Most psychological as well as spiritual authorities will say that true love sets free. As the Buddhist monk and author Thich Nhat Hanh says, “Love in such a way that the person you love feels free”.
The couple’s therapist David Schnarch defines true love thus: When what the other person wants for himself matters as much to you as what you want for yourself. This is a conscious decision.
Think of, or imagine, someone very loving, mature and wise, who is comfortable enough in her own skin to recover quite quickly from rejection. On the other hand, consider someone with low self-worth or self-esteem. When the one she desires rejects her, she is devastated. The rejection can smash our rickety sense of self, destroying our sense of worthiness.
I have worked with many people, younger and older, who have bounced back quite quickly from unrequited love or from rejection. They have grieved and found a way, in time, to set the person free. I have also worked with people who hold onto their rejection and cannot let go of the hurt, disappointment and anger. They don’t see that their pain is more about how they feel about themselves deep down than the other person.
Low self-esteem fuels fear (and vice versa)
Desperately seeking comfort, we give ourselves discomfort.
Many of us have operated in relationships from a deep, unconscious fear that we are not good enough, not ok, not lovable just as we are. This feeling is tied in with a belief that says, “I need other people’s love and approval to be ok, to be acceptable”. But in the end, this low self-esteem means we end up using the other person to try to feel ok about ourselves. This is really the opposite of love.
Feeling “used”, the other person may pull away to give herself space and freedom. This, in turn, will further fuel our fears and low self-esteem. In the end, we unintentionally create the very reality we don’t want.
So how do I love?
First, have a conversation with yourself. Ask yourself: what am I believing? What am I telling myself here? Feeling desperate, sad, or angry can wake us up to the fact that what we are thinking and believing may actually not be true.
Here is a small example, a fleeting moment from my life. One night, my husband and I were working intently on our laptops. I was feeling a little lonely and anxious. I had an overwhelming urge to reach to him for comfort and reassurance. If the feeling had a voice, it would have said: “I NEED his comfort”.
But I decided I did not want to approach him with that desperate energy. So I paused. I recognised and questioned my thought. Really? Do I NEED his comfort, his affection right NOW? I realised I did not. In truth, I was ok. I reminded myself: I have everything I need to live my life, even when I am stressed.
Once I’d soothed myself, I noticed it was still my preference to connect with him.
So I waited a minute and asked calmly whether he was nearly done and if we could hang out. He said: “Sure”. The lack of neediness in my voice probably meant he felt free to respond honestly, and my need was met in a mutually satisfying way. Importantly, had my husband said “No”, I was already ok!
“It’s not other people’s job to like me. That’s my job” – Byron Katie
My experience is that I need no one to complete me. The other person does not HAVE to do anything in particular to make sure I am okay. If they do as I request, that’s great. If not, I can work with that too.
As Byron Katie says: “It’s not other people’s job to like me. That’s my job”.
In my work with clients, one technique I encourage is attending to thoughts and beliefs. If people believe that the one they ‘love’ is the cause of their pain and anguish, I invite them to question that thought. We need to identify specific thoughts that are upsetting us so that we can ask an important question: Is it true?
For example, I had a client who struggled with the belief: “I still love my ex-husband and I want him back”. When we brought that belief into the light of day and I asked: “Is it true that you want him back? Really?” she smiled wryly and said “No”.
Believing untrue thoughts causes a lot of pain and distress.
Eventually, my client came to feel glad that another woman was now caring for (and tolerating!) her ex-husband and that her painful feelings were more about her fears of being unworthy and alone, and mostly not about him.
“The work of the mature person is to carry grief in one hand and gratitude in the other and to be stretched large by them. How much sorrow can I hold? That’s how much gratitude I can experience.” – Francis Weller
We found another belief that said: “I have failed”. So we turned that one around: “I have not failed”. And she came to find many examples of where she had in fact worked very hard, learned, loved, grown and progressed as a person over the course of her relationship. She let herself mourn the loss and started to love herself more. She stopped being so afraid of her difficult thoughts and feelings, and in turn, she stopped being so afraid of being by herself.
To observe our thoughts – to give our painful emotions a voice and bring our thinking out of the shadows – helps us to become aware of more unhelpful, insidious beliefs. Some of our thoughts and beliefs have been so close to us for so long, we don’t even know they are there. When we step back, we can see where our thoughts take us and decide we don’t want that any more. We can decide to deliberately let them go and turn them around and, in doing so, begin to re-create our world and enlarge our sense of self.
By transforming your thinking into a better feeling towards yourself, you see that you are already loved, loving and lovable. When you have that sweet relationship with yourself, your partner is an added pleasure.