Everyone wants to feel genuine, meaningful love, but people often don't know how to give love and/or receive it.
Ideas of what love is expected to look like are all around us. Sexy lingerie from Victoria's Secret, couples-only resort getaways, and magical, fantastical weddings and marriages are all examples we see in media and entertainment.
When it comes to families, parents are expected to work long hours and give more and more to their children while often sacrificing the thing that really matters: time with them.
These messages can create unrealistic expectations of how we should be loved or give love, which can make us feel inadequate and unsatisfied in our relationships.
In addition, we are constantly being sold to and fed messages that we are not enough unless we have a new car, an expensive purse, the shiniest gadgets, or can give our kids the best experiences etc., which often leaves us feeling even more empty. Retail companies, celebrities, luxury brands, online “influencers”, the tourism industry, and the beauty industry don’t want us to believe we are enough as we are. They want us to feel like we are lacking in something and that they have the solution to fulfillment.
Why do people love Valentine’s Day? Because people love love... But Valentine's Day is often expressed through consumerism and spending money to buy gifts for our loved ones.
In reality, these materials don’t make us feel whole. Building self-worth, happiness, fulfillment, and peace is an inside job. The most priceless gifts you can ever give are your time, service, forgiveness, love, and small, daily acts of kindness.
These messages about what love is supposed to look and feel like and the parameters society put on love can make love feel hard. When we don’t think we get “enough”, whether from the right people, the people we need it from, or the people we want it from, we end up feeling disconnected, lonely, and unfulfilled. When we believe that love can only look or feel one way, the way we want to experience it, we don’t appreciate the love we feel or maybe don’t allow ourselves to feel it at all.
The danger of having these parameters is that you don't accept the love you do have around you.
As a child, I always wanted to be loved by my dad. I wanted him to love me a certain way, treat me a certain way, and what I ultimately wanted was to be a “daddy’s girl”. Honestly, I was jealous of the “daddy’s girls” I went to school with or saw in my parents’ social circles.
It wasn't until years after my childhood, in my 50s, after becoming estranged from my dad, that I realized that he always loved me the only way he knew how. The abuse, neglect, and heartbreak were a reflection of his own pain…it was never really about me, even though I suffered the consequences. Realizing this allowed me to accept the love he did have to give and to realize it was enough, because it was all he had.
Today, we are reunited…I can accept our history, have an acceptance of him and what love he can give me, and forgive while letting go of the rest. He recently sent me a Valentine (in the middle of January). I was touched because I could feel his love and know in my heart that he is doing the best he can to be connected. In the past, I may have judged, now I can be in a place of gratitude.
We have many people who love us; friends, family, and those who love us just because, and of course they all give love and receive love in different ways. If we add up all the love from different people in our lives, we will realize just how much love we give and receive. The acts of love don’t have to be major, in fact, I often feel that the smaller and simpler acts of love have a more powerful, long-lasting impact.
But it’s crucial to understand that people have different capacities for love and their capacity is based on their own self-actualization, and therefore is not reflective of our value in any way.
When we realize people’s capacities for love differ because of what they have experienced, not because of anything we did, we can accept that people can only love so much or in a certain way, and we can allow ourselves to embrace and enjoy that love.
Let’s put it in simple terms… If I have $100, it doesn't matter if I want to give you $105 because I only have $100 to give. If you are on the receiving end of that, you easily understand that I want to give you $105 but I only have $100. Then, you understand that what I want to give you is all I have… Honestly, it makes the generosity really mean something and the gift all the more meaningful. Why can't the same be true for love?
As parents, we love our children to the best that we can, but often our children don't completely feel it. Sometimes when we are young, as was the case with me and my own son, although I have always loved him beyond measure, I didn’t always have the experience or understanding of what he needed or demonstrated it in the ways he may have wanted the deep and never-ending love.
I’m sure I didn't always love my children in the way that they wanted, needed, and sometimes not in the way they deserved. But that's not reflective of them, it’s reflective of me and where I was in my life. The more we can understand, forgive, and embrace ourselves, the easier it is to just let go and love, without the other person needing to do or be anything at all.
In my coaching practice, I sometimes work with young adults and their parents…often referred to as “family systems work”. Some of these parents are really tough. They love their children the best they can, but often it's dysfunctional because the parent’s love is seemingly contingent on their child’s achievements, whether that is their academic achievements, their athletic performance, how they look, or how they behave.
Many years ago, I worked with a young man who was struggling to adjust to college and needed to find his own voice within the family. The parents made it clear up front- the immediate focus needed to be to give him the tools to stay in school and continue to perform athletically. Once the immediate goal was achieved and it became time to dig deeper into their family culture and dysfunction, there was a shift with the parents. They became resistant. At one point, during a parent session, his dad proclaimed in front of him, “I hired you to help my son with school and sports, not to help me have a better relationship with him”.
Even though this child was a young adult and no longer subjected to his dad’s harsh judgment everyday, doesn’t mean it didn't affect him. My client had a history of being passive aggressive with his dad, shutting down, and sneaking around behind his dad’s back. Helping my client understand that how his dad treated him had nothing to do with him personally, but had everything to do with his dad, allowed him to accept the love his dad has for him without losing his own voice. The result was, he was better able to use his voice and be upfront with his dad and ultimately make better choices for himself rather than being reactionary to him.
It was always obvious his dad loved his son…he would sometimes get emotional and even tear up when talking about him, but because of his own insecurities and fears, his son didn't always feel the love his dad had for him. As the son began to self-actualize and become more aware, he found it easier to be in touch with the love he has for his dad.
Sometimes we feel someone doesn’t “deserve” to be loved because they cause suffering and pain but we can never go wrong by loving them anyway. Giving unconditional love ultimately leads to a deep sense of peace, and when we put that unconditional love out there, it tends to find its way back to us…
When you encounter someone who isn't “lovable” or can’t seem to love you back, don't ask yourself what’s wrong with them, ask yourself what happened to them. And in that answer, you can find the answer to many other things about them, including why they give and receive love the way they do.