My most faithful reader has been emailing me about my last post on bringing love consciously into our work, and raises the following questions:
- Does love really never feel bad?
- Can you have a single definition of love for everyone in your life?
I actually anticipated these two questions, because they have also been weighing on my mind. Let me take on the second question first: Can you have a single definition of love for everyone in your life?
I speak only for myself, of course, but, YES, I have arrived at a single definition of love for absolutely everyone in my life, and for me it’s both a matter of principle and a pragmatic way of figuring out where I’m falling short and what I need to do to keep growing. TI have no idea who she will eventually become, but I feel certainty in my heart that she can grow as as a person and take her life into any direction she wishes. Even if she has a hard time believing this for herself in this moment, I hold that space for her.
I do this best for the people I work with, for friends, and for those closest to me, but I extend this love on a much smaller scale with total strangers. And I’m not just referring to those beautiful moments of connection we can have with strangers when we look them in the eye and exchange a smile and kind words. I have a loving kindness practice that I like to do while walking to the train or while I’m in a train car, where I remind myself that every single person I encounter is both loving and beloved (in however way they define and experience love). I also try to do this when I find myself irritated or impatient while I’m out in a crowd, but that’s a bit harder.
But my real growth edge—which is a fancy name for the area in my life where I almost completely fail at putting my definition of love into practice—is with my family. Around my family I neither receive the kind of love I most value, nor am I able to give it freely. Please understand that I am not laying blame here on anyone but myself. If I don’t feel seen and accepted for who I am, it’s because I don’t feel safe or comfortable enough to show myself fully to my family. I hold myself back, smile to keep the peace, and only tell them bits and pieces of what’s really going on in my life. At the same time, I have a tough time holding my parents in a space of true love because past memories and old wounds still cloud my relationship with them. I continue to want things from them that they just aren’t able to give me, and while I can intellectually accept that fact about them, I still haven’t made peace with it, even after all these years of working on it.
I find that holding an alternate definition of love just for my family—as I, in fact, used to—is a way of quarantining the hurt, rather than healing it. I used to tell myself that I should love them unconditionally because “they’re family.” The weight of that ‘should’ paralyzed me for years until I decided that I no longer wanted what felt like a false sense of love in my life.
With my newer definition of love, I know my goal is to open my heart to my family more fully, so I can see them, and they can see me. I do this at my own slow pace, and sometimes it’s a dance of one-step-forward, two-steps-back. I have no idea if I’ll ever actually get there with them, but living by a principle is more important to me than pretending that my love for my family has some kind of natural, eternal quality to it that “just is.” It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, but my heart is at peace with how things are, whereas before it just felt like it was rotting in the lie.
I’ll circle back to the first question—about whether love ever feels bad—in my next post.
Written By Ysette Guevara, Ph.D.
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