Today’s post is short and to the point. We’re talking about love. Something that is scarce yet abundant. Something that is colorful yet black and white. The idea of love is something that I wonder about frequently because I continually challenge the notion when it comes to my relationships. My brain has been working hard on this recently as I have been reading Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly – the type of book filled with powerful messages that roam around in your mind for days and days after you’ve read them. I find myself highlighting passage after passage and going back and re-reading to make sure I understand the import of what she is saying. Ultimately, this book is forcing me to think very deeply about the relationship I have with myself and the ones I share with others in my life. Today I read a poignant passage on love:
We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honor the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness and affection. Love is not something we give or get; it is something that we nurture and grow, a connection that can only be cultivated between two people when it exists within each one of them – we can only love others as much as we love ourselves.
Those are some big, strong, meaningful words. Words that swim around in my head and make me think about every person in my life. I wonder about the vocabulary I use to describe how I feel about them. I am not one to throw the love word around that much. In fact, I tell very few people that I love them because when I say it, I want to be certain I mean it. I use it mostly with my husband and kids. Because, with them, I am sure. When I measure love against Brene’s yardstick, I know that I love them fully and completely.
I remember, as a kid, my mother used to tell me “I love you but I do not like you.” They were hurtful words meant to invoke her disdain for my behavior or something about my personality that she did not enjoy while still ensuring her underlying implicit love for me as my mother. As a child and then as a young adult, my whole body tightened up when I heard those words because of the sting of the blow. And I found them hard to process. In my mind, the one clearly negated the other. Of course, she could be angry with me about something or be displeased with my behavior but she should not have stopped liking me in the process.
I do not believe I can love someone whom I do not like.
I do not believe I can love someone with whom I have not shared a deep personal connection.
I do not believe I have the capacity to love anyone when I am feeling lost and not able to find the strength or courage to look at myself and love myself.
When I think about my mother’s words today, I recognize the impact they had on me and the impact the continue to have on me. How can I possibly like myself if my mother does not like me? How can I possibly love myself if I do not like myself? I struggle every day to rid myself of those words and to not identify her pain with me. Yet, on my darkest days, those words are an oasis that allows me to reinforce why I feel badly about myself and offer me a hole to climb into so I can run away from the hard work of being present and vulnerable.
I know when I love someone because I can physically feel the emotion that comes from my connection to them. I can feel the trust and the comfort that comes from being vulnerable and open. At the same time, I also know that I can abuse this love because I feel safe and secure. And, naturally, they can abuse me as well. It’s risky. And, while we certainly don’t set out to hurt those we love, sometimes it just happens. What this means is that we have to work harder to take better care to ensure that we choose the right words, we express our love for each other openly and honestly and we protect those most fragile and significant relationships.
I have a lot of wonderful people in my life and lots of people who I truly adore and have strong feelings for. However, when I look at Brene’s words and I put them to the test, I recognize that my loved ones are very few and far between. It’s hard work to get to love and stay at love and I am just fine with that.