We all want to be loved.
In fact, I believe that to learn to love and be loved is our greatest life’s work.
But when we’ve grown up without a map for it, it’s near impossible to find. There’s simply no blueprint for what healthy, respectful, and compassionate love looks like.
So we end up feeling around in the dark for some elusive, abstract thing, continuing to fail or be failed in the process.
Or we may feel too confused or terrified to even start our search… or end up accepting some lackluster simulation of love.
After working with thousands of trauma survivors, all craving intimacy, care and connection, I realized that before we can find it, we need to understand the question:
What is love?”
We need to be able to look at our own triggers and trauma responses and start to disentangle from our codependent and destructive relating patterns.
While the goal may be to enter a loving relationship, the work to get there is firmly rooted in cultivating our own self-compassion, discernment, and accountability.
Here are 5 things I have learned about love over time…
1. Love has boundaries.
We talk of unconditional love, but love absolutely has conditions.
The paradox is really confusing!
Healthy empathy is one of the foundations of love. When we engage in this as a way of being, we learn to develop dual awareness: “I understand you, and I understand me.” We can then engage from a place of self-respect and compassion.
It is only when we maintain our own boundaries and respect another’s that safety arises. This is where intimacy is born.
Love without boundaries invites nothing but self-erosion and harm… the opposite of love.
Re-patterning Love Inquiry
As you explore dating and connection, can you tune into your boundaries? Are you expressing them or denying them?
It may be as simple as outlining what days of the week are best for date nights, or letting your date know that you prefer sushi over pasta. It may be about expressing you’d like to wait before entering a sexual connection until you feel safe and have agreed to monogamy.
Before you can express your boundaries, you need to know what the key ones are. You also need to tune into your somatic signals that tell you, “Yes, this is okay,” and, “No, this is not okay,” so that you can continue to connect to and express your boundaries in real time.
2. Love is not urgent.
We seem to have decided that love is this, “I can’t live without you, and I need you right now,” kind of feeling.
But this is actually Eros.
When we experience Eros, we sense the divine in another. We project onto them the possibility that they will make us whole.
Our rosy projection has us filtering out the imperfect human qualities and sometimes the red flags. Our impulse to merge and be whole overtakes sanity, and we fall in love without taking the time to ground in the reality of the connection.
Projection always wears off. Carl Jung suggests this happens somewhere within the first two years of a relationship. All of a sudden, we start to see the flaws of the person in front of us. This is often when relationships end, or silent resentments start creeping in.
Jung also suggests that true love is when we meet another person in their humanness and stay to learn to be human together.
There is no urgency or spell-like wonder here. There is honest care, appreciation, and acceptance.
Re-patterning Love Inquiry
In those early butterfly incredible stages of connection, where everything seems perfect, can you resist the urgency to move quickly?
Can you acknowledge the need to ground in reality and orient to yourself, rather than fall head over heels into the living fantasy?
This doesn’t mean not deepening the connection or moving forward.
It is about pacing, and allowing time and repetition to build a trust that emerges slowly over time.
Here, we have to hold space for our own desire and longing, containing it rather than being driven by it.
For those of us who have been lacking in love and affection early on, the intensity of our desire to love can be so overwhelming. There is so much love inside us that we want to share it. The opportunity to truly receive has been something we’ve craved our whole life.
If we want a love that is true and will last, we need to learn to slow down, discern, and step towards it without losing ourselves.
3. Love is not chaos.
If we grow up in chaos, our nervous system learns that love equals danger.
When we meet someone who signals danger inside us, our faulty love wiring tells us, “This must be love,” and we move towards it rather than away from it.
The way this manifests is having us fall for the bad boy. The one that hurts us and treats us badly, or is unstable in their affection. The one whose words and actions don’t match.
Our faulty love wiring is one of the reasons we end up in abusive relationships. Something deep inside tells us that love is harm and that we can’t live without it. So we plunge ourselves into the fire again and again.
Re-patterning Love Inquiry
When you experience deep attraction and chemistry with someone, pause and ask yourself:
Does this stem from a place of resonance, or is this my trauma taking me back into a cycle of chaos?”
If the answer is the latter, can you challenge what your body is telling you and walk away rather than towards the chaos?
This takes care and patience. It is a lifetime of patterning to recalibrate. It may also bring up feelings of anxiety, grief, or anger. If those feelings arise, can you sit with them or reach out for support to process them?
On the flip side, when you meet a nice guy who ticks all the boxes on paper but you don’t get any butterflies, or feel bored or even repelled, pause and ask yourself:
Is this my trauma blocking me from a potentially wonderful love connection?”
Give yourself some time to explore the connection.
The thing about dating is that we can take our time with it.
Dating is a decision for two people to spend time together and continue to see how the connection develops.
Give yourself a chance to explore something new. It may not be a fit, but only time and experience will tell.
Asking a date to go slowly is part of boundary setting. If they are not receptive to your rhythm, then you already know this person does not have the responsive capabilities required for lasting love.
4. Love doesn’t make us feel unworthy.
Sadly, when it comes to dating, we often ask the other person to be a different version of themselves.
We demand more romance, or spicier sex, a better restaurant, a different way of expressing.
When we are asked to be a different version of ourselves, we will always feel unworthy of love… not “good enough.”
This can lead to trying too hard and conjuring up a fake personality that will “win” love.
We equate the approval of the other with our own self-worth and find ways to elicit their affirmation, even if it means twisting ourselves in pretzels.
We can’t manipulate our way into love.
And if we allow ourselves to be manipulated, we have lost ourselves.
If we are not present and rooted in ourselves, there is no way to cultivate a real connection. We usually go on to develop what I call misconnections, a simulation of intimacy that never really integrates into that cellular feeling of human connection.
Re-patterning Love Inquiry
As you date, are you being your authentic self? What are you changing and why?
If you’re trying to “win” love and approval, can you pause? Step forward from a place of authenticity. If the other person is a potential match, they will be attracted to who you really are, not a curated version of you.
This takes vulnerability. It can be terrifying to show someone who we really are, because the possible rejection or abandonment will hurt more.
When we have a history of neglect or abandonment, this can be one of the hardest things to do, because we know the depth of the potential pain.
Open your heart slowly. You can decide your own speed. Opening the heart is essential to receiving love—there is no way around it.
On the flip side, are you asking someone to adjust who they are in order to be worthy of your love? Can you accept them for who they are at their core?
If you’re demanding that someone be different or better, then you are wielding power that will make real love impossible. No one will meet your standards in the end.
When we seek to assert power in a love connection, it is usually rooted in our own deep-seated disempowerment or lack of self-esteem. What would it be like to allow the other to simply be, and gauge your response to them?
Perhaps they are not the person for you, but perhaps something beautiful will emerge when the other person doesn’t have to work for your acceptance.
(This one takes deep, deep, deep self-work and will usually link to being shamed as a child or abusive power dynamics in the family unit.)
5. Love is not always enough.
Love exists within a greater context. It also changes over time.
While we may love someone, it doesn’t always mean that they are the person we will be with forever.
Two big things to consider here are:
1. Our individual evolution
As we continue to evolve and grow, the love connections we have will also change.
Esther Perel suggests that because of this, we may end up having three long term relationships in our lives. They may be with three different people, or they may be with the same person.
As we change through life, we need to continue to inquire about the health and happiness available in our relationships. Just because we once had a “perfect fit” with someone doesn’t mean that this will always be the case.
Acknowledging the need to either renegotiate or end a relationship is essential to retaining self-respect and relational resonance, which are required for love to exist.
When we hold on to an old love structure that is not nourishing us or our partner, love becomes harmful.
Welcoming the evolution of love and connection can actually see us developing new paradigms for what love is and where to find it.
Conscious separation is becoming more and more accepted. Here we learn the lesson: “I love you, and I let you go,” or, “I love you but wish to express it in a different way.” Separation need not be painful when it stems from self-respect and expresses with empathy.
2. Situation and complexity
Life is complicated.
When we are dating in our 30s, 40s, and 50s, we have a whole lifetime of baggage with us. We may have children, older parents, work commitments, or personal desires to fulfill. We likely also have a lot of unhealthy relationship patterns that can get in the way of developing and sustaining intimacy.
Sometimes, although we may feel love for someone, it is not enough to renegotiate certain aspects of our greater life. Choosing to prioritize these may lead to losing a potential love match.
While this is sad, this is the truth. When this happens, we need to make space to grieve, but also connect to our desire, to cultivate a personal landscape where we are free to choose love.
This often takes a lot of work on restructuring both our practical priorities and our internal organizing principles that keep us locked in a life where love is not possible.
Re-patterning Love Inquiry
Are you holding on to a love structure that has become harmful? Are you living a life where you are not really free to prioritize love?
If the answer is yes to either of these, it’s time to dive deep into what you truly desire and start taking small steps to creating a new foundation.
To truly be available for love means to be accountable for your life.
When we put ourselves second to the needs of others, we become burdened and imprisoned in a life where we will never be able to receive; we will only be able to serve.
To shift out of servanthood into sovereignty is a big job. It starts with one small choice at a time.
Sovereignty and self-love are one and the same. Ask yourself each day:
What is one thing that I can do for me?
Claim your right to happiness, one choice at a time.
Healing Through Love
Our trauma often plays out in the realm of our relationships, because that’s where it began.
The beautiful thing is that relationships are also where healing is available.
In fact, with all the trauma work I’ve done personally and professionally, I am certain that relational restructuring is the final piece of our trauma recovery puzzle.
When we view each new connection as an opportunity to learn about ourselves and step forward with self-respect and compassion, we are healing one interaction at a time.
When it comes to dating, rather than look for the perfect match, we can simply view it as a playground to become our true selves.
Our authenticity is the only thing that will take us to the love we seek.
This post was originally published on Natalia’s blog at Illuma Health.