When you hold resentment toward another, you are bound to that person or condition by an emotional link that is stronger than steel. Forgiveness is the only way to dissolve that link and get free.
When someone you care about hurts you, you can hold on to anger, resentment and thoughts of revenge — or embrace forgiveness and move forward.
Nearly everyone has been hurt by the actions or words of another. Perhaps your mother criticized your parenting skills, your colleague sabotaged a project or your partner had an affair. These wounds can leave you with lasting feelings of anger, bitterness or even vengeance — but if you don’t practice forgiveness, you might be the one who pays most dearly. By embracing forgiveness, you can also embrace peace, hope, gratitude and joy. Consider how forgiveness can lead you down the path of physical, emotional and spiritual well-being.
What is forgiveness?
Generally, forgiveness is a decision to let go of resentment and thoughts of revenge. The act that hurt or offended you might always remain a part of your life, but forgiveness can lessen its grip on you and help you focus on other, positive parts of your life. Forgiveness can even lead to feelings of understanding, empathy and compassion for the one who hurt you.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean that you deny the other person’s responsibility for hurting you, and it doesn’t minimize or justify the wrong. You can forgive the person without excusing the act. Forgiveness brings a kind of peace that helps you go on with life.
What are the benefits of forgiving someone?
Letting go of grudges and bitterness can make way for compassion, kindness and peace. Forgiveness can lead to:
• Healthier relationships
• Greater spiritual and psychological well-being
• Less anxiety, stress, and hostility
• Lower blood pressure
• Fewer symptoms of depression
• Lower risk of alcohol and substance abuse
Why is it so easy to hold a grudge?
When you’re hurt by someone you love and trust, you might become angry, sad or confused. If you dwell on hurtful events or situations, grudges filled with resentment, vengeance and hostility can take root. If you allow negative feelings to crowd out positive feelings, you might find yourself swallowed up by your own bitterness or sense of injustice.
What are the effects of holding a grudge?
If you’re unforgiving, you might pay the price repeatedly by bringing anger and bitterness into every relationship and new experience. Your life might become so wrapped up in the wrong that you can’t enjoy the present. You might become depressed or anxious. You might feel that your life lacks meaning or purpose, or that you’re at odds with your spiritual beliefs. You might lose valuable and enriching connectedness with others.
How do I reach a state of forgiveness?
Forgiveness is a commitment to a process of change. To begin, you might:
• Consider the value of forgiveness and its importance in your life at a given time
• Reflect on the facts of the situation, how you’ve reacted, and how this combination has affected your life, health and well-being
• When you’re ready, actively choose to forgive the person who’s offended you
• Move away from your role as victim and release the control and power the offending person and situation have had in your life
As you let go of grudges, you’ll no longer define your life by how you’ve been hurt. You might even find compassion and understanding.
What if I have to interact with the person who hurt me but I don’t want to?
If you haven’t reached a state of forgiveness, being near the person who hurts you might be tense and stressful. To handle these situations, remember that you can choose to attend or avoid specific functions and gatherings. Respect yourself and do what seems best. If you choose to attend, don’t be surprised by a certain amount of awkwardness and perhaps even more intense feelings. Do your best to keep an open heart and mind. You might find that the experience helps you to move forward with forgiveness.
What if the person I’m forgiving doesn’t change?
Getting another person to change his or her actions, behavior or words isn’t the point of forgiveness. Think of forgiveness more about how it can change your life — by bringing you peace, happiness, and emotional and spiritual healing. Forgiveness can take away the power the other person continues to wield in your life.
What if I’m the one who needs forgiveness?
The first step is to honestly assess and acknowledge the wrongs you’ve done and how those wrongs have affected others. At the same time, avoid judging yourself too harshly. You’re human, and you’ll make mistakes. If you’re truly sorry for something you’ve said or done, consider admitting it to those you’ve harmed. Speak of your sincere sorrow or regret, and specifically, ask for forgiveness — without making excuses. Remember, however, you can’t force someone to forgive you. Others need to move to forgiveness in their own time. Whatever the outcome, commit to treating others with compassion, empathy and respect.
Have you ever felt angry and didn’t want to speak to someone ever again for hurting your feelings? It’s a common scenario: someone says something that’s rude, wrongly accuses us of doing something wrong, or in some other way makes us get reactive or defensive.
This can take us to the point where we most certainly don’t want to wish them well. But does harboring dislike, revenge, even hate, do us any favors? Does it really make us feel better in the long run or does it just get us more stressed?
It’s definitely important that we acknowledge what we are feeling—all the anger, unfairness, and aversion—and really honor how hurt we are. Repressing our feelings means they’ll most likely just come up again at some point, probably when another situation triggers a similar response.
But negative emotions can sap our energy, especially when we hold on to them. And they spread like wildfire, soon affecting our behavior and attitudes towards other people, like a single match that can burn down an entire forest.
And they create an emotional bond with the abuser that keeps our feelings alive, so that we keep replaying the drama and conflict over in our heads, justifying our own behavior and disregarding theirs. In the process, we become a not-very-nice person.
Anger, aggression, and bitterness are like thieves in the night who steal our ability to love and care. Is it possible to turn that negativity around and chill out so we can wish our abuser well, without necessarily needing to know them as a friend again? This may sound challenging and absurd but it can make life’s difficulties far more tolerable. How can we do this?
1. Recognize no one harms another unless they are in pain themselves.
Ever noticed how, when you’re in a good mood, it’s hard for you to harm or hurt anything? You may even take the time to get an insect out of the sink. But if you’re stressed or in a bad mood, then how easy it is to wash it down the drain.
2. No one can hurt you unless you let them.
Hard to believe, as no one actually wants to be hurt but it’s true. When someone hurts us, we are inadvertently letting them have an emotional hold over us. Instead, as spiritual teacher Byron Katie often says: If someone yells at you, let them yell, it makes them happy!
3. Respect yourself enough that you want to feel good.
Do not respond with negativity to those who hurt you, turn it around and continue to wish them well. By doing this, you will be able to feel total closure.
4. Consider how you may have contributed to the situation.
It’s all too easy to point fingers and blame the perpetrator but no difficulty is entirely one-sided. So contemplate your piece in the dialogue or what you may have done to add fuel to the fire. Even when you feel you’re 100 percent right, always look at a difficulty to see what was your part in it.
5. Extend kindness.
That doesn’t mean you’re like a doormat that lets others trample all over you while you just lie there and take it. But it does mean letting go of negativity sooner than you might have done before so that you can replace it with compassion. Like an oyster that may not like that irritating grain of sand in its shell but manages to transform the irritation into a beautiful and precious pearl.
Meditation takes the heat out of things and helps you cool off, so you don’t overreact. A daily practice we use is where we focus on a person we may be having difficulty with or is having a difficulty with us. We hold them in our hearts and say: May you be well! May you be happy! May all things go well for you!
So, can you see how to bring more kindness into your life? Do comment below.
Do you suspect (or know) that a supposedly monogamous partner has cheated on you? You are not alone. Between a fourth and half of all attached partners will cheat (or have cheated) at one time or another. Knowing others are affected too, however, does not lessen the hurt. Take a look at these steps and use them to help you get through the trauma. This can be an exceptional painful issue and the emotions are very intense so use this as a checklist to help yourself get through the event.
1. First and foremost – take a deep breath and some time. Do not let yourself have a knee-jerk response. Think! This is especially important in long-term relationships. Sudden reactions without thought can lead to consequences you might regret. Give yourself some mental space before you take any action.
2. Talk to someone. You are not alone. Statistics are sketchy and vary widely, but many surveys have been done on cheating and they indicate that between a fourth and half of all married people will or have cheated at one time or another.
3. Do not blame yourself. It’s easy for people to start looking at themselves for reasons why their partner cheated… nothing good will come of that. Issues that lead to cheating sometimes involve both people, but that’s certainly not always the case. However, it would help, at a later date look inwards too to find out why your partner looked elsewhere for comfort. There could be certain gray areas in your behavior which could have led to such actions. You have to remember that most humans like a monogamous lifestyle, as it brings about so much of happiness & security. However, there are a few who would not conform to this.
4. Determine whether you were actually cheated on. Ask yourself these questions: Were you officially boyfriend and girlfriend at the time this “cheating” occurred? Were you officially monogamous? If not, you cannot be sure that your significant other knew what he or she was doing would offend you, in which case you might want to consider less confrontational options.
5. Talk to your partner. Let your concerns and fears be known. It might come out that nothing at all happened, or perhaps something did happen and coercion was involved (workplace sexual harassment, for example, which needs to be discussed openly and immediately to ward off future occurrences). There could be a substance abuse or psychological issue that needs to be addressed (sex addiction is very real). If help is warranted, you might want to support your partner in getting help – that could prove therapeutic for both of you. However, substance abuse is not a valid “excuse” for inappropriate behavior and you absolutely must not permit the “yeah but I was drunk so it doesn’t matter” argument – stand very firm on that.
6. Ask yourself if you will ever be able to look at your partner the same way. Infidelity doesn’t mean much for some, and some people have more than one physical relationship and it doesn’t suggest a shortcoming in their relationship with their steady partner, but this is rare. Infidelity often indicates boredom and dissatisfaction with the present relationships. Dealing with a partner who doesn’t want you in the first place, or one who doesn’t mind hurting you, is ridiculous. Dump him/her if this is the case.
7. If you decide this is irreconcilable, don’t break up with your partner and later take him/her back. This will only give you more emotional stress. If you break up, make it a clean break. However, a trial separation is a valid option. If you do make a break of any kind (permanent or trial) don’t talk to your ex after breaking up with him/her immediately. Give yourself some cooling off time first. If there are children or critical financial issues this might not be possible. In that case, set specific ground rules (time frames, meeting places, etc). This can be difficult, but it’s important.
8. If you are married and pretty sure a more-than-casual relationship is happening, you might need to consider an attorney or a reputable detective in the area that specializes in domestic cases.
9. If you do use an investigator, do not confront or accuse your partner. Let the investigator do his/her job first (if you confront them they may continue in an even more cautious way, which will make the investigation more expensive).
10. Get tested for STD’s as soon as possible. Not knowing will cause you extreme stress. Early treatment is critical.
11. If you can, collect evidence (receipts, emails, photographs, etc.) of the paramour. Keep this information at a friend or family member’s house. This will be less work the investigator will need to do later on your dollar.
12. Don’t start rumors. Share your suspicions with more than one close friend is likely to create gossip that can have very negative results in many areas. If there is an investigation underway, that kind of talk can hamper the case.
13. Look at your own personal actions, too. If you are also cheating, then it might be time to have an open discussion with your partner and clear the air. Perhaps couples counseling is in order. If divorce is the chosen option, remember it can get very ugly, very quickly, and your indiscretions will be brought into the limelight as well.
14. Turnabout is not fair play. Don’t start a relationship just because your spouse has done so. This is pure revenge and nothing good will come of it.
• Get out if the incident has hurt you too much.
• Being honest with yourself is important. If you don’t end the relationship, can you live with the thought that it might happen again?
• Get counseling! It’s not a particularly bad idea to do this even if there’s nothing wrong in your life, but when you are hurt it can definitely help to talk to someone professional.
• It always helps to forgive and put it behind you and not dwell on the past if you want to move forward.
• Do you want to invest the energy to “monitor” the relationship?
When the holiday season comes to an end and all the festivities are over, you’re left with a new year. It can be a time to set in place new things to learn and do or it can be a time of consolidation of things you’re already passionately pursuing. Another alternative might be to simply contemplate where you’ve reached in life so far. Whatever your preferred approach to the New Year, it’s nice to start feeling refreshed and focused, ready to get back into things you’re working on or to get started on new things. Here are a few ideas to give you a boost.
1. Put away the holiday decorations in a timely manner. When the holiday festivities are over, the decorations, ornaments, and other festive trappings can be popped back into their boxes and bags. If you leave this too long, it can feel like a chore and can also have the effect of holding you back from moving into the next experiences. Don’t feel like you have to get rid of it all in one day. Remove things little by little, ideally between Christmas and New Year’s.
• Ask family and friends to help tidy away the seasonal decorations to make it easier.
2. Look over your New Year’s Resolution list. (If you haven’t made one, skip this step.) Write the list out on a planner, chart or calendar where you can make notes. In order to get your resolutions underway, it’s probable that you’ll need to do some planning and organizing, and perhaps even some purchasing. It helps your focus to make notes and lists to direct your efforts in starting new habits. For example:
• Is there any gear, equipment, food, clothing, etc. needed to start your new fitness/eating/exercise regime? Or perhaps you need new hobby or craft materials or new sports gear. Write down the needed items so that you can work out whether you already have what’s needed or need to buy, beg, borrow or freecycle it.
• Do you need to book memberships, travel, subscriptions or any other service to aid the resolution? If so, write this down too.
• Write down anything else of relevance, alongside those resolutions.
• In some cases, breaking the goals into short term and long term milestones is necessary to ensure you don’t flag in your willpower. Write down any milestones you think will work for you.
3. Focus on the organization. If you’re already wonderfully organized, skip this step. But many people aren’t and this can inhibit feeling like the New Year is a fresh start.
• Are there piles of papers and books on the desk and floor? Clean them up in short bursts here and there (stealth cleaning!).
• Do you have trouble finding things, from keys to socks? Look for simple solutions, such as hanging up a key holder and setting up a special lost sock basket. One method is about training, the other is about acceptance––for example, you can train yourself to put things away but you can’t account for missing socks until the mate turns up, so have a safe-keeping zone for such items.
• Hate cleaning? You could try to convince yourself its exercise, a moment of Zen or a chance to throw out your mate’s junk but it’s better to find help. Delegate the cleaning jobs to others as much as possible and try to arrange it so that you’re doing what you’re best at. It’s overwhelming to be the person responsible for it all, so stop trying.
• Take decluttering in gradual steps. Perhaps, the first sort through your desk on Monday, organize your closet on Tuesday and Wednesday, go through your bookshelf on Thursday, vacuum on Friday, dust on Saturday, and organize whatever else needs to be organized on Sunday. Once you’ve organized specific high-use areas, you will realize it’s much easier to concentrate and find what you need with a clean room.
4. Relax more. If you’re not in the habit of relaxing, start the New Year with a resolution to add this important activity (or lack of activity) to your life from now on.
• Spend a little time browsing through books and websites devoted to relaxation ideas. What sorts of relaxing opportunities appeal to you? Not everyone agrees that the same things are relaxing––some people find adrenalin-packed activities relaxing while others would rather slump in the hammock with a good book. It’s your choice, just so long as it relaxes you.
• Almost everyone finds spa-style activities relaxing. This might mean a weekly bath by candlelight with big bubbles (and maybe some bubbly), a massage (at home with a loved one or paid for at a spa), yoga, meditation and the like.
• When you get a chance, take a relaxation break on Saturday or some other appropriate free day or afternoon. Get your rest, have some friends over for a spa party if you want, or just be alone. You can give yourself an oil treatment, manicure/pedicure, and whatever else will make you feel good and look good.
5. Clean your work or study space. Going back to work or college/school after the holiday break can leave you feeling a little out of sorts. Tidying up your desk, locker, backpack, or whatever else you have where stuff accumulates can help you to feel refreshed for the New Year. Throw out last year’s junk, file away important information where it belongs and give everything a good dust or wipe down. Refill anything that you’re running out of and if you can, place a pretty plant or photo on your desk to cheer yourself up.
• For backpacks, satchels, handbags, laptop carriers and other bags: Don’t carry around unnecessary items! Things you don’t need in the bag are clutter that increases the bulk and weight and might scratch items like laptops, phones, and valuables.
6. Reflect over the past year. Think about things you’d like to do better this year, new things you’d like to try to people you’d like to make amends with or start over with. Have you achieved the things you wanted to in the past year? What specific things would you like to change or redirect? Asking yourself questions about progress, change and where you want to be right now can help to keep your perspective fresh, giving you new motivation to make this year a more fulfilling one.
• Anything you regret saying? Anyone you wish you could apologize to? If there are people that you owe an apology to, apologize and make things right with them. You don’t want to worry or regret anything when you start the New Year.
• Was this past year so great you don’t want it to be a new year? Great, make a scrapbook or diary entry about how great this year has been. But tell yourself the New Year will be even better. Build on the lessons you’ve learned and keep the good things coming.
• Was this past year such a terrible year for you, that you worry the New Year will be more of the same or even worse? Thinking that way may be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Nobody expects you to fly when your wings feel broken, but it’s important for your own well-being to start finding small ways to mend your dreams. Treat yourself with greater compassion and hang out more with folks who have kind hearts. Focus on making this coming year a much gentler, kinder one. This might include letting go of things that are causing you anxiety––scary at first, but really liberating when you finally do it.
The quest of finding happiness is possibly the only goal shared among all human beings – past, present or future. Who doesn’t want to find happiness in his or her life? It’s a silent goal nonetheless. We don’t mutter much about it and most of the time it lurks in the deep inner workings of our minds. Curious isn’t it?
The odd fact is we spend billions of research dollars & euros into treating mental illnesses with drugs, but not much effort goes into understanding the science of happiness or mental well-being. This fact alone compels me to write about the subject.
The title of this article is in itself revealing – “how to find happiness within yourself” suggests from the outset that you should look for happiness within yourself and that happiness is general to be found within. This is also a very curious thing to me. Why are we always trying to find happiness in all kinds of places but hardly ever attempt to find happiness within?
Harry is 67. He lost his wife to cancer almost three years ago now. He saw his daughter pass through a marriage breakdown and divorce. He hardly gets to see his grandchildren because his daughter moved to another city after her divorce. He misses the fishing trips with his brother Joe who also passed away recently. He is relating less and less to a changing hostile world where he is constantly reminded he is an unwanted burden.
Yet there is one major twist to the story. Harry is happy, radiantly happy. How can this happen? I mean if there are people who have passed through all sorts of heartbreaking episodes and hardships but are happy, what’s their story? Conversely, if there are people (and lots of them) who have acquired all sorts of merit, possessions, and good fortune yet is deeply unhappy, what does this say about finding happiness?
Finding happiness by losing old mental models:
One major flaw in the way we live our lives is that we have learned how to be unhappy rather than how to be happy. We have built certain mental models of our reality and these limit us or lead us astray from finding real happiness. Naturally this leads us to the understanding that finding happiness requires us to unlearn certain things and look for it in different pathways. It requires us to look into flaws in our belief system and change them.
One of these mental models we adopt is the belief that we need to reach a certain goal or outcome to be happy, the so-called ‘if-then model’ (if this happens then I will be happy). For example that we should get a better income, financial freedom, recognition of our work, sexier bodies, satisfying relationships and so on. It’s always something around the corner which needs to happen first before we reach happiness.
I know you have many times got to the realization yourself that it just doesn’t work that way. Once you reach that corner there is always another corner to reach. Happiness is not found in anything outside ourselves. We already have all the material at hand to be happy. It’s a matter of shifting our perspective and beliefs completely.
Some mental models to take note of and debunk:
• Happiness is the pleasure: No. Pleasure is instant gratification – physical or mental. Happiness is knowing that you are where you should be or accepting that you are not and doing your best while you’re there.
• Happiness is comfort or security: We live most of our lives in constant security threats – our jobs, our children out at night, our health, etc. The truth is that security or lack of it is based on perception. Happiness is living well in a very unstable world.
• I don’t deserve happiness: Yeah, says who? Another human quirk – self-inflicted limitation. Happiness is for everyone, wherever you come from, whatever you did and no matter what’s your idea. Happiness is open-source.
• It’s impossible to find happiness in this world: Another example of self-limiting beliefs. Wrong. Happiness is as possible to find as unhappiness.
• People who reached their goals are invariably happy: Again, says who? People who reached their goals are not happy because they reached their goals. On the contrary, some are eternally dissatisfied and keep on seeking, other goals in life – a real source of unhappiness. But yes some people found happiness while reaching those goals since they were living their true purpose and enjoying every moment of it. Their eyes were on the doing and not on the reaching.
Finding Inner Happiness Through Finding Inner Peace
So many stories around us, like that of Harry, seem to point at the overlooked obvious – that you will only find happiness within yourself. Well, that’s very good news since you don’t need to look far away to find happiness – like for example running after expensive, energy-consuming and ultimately unsatisfying goals. It’s there right within you. As scientist Zen Buddhist Jon Kabat-Zinn perfectly immortalized in one of his book titles: “Wherever you go, there you are.”
When life rocks your boat to the point of wrecking it or when the proverbial crap hits the ceiling fan you will reach a y-point which will either make you or break you. So many people like Harry managed to find happiness & inner peace through the most turbulent and upsetting moments of their lives by making use of their internal resources, by finding happiness within rather than in external points of reference.
The key to happiness, or, in other words, that of finding true inner happiness, is by finding your inner peace – that center of calm inner knowing which is the real source of your being rather than those mental projections or models imposed by your social background.
There are many pathways to find your inner peace but before I start sounding too metaphysical I’d reckon that the greatest and shortest path is that of acceptance. Let go of your expectations, inner struggle, and frustrations when things don’t turn out exactly, the way you want them. Acceptance is an extremely powerful tool to finding inner happiness. It shouldn’t be confused with resignation or passiveness.
We often fail to understand the power of acceptance because it comes from the heart, not the mind. Its power, in fact, comes from transcending the resistance and inner currents of the restless mind which are often the source of our anxieties, stress, and inner conflict.
Acceptance is when we drop all, our mental models (like the if-then model), often in a moment of clarity or awareness where we become conscious that there is another life outside this madness, outside this huffing and puffing trying to acquire one goal after the other in the wrong belief that there is an ultimate goal post called happiness somewhere on the finishing line.
Ask yourself – how much of what’s going on in your life do you accept? Are you constantly feeling you should be at some other point in your life? Or do you somehow feel at peace with all aspects of your life and make use of them with all their limitations?
Other pathways to inner peace:
• Compassion: Some people admirably manage to find the time and energy to help other even when they are facing rough seas themselves. Even though this comes out from an act of compassion and selflessness, it is also a doorway to their own inner peace. In fact although it seems quite hard to do in moments when we are down and out, giving attention to others’ needs is a way of getting ‘out of your head’ which, ironic as it sounds, is a fast remedy to unhappiness.
• Seek the support of others: Well, it works both ways too. Helping others is a way to shift your center of attention away from your ailments. However seeking any form of support from others is a way of finding reinforcement and encouragement and is highly recommendable.
• Be grateful to everything around you: Because we so often forget of the little miracles happening around us on a daily basis. We only think about what’s missing instead of counting our blessings. Being thankful to life is not some wishy-washy magical spell that washes away all your troubles. Rather it is an exercise in which you become aware of the positive and meaningful things happening in your life, a real booster.
How to get past your own defenses and learn to build a real relationship?
While many of us may have sensed it intuitively, there is now science behind the statement that “Love is all you need.” A 75-year longitudinal study by Harvard researchers suggests that love is indeed a key to a happy and fulfilling life.
While love seems to be a universally valued attribute, defining it in behavioral terms can be a challenge. As the Harvard study’s lead researcher, Dr. George Vaillant, wrote of his team’s findings, two essential ingredients are proven to correlate with a happy existence: “One is love. The other is finding a way of coping with life that does not push love away.”
While many of us believe we would like to be in love, we face many hurdles in taking the actions that allow love to flow freely throughout our lives and relationships. We have many ways of defending ourselves against love and can struggle to give and receive love with ease, openness, and vulnerability.
With love being so closely connected to meaning and fulfillment, it’s valuable for each of us to define love as an action or series of actions we can take to bring us closer to the people we value. In a romantic context, some essential characteristics that fit the description of a loving relationship include:
• Expressions of affection, both physical and emotional.
• A wish to offer pleasure and satisfaction to another.
• Tenderness, compassion, and sensitivity to the needs of the other.
• A desire for shared activities and pursuits.
• An appropriate level of sharing of possessions.
• An ongoing, honest exchange of personal feelings.
• The process of offering concern, comfort, and outward assistance for the loved one’s aspirations.
Love includes feeling for the other that goes beyond any selfishness or self-interest on the part of the loved one. As such, love nurtures and has a positive effect on each person’s self-esteem and sense of well-being. Love never involves deception, because misleading another person fractures his or her sense of reality.
So how well do we meet these standards for being loving? When we think about a relationship that is meaningful to us, we have to ask:
• Do we both behave in ways that nurture each other?
• Do we take actions to make the other person feel good?
• Do we consider what lights that person up, separate from our own interests?
Too often, we think of love as an almost passive state of being, as opposed to a conscious choice we make. When we regard love as something we simply fall into, we can easily slip into routines with the person we value or lose a sense of separateness and respect. Instead, we view that person as a part of us. We then run the risk of creating a fantasy bond, an illusion of fusion in which real feelings of fondness and attraction are replaced by the form of being in a relationship. In other words, we come to see ourselves and our partner as a single unit. We then fall into roles rather than appreciating each other as individuals and experiencing the exciting, loving feelings that result.
A fantasy bond offers a false sense of security—the illusion that we are no longer alone. However, when we connect to someone in this way, we lose our sense of vitality, and we give up significant aspects of our relationship. The behavioral operations of love are replaced with a fantasy of being in love, which does not nurture either partner.
Relationships tend to go south when we stop taking actions that our partner would perceive as loving and instead start looking to our partner solely to meet our own needs. It’s important to distinguish emotional hunger from real love. Have you ever witnessed a parent hugging a child and wondered whether the hug was intended to comfort the child, offering reassurance and care, or to soothe the parent, taking something from the child? When we reach out to our partner, it can be valuable to examine whether our behaviors are for them or for ourselves. Are we looking to them to fulfill us in some way that is unfair to them? Are we hoping they will make up for an emptiness or hurt from our past?
A couple I’ve worked with recently recognized an example of this dynamic. The wife would often compliment her husband, but he rarely felt acknowledged by her words. When she recounted some of the recent comments she made, she noticed that they were less of a reflection of him and more a reflection on her. Statements like: “Aren’t I married to such a handsome, well-put-together man?” Or: “Haven’t I picked a winner?” didn’t capture qualities that were important to him. They were traits she valued in a partner that reconfirmed her own self-esteem and sense of worth.
Love should never be an act of manipulation. It is not a mark of ownership over another person, but the exact opposite—a genuine appreciation of a person as a separate individual. When we see a person this way, we allow ourselves to fully value them for who they are and for the happiness they bring to our lives. We are driven to be generous toward the person, to show compassion and kindness in a way that both they and the outside world would view as loving.
Of course, there are many barriers we put in place that not only keep us from finding this type of relationship but from achieving it with the person we love. One reason we wind up in less-than-loving relationships is the ways we were treated in our past. We may have become familiar with family dynamics in which we were rejected or intruded on, in which case we tend to seek out or recreate these same dynamics in our adult relationships. To become more loving thus means recognizing ways we self-sabotage: How are we recreating past hurts in our current relationships?
As we reflect on these behaviors, we learn a lot, not only about how we interfere with our naturally loving feelings for others but about the negative ways we feel about ourselves. It’s difficult to express love outwardly when we don’t feel our own sense of self-worth. One of the biggest reasons we shut out love is because we feel unworthy or self-denying. Therefore, to have a loving relationship, we must challenge our negative self-concept or critical inner voice. When we do this and take the loving actions that contradict our critical self-image, we enhance our own sense of worth and are able to get closer to the people we love.