By: Lawrence S. Freundlich
You always hurt the one you loveBy Allan Roberts and Doris Fisher - 1944
The one you shouldn't hurt at all
You always take the sweetest rose
And crush it till the petals fall
You always break the kindest heart
With a hasty word you can't recall -
So If I broke your heart last night,
It's because I love you most of all.
The words to the American pop standard seem to express a self-evident emotional truth: The more you love someone the more vulnerable you are to be rejected or under appreciated. The more someone loves you the more power you have to deprive them. Perhaps we want sex now and our partner thinks it is the wrong time. Perhaps, because our own mother abandoned us, we traumatize our children with smothering affection and wonder why they are ungrateful. Perhaps, we want our lovers to be as obsessed with us as we are with them and fly off the handle when they act independently. Perhaps we want our lovers to stop drinking or to be tender to the children or to be sensible with money or to be monogamous or to be less dominated by their elderly, tyrannical mothers. If we didn’t love them, we wouldn’t care. That is why the song rings true: “You always hurt the ones you love.” And not only that—our lovers always hurt us. And isn’t that is why it is so painful that “the children never call?”
It is astonishing that anyone would want to be in love or to praise it as a desirable emotion if what love does is make us so vulnerable to the power of another that our self-esteem is in constant danger. It is astonishing that we would take pride in passionately loving another if we knew that our continued happiness depended on having a love slave.
But that is the way so many people who have relational problems think of love. Without receiving the love they demand they go into dysfunction. They feel reduced and inadequate. They cannot bear the pain of such inadequacy and feel the post-traumatic stress of childhood wounds. They act out with the adaptations they learned as children to enable them to survive shame. They go one-up or one down, walled-in or boundaryless, controlling or dependent, needy or caretaking. They always hurt the ones they love and the ones they love hurt them in return. It gives love a bad name.
What is going on is that the thing that they are calling “love” is really a thing called “need.” When you need something it is because you don’t have it. If you need love, it is because you don’t have love. And the only people who don’t have love are the people who do not have self-love and that is a spiritual and relational problem more serious than which spiritual and relational problems do not get.
It is only when I stop needing you to provide me with self-esteem that I can love you. It is only when you stop needing me to provide you with self-esteem that you can love me. “Make me whole. Without you I am insufficient. I cannot stand alone.” Seen that way, needy love is blasphemy because God created me inadequately. Blasphemous love gives the songwriters a field day. Not only do you only hurt the ones you love, but “Without You I am Nothing.”
Every one of us struggles with self-esteem. Need, masquerading as love, has taken up residence in all of us. Those of us who have become aware of the childhood origins of emotional trauma know that relationships are what trigger our lack of self-esteem. But we have learned also that there is a way to live with our trauma histories and to recover from them so that we can have truly loving relationships. We must learn the truth of our trauma histories and we must learn the practice of boundaries.
With these boundaries in place, we feel the pain when our partner does not give us what we want, but our vulnerability is controlled by boundary practice and we feel the pain without being personally diminished. The pain is legitimate. It is not stupid. It is not undignified. It will never wholly disappear. But our containment boundary keeps us from lashing out at our partner for what we are feeling and destroying the relationship. Instead we turn our spiritual eye inward so that we take full responsibility for what we are feeling.
When we felt the pain, we allowed ourselves to be propelled back into our trauma history and we felt the residue of our childhood pain. Our partner did not cause us to feel it. As we took account of our pain, we let our recovering adult look the pain in the eye. We took a deep breath and let it go into the heart of the pain and we felt the pain disappear. We were ready to get back into relationship.
We maintained our love for our partner or at minimum our respect for our partner. We were ready to discuss our emotions with our partner. We told our partner that when he did such and such, that we felt such and such. We did not blame our partner for having made us feel that way. If our partner had learned the same spiritual, psychological lessons we had, he would listen without defending or attacking, even though he felt emotional. We talked and we listened with our self-esteem safely boundaried and were in relationship.
We did not hurt the ones we loved. In fact we demonstrated that we would always love the ones we loved if first we loved ourselves.
You may wonder what an appropriate action would be if our partner was not able to practice boundaries even after we had tried patiently (even prayed) that he would. We leave the relationship.
Copyright Lawrence S. Freundlich 2013.