Walks of Mind
Illuminating What Goes on in our Mind
Please enjoy reading this walk. It has been
created by John Cochrane for your interest and, hopefully, benefit.
She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not
Conditional and Unconditional Love
©John Cochrane 2005-2006
Unconditional love is a strange term don’t you think? Love seems an intangible, a feeling, a state of personal being that has attracted huge volumes of description and yet all this description seems somehow inadequate. There are obviously many versions of love, many situations in which the word ‘love’ is used to describe feelings and intentions, and why pick ‘unconditional’ to go along with this ill-defined concept? What relevance does conditionality have to our daily feeling and expression of love?
The concept of unconditional love represents to some an aspiration, to some a threat, and to some it describes a given. The aims for this walk are to learn more about love itself and the ways that we experience it, and to explore the benefits and the reality of choosing to love unconditionally.
Having said that, we shall spend much of this walk looking at a form of love that is often highly conditional – we shall be looking at traditional romantic falling in love and being in love. This represents an extreme experience of love, where our feelings are often strongly felt, and one where we can learn much about love in general if we look to see what is really at work.
As far as I am concerned, falling in love is just great. Experiencing such a strong feeling of appreciation towards someone else is one of the most powerful, evoking, and enlightening experiences that I have had. I regard myself as lucky in that I have experienced this a number of times, and I hope to again. I am full with anticipation just thinking about it.
However, it has also given me perhaps the most challenging experiences, amongst the most stressful, the most uncomfortable, the most exposing, the most frustrating, and certainly the most distracting of experiences. Looking back, much of my experience of falling in love has been inappropriate and not directly associated with an ability to build a relationship, more about infatuation than shared love.
I was around 15 the first time I fell deeply in love, and it did not happen again for me for quite a number of years. There was, however, a significant problem with this first time – I saw my dream girl for all of perhaps 30 seconds. We passed in the street when I was on holiday and I saw her again a few minutes later as I walked back the same way. I didn’t realise then that I was just starting a year-long romantic dream, I didn’t talk to her, I didn’t really think that much about her other than realising that she was, to me, very beautiful. I did not notice any particularly strong feeling at the time, but I found myself thinking about her, day after day after day. I was inspired, I was distracted, I was awakened, I was desperate, I was astonished, I was frustrated, I was filled with imaginings.
I had never believed in love at first sight and yet I had fallen deeply in love with someone I did not know, had not even spoken to, and had sighted for just a few seconds. My on-going question then and since has been simple: What was going on?
In this walk we shall be looking at some descriptions and definitions of love and then at the difference between unconditional love and romantic love, which is usually highly conditional. We shall be looking in some detail at how our unconscious expectations around relationship will often have us playing out grand and repetitive dramas with those that we ‘love’ and how those dramas will often put such strong conditions on our relationships, or have us getting into such unsuitable relationships, that we seem to be constantly seeking love rather than finding and experiencing love.
For a number of reasons, many people find it challenging to use the word ‘love’ in a broad sense. If you want to go through this walk substituting a phrase such as respect, positive regard, or joy of life, then go ahead and do so.
So, what is love?
There are countless definitions and descriptions of love, loving, being in love, and falling in love. This reflects both the importance and breadth of love, and the variety of experiences we have of it. Love in relationships is almost impossible to adequately define in a simplistic way because every relationship is unique and the emotions, agreements, and understandings that bind the relationship reflect that uniqueness.
However, without pre-empting the walk itself I give some basic descriptions to get us going. These are not intended to be well-researched word-perfect definitions, they are intended to provide a context for the rest of the walk and we shall build on them as we proceed.
Dictionary definitions of love are aimed more at defining the way that the word ‘love’ is used in everyday language than at describing what love actually is. The most pertinent examples might include descriptions such as “a feeling of intense desire”, “intense emotional attachment”, “expression of one’s affection”, and so on. These are mainly descriptions of romantic or passionate love and tell us little about the broader context for love.
My simplest personal definition of love is this: Love is our motivation to connect with and engage with life. (See the walk on emotions). Love is the emotional urge that opens us as individuals to the reality of the rest of life and energises us to join in. Fundamentally, love is a motivation that has roots going deeply into our unconscious and specifically is a motivation to engage with life. Love may be focussed in a particular direction, for example at another person, or it may be broad, for example toward a vocation or a ‘pastime’. In all cases, love is expressed as a pleasing (and sometimes obsessive) interest in some aspect of our daily life.
But romantic love is not normally described in this way. Let’s look at some of the aspects of being in love and falling in love. Can we begin to define these?
Being ‘in love’ is our experience of love in relationship with others or, more particularly, a single ‘significant other’. Well, that’s a start, but I think that you will agree that it tells us very little in itself either as a description of what goes on or as a model of what is happening under the surface.
But we can say more. ‘In love’ is generally presented by society as being associated with a sexual relationship as the end result of falling ‘in love’. A relatively permanent state of being that supports and binds a long-term sexual relationship. This society-based definition tends to exclude being ‘in love’ with multiple people or in multiple ways at the same time.
When I love someone, whether it is romantically or when I am loving my family or friends, I experience a positive interest in that person and I honour and celebrate their existence. When I love an object or an idea, I experience that same positive interest and a sense of respect. Does this match your experience as well?
‘Falling in love’ seems at first to be a combination of experiencing a sexual attraction along with a desire to love. It is this element of desire that is key to a deeper understanding of falling in love, and we shall look at this further in a moment. Suffice to say, the desire may well be inappropriate and may be unachievable, and falling in love will often be accompanied by impossible and often unconscious expectations and demands.
Before we do move on I want to add one quote that I find very evoking. “Love is friendship set on fire” (Jeremy Taylor). I find this evoking not because it is in any way a useful description of love but because it highlights one particular aspect of love. Love is a deep and engaging passion that has much power to energise and invigorate us.
In many ways I find romantic love much easier to describe than love in general. I know when I am in love with someone else and I can describe the feelings, the urgency, and the depth of my emotion. Describing and understanding love in more general terms seems tougher to do though. The comments that follow are some very personal appreciations of my experience of love in a broad sense.
Through the personal development work that I have done and through deepening my experiences of ‘self’ I recognise now that I have a firm belief in a spiritual love that is at the very centre of my being and influences everything that I am and do. When I am evoked I may experience my love as a physical feeling in the chest, and presumably hence the association of love with the heart, almost literally at the centre of my physical being as well as metaphorically.
I also believe that love is always present, though we often choose, in an unconscious sense, to numb it out or ignore it. I believe that love is always present for a number of reasons: Because when I experience calm and quite I can readily connect with my feelings of love. Because when I do my work and change my mental space to remove anxieties and self-pretences I find that other emotions will quieten down but love is likely to be reinforced. Because emotions such as anger and fear, sadness, grief, and frustration arise as a reaction to events in life that go against my wants, and I believe that wants are an expression of love – I would not feel these other emotions if I did not first have some expression and experience of love.
Through the work that I have done with many others I have seen these same traits again and again. I believe that we all share this, though our awareness of it and our readiness to accept it varies greatly.
The view evolved in the ‘Spectrum’ walk of love being a motivation that is always present and that engages us with life fits with my more spiritual experience of love. When I experience love fully I find that love is a full love of life, it is undirected, it is unlimited, it is unending, it is unpossessive and unconditional – it is outgoing. I experience this love as an indivisible part of me that is always present though I am not always conscious of it. It fuels my desires and provides the emotional energy for all the positive gainful things I experience and do with my life.
In relationships, love forms the basis for my feelings of connectedness with others and, ideally, it remains unpossessive and unconditional. When I am in touch with the true nature of the love I have for someone, I have no demands on how and who they should be and no expectations that they will treat me in any particular way. This is not to say that I do not have wants, expectations, and judgments within the relationship, but, again ideally, I use these to determine my own behaviour rather than that of the other person.
In addition, love in a broad sense is not directly about getting something back from the relationship nor is it about becoming obsessional, though these are things that may be added at times if I get into my personal fears and self-judgments.
Another Way to Look at it
Another way I have of imagining the experience of love is in terms of my sense of connection with or separation from the world about me. Separation may happen due to distance or due to some form of barrier and what I am talking about here is the mental defensive barriers that we can set up to protect ourselves from danger. We each unconsciously develop defensive barriers to attempt to protect ourselves from getting hurt during our interactions with life and to try to make the most of our lives.
These barriers are our attempt to control our interactions with the world and they determine our behaviour. If we stay within our barriers we remain safe. We remain safe within our own particular comfort-zone. If we attempt to behave in new ways or ways that take us outside our normal limits we will probably feel anxious and decidedly uncomfortable, unsafe.
Because these barriers are based on our own particular beliefs about how we and the world work, they also provide a form of mental map which defines our self. As we touch on in the ‘Beliefs’ walk, we are defined in our own minds, or perhaps more traditionally our ego is defined, by some boundary that sets the limits between ‘me’ and ‘non-me’.
This boundary both defines ‘me’ and separates ‘me’ from the rest of my experience of life. The boundary itself can be described in a number of ways; typically as an ‘edge’, ‘barrier/boundary’ (as above), ‘ego-barrier’, or ‘limit’. Fundamentally though, it is our fears that define the boundary and create it as a defensive wall or barrier to protect us from the outside world. We define our ‘self’ as that place where we can be in safety, surrounded by our defences against the world. As a barrier, of course, these limits keep us in as well as keeping threat out.
There are times when our fears are quiet though, when our barriers are lowered. At these times we can discover that we are not restricted in the ways we thought we were and we have a sense of continuity of ourselves outwards, a connection with others and that life that we have previously labelled ‘non-me’.
When my barriers are up I isolate myself and declare myself self-sufficient. I am complete within my own world and the outside world seems distant or unwelcoming or even hostile. With barriers up we behave defensively.
When my barriers are half-up and half-down I am aware of myself and I am also aware of the outside world. I am aware of the separation and I may experience feelings of loneliness, or sadness, or resentment. With barriers half up we are on edge, prepared to defend and also willing to explore – but cautiously.
When my barriers are down I am wanting to explore beyond the ‘me’ that I am familiar with, I have an experience of connection and personal growth, and I may call this experience love. And as my barriers are down I no longer have a sense of restriction and I experience love as unrestricted and unlimited. With barriers down we are enthusiastic about life and open to exploring it without reservation, we are not fearfully protecting our ‘self’ nor putting conditions on our experiences.
Looked at this way, we experience love when we lower our barriers. What we experience is our willingness to connect with the outside world. Indeed, it is more than willingness. With our barriers down we become eager to explore and excited about the possibilities that open up.
We have touched on two very different ways of looking at love; through our romantic eyes and through a seemingly more general and perhaps detached view of love in general. You have probably noticed that I have already started to assert that my experience of love in general includes a claim that love is by its very nature unconditional. How are these two views to be reconciled?
What changes a potential broad unconditional basis for love into our more usual daily experiences that include desires, fears, dramas, resentments, misunderstandings? What leads us to control and constrain the feelings and intentions of connection?
There are a number of factors that lead to us attempting to control our feelings, including the feelings associated with love. We all learn at an early age that the full passion of love can be a difficult thing to live with. We learn some very hard-seeming lessons about love from our experiences of family and friends; We learn that in the real world our love is not always welcome, we learn that sometimes the people that we love can be intentionally or unintentionally cruel to us (and we to them). We learn that love can hurt. When I began to associate the fear of hurt or rejection with love then feeling and expressing love would leave me fearful and believing myself to be very vulnerable. At various times in my life I consciously ‘gave up’ on love (or tried to!) and I certainly started to try and limit my vulnerability to being hurt by restricting and withholding my love.
I also became afraid that unless I kept myself under control I might behave in exuberant or foolish ways. Love is a strong passion, and like other strong passions some of us become fearful that the passion will take over if we do not control it. Nearly all of us attempt to manage and control our strong feelings in various different ways, though primarily through suppression.
In addition, all societies provide role-models and various sets of rules for behaviour and for moral guidance. As we grow up in society we adopt and adapt these into personal guidelines. Your guidelines may not be exactly the same as mine but they are likely to be broadly similar in many respects. One of my inherited guidelines, for example, is that there are some feelings that are OK and some that are not. Also, for example, I took it on that it is OK to feel sexual attraction toward prospective partners and our declared partner but generally not towards others. Most societies tell us that incest and other close family relationships that are based on sexual desire are not allowed. Some societies also support views that certain society members should not have relationships with other members or non-members. These may be ethnic groups or social groups or sexual groups or some other definition. These society ‘rules’ can play a big part in our desires for and attempts at self-control of our emotions.
It seems to me that there is a major problem when we try to control love, or any other strong passion for that matter. The problem is that management and control of love basically tend to boil down to suppression of love, and we may be trying to suppress our passions because we have a belief and a fear that otherwise our passion would be out of control. I may be more or less successful as long as I keep on putting effort into the control, but there is another side to this. By controlling in this way I am also tending to give myself a constant reminder that deep down I believe that I am out of control, I actually reinforce that belief. At some point my deep belief will surface and I will cave in to it, and love will come out as a strong passion and in a way that bypasses my controls; it will, by definition, come out in an uncontrolled way.
This is a point worth repeating. When I attempt to control love it will, by definition, tend to come out in an uncontrolled way. It will come out as infatuation or obsession, love that has all the appearance of being out of control, love that seems to control me rather than I control it. Love that is beyond control and that I am powerless to avoid – I will inevitably fall before it and into it.
I will fall in love with the wrong person at the wrong time and I will fall in love in a way that is beyond my normal ability to control. And this may well become a repetitive behaviour pattern, it will happen again and again and each time I will reapply my attempted emotional controls ready for the next uncontrollable attraction. I become a victim of my own emotion and will experience love as inappropriate and perhaps unwanted but undeniable, irresistible.
The controls I impose on myself can produce the very situation that I am most attempting to avoid. When this is running, I can have great difficulty maintaining the relationships that I believe are important to me and great difficulty avoiding those that I judge I should not have. This is all basically down to the way that I try to control, by simply denying my emotions. Instead of accepting that I like someone, or feel affection towards them, or are attracted to them, I try to push these realisations away. I am better served accepting the emotion and then working out what my intentions are than denying the emotion.
Unlike unconditional love, attraction, lust, and desire ARE inherently possessive and these are often associated very closely with love and confused with it. In an evolutionary sense, attraction and desire are designed to lead to relationship building and bonding. Sexual attraction and desire are designed to build mating relationships and, for us humans, these are most often pair bonds intended to last an appreciable time, sometimes for life. Of course, there are additional types of attraction that can be postulated that provide survival benefits through extended relationships and ‘illicit’ relationships, but we will stick with the simple cases for now.
The combination of unpossessive love with possessive attraction can, of course, lead to great confusion. It is clearly possible to be attracted to people that we do not love and love people that we are not attracted to.
As far as I can see, most people try to balance the pressures and pleasures of love and attraction and look for relationships and pairings where they are comfortable with that balance. Some may judge the overall ‘value’ of their current relationship(s) on the basis of whether they both love and are attracted to their partner, any perceived imbalance here will lead to wariness and possible rejection of the whole relationship.
But love is often obscured by fears and anger so it can seem to be variable or suspect, as can attraction, and ‘balance’ can be hard to measure in any meaningful way. This is quite apart from the deeper questions about whether or not it is appropriate to judge relationships like this in the first place. In addition, any apparent imbalance between love and attraction may seem to us to be a matter of fate rather than a matter of choice. This is another reason that people talk of falling in love and being in love rather than feeling their love or expressing their love.
So, What Makes Relationships Complex?
A combination of attraction and genuine love sounds like a pretty simple formula, so shouldn’t relationship building be pretty straightforward? After all, it happens almost automatically and we are all involved in making significant relationships at one time or another, and it is often portrayed as a simple and natural process in films and fiction.
Reality for most of us is somewhat different however. Relationships are often difficult to create, or don’t last long and end ‘in tears’, or can become sources of anxiety and abuse rather than support. What is it that gets in the way of simple and open relationships?
Undermining Beliefs and Fears
For much of the remainder of this walk we will be looking at some of the major themes that can lead to problems and inappropriate expectations in our primary relationships. I draw heavily on my own particular behaviour patterns to expose and highlight the major issues. Your experiences and the words that you use to describe your own experiences will probably be different to mine, but I know from my support of others that many share similar behaviour patterns.
We are going to look at unspoken beliefs and fears that can have us acting out undermining behaviour patterns, how unrealistic attachments inhibit our ability to deal with the reality of a relationship, how ‘me-me-me’ behaviour and a desire to share can cut across genuine relationship building. After exposing what can get in the way, I look at one of the major consequences; falling in love through desire rather than through a true expression of love.
My own experience is that the way that I go about my individual relationships can become governed by my fears about relationship in general. My fears about relationship come from my deep personal beliefs, and my beliefs come from what I have experienced in the past, what I have been told, and what I have dreamed up for myself.
However, as human beings we rarely bring our deep beliefs fully into consciousness and hence we rarely check to see if they are valid or true. As the beliefs remain unconfirmed the fears that grow out of them are also unconfirmed, and it is these fears that can determine our behaviour.
For example, for many years I carried a belief that I would sooner or later be rejected by those closest to me (many people have an abandonment belief that can work in a very similar way). My belief would come to the surface as a fear of rejection when dealing with my close friends and particularly when I found myself interested in someone new. New friends seemed hard to come by when I had this belief running and the fear would become a self-fulfilling prophecy; to avoid rejection I would unconsciously and constantly check how I was doing and I would unconsciously invite rejection by challenging those around me to prove that they were not rejecting me. The challenge would typically come out as me behaving in a subversively rude or mildly antisocial way, in order to test the strength of feeling for the ‘real’ me. Of course, this challenging behaviour meant that people would often be wary of me, in fact they would almost always reject me at some level if I carried on. My behaviour resulted in the thing I was most afraid of coming true. And since I was tending to get what I most feared and prophesied, the belief became more and more entrenched.
Once I got this behaviour pattern out in the open I could see just how limiting and self-defeating the whole thing was. I had a good look at the belief that I would be rejected and replaced it with a recognition of the truth that I could indeed be rejected by some people, and for reasons of their own, which is not the same as ‘I will be rejected by everyone’. I also recognised that rejection is not the end of the world for me, I can survive rejection, even if this comes from someone that I love, and I can move on. More than this, I can fully accept that people have the right to treat me as they wish and I can accept and forgive them if they behave in ways that I do not want. In this way I become more able to fully accept whatever happens to me without resentment or self-pity. Removing the false belief that I would inevitably be rejected has made a huge difference to my appreciation of those around me.
And there’s more on the same theme. Once I started looking more fully at my behaviour and my thoughts I uncovered a whole series of inappropriate beliefs. In particular I found a number of very undermining thoughts about women, which I will share here for the purpose of giving an example of what our mind will produce to support an unchecked basic belief. These thoughts included:
Most of these thoughts and beliefs were hidden; they were not clear in my conscious mind as anything other than generalised anxieties. All affected my ability to build relationships with women and certainly added to my reservations about getting involved or showing my true feelings.
Another significant belief that I held for many years around women in general is that somehow I carried an automatic guilt for all the abusive and demeaning things done to women through the ages by men. No matter that I am a caring and loving man, this belief would have me cast in my own mind as continually worthy of rejection. And out of this self-imposed guilt I would attempt to keep women happy and secure in even the most unlikely circumstances because I had a belief that this was part my penance for being a man. I would judge myself as automatically guilty and as a consequence I would hide myself away – I had demands running to be non-intrusive, fair, pleasing, careful, positively prejudiced.
Just like my underlying fear of rejection, each of these thoughts or beliefs would result in behaviour that would tend to make the underlying belief, the fear, of rejection become true.
We can unconsciously adopt beliefs that become self-fulfilling and that undermine our ability to form the relationships that we want.
Unrealistic Wants – Paving the Path to Attachment and Dependency
As well as inappropriate beliefs there are some key wants that can lead to significant problems. Again, for the sake of example I shall look at two of these that have applied to me.
Compatibility: Looking for Myself in Others
After much soul-searching and emotional confusion I eventually recognised a very simple truth about my behaviour around women. I, like many others, have often thought that the important thing to look out for was a soul-mate or at the very least someone that was compatible with me.
When I look at the way that I have been attracted to women historically there are some strong themes. One is that I have been looking for someone that ‘understands’ me, someone that naturally empathises with my thoughts and moods and is always supportive. Someone that thinks in a similar way to me and can understand my concepts and ideas with ease. Someone that shares my interests and my lifestyle. Someone that would partner me in every way.
Now I realise that this quest, going since I was an adolescent, was an unconscious search for my spiritual twin as a woman. It would take someone almost exactly the same as me to achieve the level of empathy and compatibility that I was seeking. In essence I was looking for a female version of myself.
The girl that I fell in love with when I was 15 years old offers an excellent example. I never spoke to her, I only saw her for a few seconds, and I never saw her again but I thought of her very frequently for at least a year. Then and in later years I could not work out how I could possibly feel such a powerful attraction to someone I had not even met, but I did. During that time I constructed elaborate fantasies around the image I carried in my mind of the ‘girl from the holiday’. These fantasies concentrated on a very high level of mutual understanding and an almost telepathic ability to communicate. I see now that my imagination had created my ‘perfect’ partner and it was this that I fell in love with.
This desire, to meet a female version of myself, was fundamentally rooted in a desire for reassurance that I was OK as I was. As an antidote to my own sometimes sagging self-esteem I unconsciously started searching for the magic and impossible partner that would understand me and would inevitably support me. Such a partner could not exist in reality, of course, as my own character and personality is subject to constant change and because of the simple truth that all people are different. My search would be futile but, as I had not identified this as an on-going process in any case, I just kept on searching anyway.
Part of my mind was indeed reconciled to the improbability of finding a single perfect match (after all, I had met and lost her already!) and neatly decided to look for just parts of myself in any woman I met. I built up a belief that I had missed my one-and-only chance to meet the love of my life, so I could not expect to find such a perfect partner again. And out of this belief came others; that I would only be able to have ‘half’ relationships, that I’d never find someone that could satisfy me intellectually, sexually, and emotionally, that I’d have to ‘put up with’ whatever relationships I could establish. There was also a somewhat healthier side to this in that I recognised that I could have many different types of relationship and that I did not have to act on my desires. I was able to build long lasting relationships based on friendship rather than lust or narcissism.
However, with those basic unconscious misbeliefs still in place I was bound to struggle from time to time in my primary relationships. I was not committing fully to the relationships I was in, though I was not aware of this at a conscious level, and there was a part of me that was still very interested in finding myself in others, albeit parts of myself.
The way that I have interacted with those women where this pattern has been triggered has certainly been illuminating. I have found myself unconsciously driven to intensively search for ‘common ground’ or similarities between the women I have met and myself. I would tend to ‘see’ interesting or particular qualities in a woman, which I would ‘value’ highly, and these would become a large part of the basis for my continuing desire to get to know them ‘better’.
Looking for myself in others is fundamentally an inward-looking activity. I am really focusing in on myself and not focusing outward at the supposed object of my interest. This means that I am not being fully aware of the person that I am attempting to communicate with and perhaps build a relationship with. I am looking for particular things, similarities and common ground, and I am thus likely to miss much of the real potential for relationship.
By looking for myself in others I am wanting others to be and think a certain way, I am wanting to control them rather than accept them for themselves, and this sets up tensions in any potential relationship that will often result in destruction of the relationship. By looking for myself in others I miss out on much of the richness of communication with real people. By looking for myself in others I set up a judgment system that is limiting and damaging. By looking for myself in others I get attached to the possible outcome and fall into possessive attraction rather than experiencing unpossessive love. By looking for myself in others, and always failing to find myself, I actually keep myself lonely and separated, the very thing I have been trying to get away from.
Looking for Someone to Complete me
There is another behaviour pattern that comes out of an underlying unexpressed want that has had me considerably confused at times. In this case rather than looking for someone that is a mirror image of me I find myself drawn to someone that seems to offer a complementary skill or attribute that I value highly.
As a human being I have strengths and limitations, and I have wants that often expose my limitations, or what I think my limitations are. I am aware that I have wants in life that can seem beyond my capability to achieve on my own. At times like these I can find myself attracted to women who seem to offer me support or in some way seem to offer to enhance my own capabilities. When these unconscious thoughts kick in I am looking for a partner that will enable me to achieve more in life than I believe that I can on my own.
That piece about finding a partner that seems to enhance my own skills is a tricky one, and one that will hook straight into my lust for sex. A sexual relationship with a powerful and attractive woman would, according to my testosterone-influenced mind, make me a more accepted and acceptable man, I would become more powerful and virile, able to deal with life’s problems and energised to overcome challenges. In the extreme of my fantasy I become super-human, I transcend my limitations, and I ascend to some higher form of life.
And the trap is sprung. If I can gain the love of a beautiful and powerful woman then I get to be strong and able to live a wonderful life. And if I do not get this woman to love me then I am doomed to my life of limitation and inadequacy. By getting to believe that my ability to cope with life is radically to be enhanced by the love of someone else, I also get to believe that without that love I shall be doomed to a life of failure. In my mind I have become dependent on the approval of someone else. I give that woman the power to give me heaven or to give me back to hell. I have attached my own sense of self to a particular outcome.
And this leads on to another trick of the drama. Since the stakes are so high I shall unconsciously play this game out very carefully. I stand to gain everything and I stand to lose everything. I shall become obsessed with achieving what I want and constantly fearful that it could all go wrong in an instant. With a high fear running, I shall want to hide my desires so that I do not expose my vulnerability and I shall want to hide my ambitions so that I lower the risk of failure. Basically I am driven to engage in relationship and also driven to conceal it. I am caught between these two highly dramatic desires, I am obsessed with the desire for relationship and petrified of exposure.
Also remember, of course, the object of my fantasy will be beautiful and powerful. According to the rules of my drama, she must be powerful so that I have the potential to be empowered by her and so that she has the power to reject me. Such women are likely to also seem to be unreachable, either through their own superiority beliefs or I shall pick on someone who is ‘inappropriate’. This exactly parallels and enables the effect that we looked at towards the beginning of this walk; controlled love will tend to come out in an out-of-control way in inappropriate situations. In these situations I will feel love very deeply but I am trapped in it, and what keeps me trapped is my dependency.
How about another behaviour pattern that can show up in relationships of all kinds?
Although attention-seeking is not a behaviour that I have particularly indulged myself in I can see some of these tendencies in my behaviour that appear as a consequence of feeling lonely. We attempt to dispel loneliness or to counter negative self-beliefs by getting people around us to notice us and to approve of us. In effect we demand that people give us positive feedback. We act out a series of behaviours to achieve this, such as being larger than life, or teasing, or flirting, or noticeably ‘clever’. Each of these acts brings a response, and normally one which seems approving or at the very least accepting. Once we have the ‘favourable’ response we want then we have the feedback we were looking for; we are not alone.
There is, of course, a serious problem here. Whilst we are acting we are not being our true selves, and the responses we get are likely to be equally insubstantial and false. The return of ‘friendship’ which we encourage through attention-seeking is not what we were really after in the first place, it lacks emotional depth.
Attention-seeking behaviour can become dominant in some personalities. We have all met people showing extreme behaviour in one form or another, people that are always joking, people that talk loudly and incessantly, people that always have ‘problems’. These are often people that have learned to play the attention-seeking act harder and harder.
If attention-seeking is intended to give us positive feedback from others then we are likely also to get into behaviour that is aimed at maintaining this feedback once the attention has been gained. This is pleasing behaviour. Through ‘pleasing’ we attempt to eke out our full sense of approval by keeping our companions happy. If we keep them pleased then will they not smile on us? We attempt to keep them pleased by being approving of them, by giving in to their desires (at the expense of our own), by deferring to their judgment, and by obeying their ‘rules’. Naturally enough pleasing behaviour, which is essentially submissive, can invite bullying or abusive behaviour in return rather than the approval and acceptance that we are unconsciously seeking but that is at least better than being ignored completely, which is our hidden worst fear.
Attention-seeking and pleasing behaviour does not work in any meaningful sense. If we want to be loved then we are best served by putting our own love out there and giving those around us the emotional and behavioural space and respect to respond. If we crowd them with our acted-out behaviours then they are more likely to withdraw into their own acted-out response. The way for us to overcome loneliness and negative self-belief is to be truly loving and honest in our behaviour to others and to ourselves.
There are some basic wants that I believe we all share around romantic and friendly relationships. When we build or experience a relationship we generally like to receive love as well as give it. The connectedness that defines love is realised in a relationship that is open and truthful and is based on sharing. We want to share love and life and we want to deepen our experience of loving.
Certainly, when I am in touch with my love and I am putting this love out for someone I am with, my experience is considerably deepened if that person is responsive to my love and is able to put their own love out as well. This sharing of love shows as trust, friendship, intimacy, enjoyment, humour, and so on. The basic nature of my feelings is not immediately dependent on this return of feelings, but my choice to remain, build, or break the relationship is.
But that want for mutuality can become an unconscious demand and lead on to frustration that has us doubting our relationships at times.
There are times when I am with people that I love very dearly but when I also have feelings of discomfort or loneliness running. This may be because I am actually wanting to be doing something else or because the people I am with are not at that time communicating in the way that I want. In those moments my judgments about myself and other people can become very strong and, if I don’t catch it, I can get into resentment with all the feelings of separation and suppressed anger that goes with it. It may be resentment about the social obligation I think I am being asked to make, or resentment about people not being how I think I want them to be, or resentment about what I imagine to be my own lack of ability to ‘join in’.
For example, when I am with my young children I know that I love them very much and I love and enjoy the things that they do, their experience and expression of life, their learning and their frustrations and achievements. I get on well with my children and I am immeasurably proud of them and feel a deep sense of passion and gratitude when I am with them or thinking of them. However, I also find it difficult at times to spend time with them because they are interested in children’s things and I am interested in adult things, or at least slightly more adult things! At these times I can lose the immediate sense of shared love. Indeed, I can feel deeply alone when I am with my children and I will tend then to subject myself to self blame and accusation, which can lead on to internalised and externalised resentment and very confused feelings of separation.
These are times when our relationships with those most close to us are undermined by our desires. These are times when the very positive parts of the relationship can become obscured and marginalised. We reach out for shared experience, but we are looking for the wrong thing, or in the wrong place, or at the wrong time.
It is not true that I cannot relate to my friends. It is not true that I do not love my children enough to spend time with them. It is true that there are times when I want adult company, which my children cannot yet give me, and there are times when I want something different from the friends that I am with.
It is inevitable that sometimes there is a conflict between what we want and what we experience, and sometimes we find ourselves reacting to that conflict by getting angry (and suppressing it) and then getting mentally and physically restless or closing down. At these times it can seem to us that we have a choice; change our wants or change our relationship. By the time we have reached this point it is likely that our thinking will have become more and more black and white, more and more polarised, and our wants, our desires for something different and our desires for loving relationship, will have turned to unconscious demands for change.
Our mind has it that if we are not getting what we want then it may well be a problem with us. We must be a flawed or an unloving person – we should be loving and able to connect with others at any time. We can get into resentment about our own limitations. Or our mind can go the other way. If it is not a problem with us then we are losing out because of those around us, and we are then liable to go into resentment of them. And with our resentments running we begin to separate mentally from those we are with. We get to believe that we are not getting what we want from our relationships and that we are fundamentally alone with our problems, so we start feeling lonely. And if we are lonely then we cannot be getting the companionship and love that we deserve, even though we are self-righteously giving love out!
However, relationship is about expressing and receiving love, it is not about loving in order to be loved. When we feel lonely we will tend to start to look for reassurance that we are not alone. Our way of looking for reassurance is often to look for feedback, either consciously of unconsciously, from those around us. The trap we fall into here is that this is an act of possession or a subconscious attempt to control. By looking for reassurance we are attempting to get those we are in relationship with to be or act in a certain way, which is a definition of controlling and expectational behaviour.
Through this act of possession we cut across our own ability to love, our love is weakened and filtered by our resentments. Our genuine love of life is not possessive. Our attempt to gain reassurance from a relationship undermines the basis for the relationship. When we do this we are trying to be loved but we are doing it by restricting and controlling our own love – we have become focused on the return for love that we believe will give us contentment.
So, through a combination of attempting to control, through getting into desire about our wants for companionship and empowerment, through becoming driven about our wants to be loved and to share our life with others, we set up a series of mental traps that have us steadily becoming a seeker of love rather than a giver of love. We set ourselves up to fall helplessly into love rather than express our love truthfully.
I stated at the beginning of this walk that I greatly value the experience of falling in love, but there is a strong victim side to this dramatic process. ‘Falling’ implies collapsing into love without any action of our own, I find myself moved to love without making a conscious choice. I am attracted into relationship building without a clear intention to build a relationship.
In fact, we may well ‘fall’ in love despite or contrary to our ‘best’ intentions. We may find ourselves emotionally driven, and sometimes against our will. We can indeed become a victim of our emotions.
Partly this is simply an expression of the out-of-control side to dramatic romantic love. However, there is a further big element to this; when we fall in love, and particularly when we fall in love with someone we regard as somehow out of reach, we can also suffer from love sickness. When we portray ourselves as a victim of love, as having fallen in love despite our ‘better’ judgment, we are describing ourselves as a victim, just as we would be if we had become infected with an illness.
We can seem to get some very powerful benefits from doing this. We can illicit sympathy from others (though perhaps not much), we can get others to agree with us about our positive judgments of another, we may get a show of comradeship or some form of peer-approval, and we can get into avoidance of other issues in our lives.
But, victim also implies a blaming process of some sort (see the walk on resentment and blaming) – but where is the object of our blame? If I’m in love and I can’t do anything about it, where is the cause of my plight? In this case we can seem to be a willing victim – we want to be expressing our love. If we have unwillingness it is about the appropriateness of our feelings and the ability of life to send us the wrong person to love and at the wrong time. We are blaming ourselves for emotional weakness and life itself for not giving us what we want when we want it.
This then is the other side to falling in love. It is not just an expression of love coming out in an uncontrolled manner to bypass our ‘controls’, it is a hijack of our resentment process that keeps us a victim. The out-of-control love is kept out-of-control by us becoming a victim without the power to deal with the situation. We secretly believe in our own weakness and inability to cope. We are powerless because life has conspired against us to put us in this situation.
In our love sickness we will tend to be at the mercy of our emotions and we will be unable to cope with other challenges that life sends us. Our mind is firmly focussed on the object of our ‘love’ and on how we can get what we want, and all else becomes irrelevant.
Love sickness is the mindset of desire but also the mindset of self-doubt. There is very little room for genuine love when we are in our demands to get what we want and in our fantasy of romance, particularly when the romance seems unachievable. We are in this state at least in part because our blaming/victim response is active and we are believing ourselves unable to handle our emotions and unable to resist the will of life.
And the Alternative?
Although this walk has focussed quite directly on issues around primary relationships, the basics apply to all relationships and to partnerships.
I see more and more that there is a way of being in relationship and partnership, whether with one or many people, that is centred on what I bring to the relationship rather than on my unconscious expectations of what I will get out of it. In every moment it is more important to my own sense of contentment and fulfilment to open up to my ability to love rather than to look for and expect love coming from those I am with.
Sometimes I find myself inevitably with people that do not give me love, or do not give me the loving that I am wanting in that moment. My choice now is to consciously honour those I am with and to recognise and let go of any resentful anger I have. The more that I put my own love out there, unreservedly and unconditionally, the more likely I am to find trust and love in others. By loving I open myself to being loved.
Whenever I am uncomfortable or I notice fear or anger I can check in with myself; “What condition am I putting on my love?” This may not always give me immediate relief but it will begin to open the way to understanding and gives me an opportunity to re-centre and to choose to be a different way.
Also, I can become clearer about my genuine wants in relationship. I believe that every drama that I play out has a genuine want buried in it. The truth about wanting to find a female version of me is that I want to relate with people that respect me for who I am. The truth about wanting to find someone to complete me is that I want to relate to people who will encourage me to stretch and grow and people who will be able to compliment my skills when I partner them, whether as life partners or partners in some enterprise. When I am clear about my wants I gain realism, I gain an enhanced ability to foster the partnerships and relationships that I want.
Three Pillars for Partnership
Drawing from what we have seen so far and building on it I suggest that in most relationships there are three basic things that we are interested in. Three fundamentals that, if present, will encourage the growth of a strong relationship. These are my Three Pillars for Partnership:
These provide me with a simple way to think about my relationships and why they are important to me. These take me beyond looking for simple compatibility and highlight how relationships can support me to make the most of my life.
You will notice that these three are also the basis for the unrealistic demands that I described as problem issues that actually got in the way. This is at the heart of the difference between conditional and unconditional love. When we express a want in a conditional way it manifests as an unspoken demand that life, or a particular person, should be a certain way. When we express a want in an unconditional way it manifests as a deep appreciation for life as it is.
The more that I identify the sneaky behaviours and unspoken intentions that I have around relationship the more I am able to change. In choosing to be authentic and clear about my intentions I gain genuine friendship and deeper relationship with those that I love. I also find that the more I choose to accept and appreciate people as they are, the deeper my love for them becomes.
Although this walk is about love in its general form, we have actually spent much of our time exploring some of the common fears and limiting behaviours that we often experience around romantic love and the building of general relationships. Our strong but sometimes subtle and contradictory motivations highlight the way our mind can struggle with the opportunities and expectations of life.
In this walk we have started with some simple descriptions of love and falling in love. I have shared my belief that love in general is basically unconditional and unlimited by its very nature and that attempts to control or suppress our love are likely to result in inappropriate feelings of infatuation or obsession, ‘love’ that is out of control.
Love of another is often mixed in with and mistaken for lust and desire, which are possessive and hence conditional. Our relationships with others can also become confused by our own fears and self-judgments and by our attempts to project our own wants into potential friends and partners. Repetitive attention-seeking and demanding behaviour patterns will lead to relationship failures and may well create the end result that we most fear; rejection or abandonment or lack of genuine love.
We have also looked at how these various factors will combine to result in dramatic falling in love and love-sickness. When we unconsciously put lots of controls and conditions on love then we drive towards building unsatisfactory and fear-based relationships.
By choosing to love unconditionally, by dropping our demands of ourselves and of others, we increase our ability to deal with the reality of our relationships and to get the most that we can out of them.
And as an added bonus we have identified a simple way of evaluating relationships to see how they work for us, the Three Pillars of Partnership: caring, sharing, and challenge.