Linda: Love is a universal need that is essential to our well- being and is the most important need of all. Love is not just a warm feeling towards another person. It is the desire to enhance their well-being and quality of life. It is both giving and receiving love. Receiving love is very important, but if we are focused only on receiving, we will not be fulfilled no matter how much love we get. Receiving love only partially fulfills the need for love. Giving can only fulfill one part of the need for love. The act of giving love can take the forms of words or actions. Sometimes the willingness to listen attentively, silently with care and interest to another person can be a powerful way of showing love.
A loving response to someone could include words of encouragement, guidance, or support. When we direct our deepest interest towards another person, it generally becomes evident what form our response needs to be to address their needs at the moment. When we give them our total attention, we will discern the best form that our love needs to take at the moment.
Unless we are willing to open ourselves to the offerings of love being directed toward us, we won’t be able to absorb the full benefit of the caring that is coming our way. There may be competing commitments that are interfering with our reception of love, which vary in form. There may be a belief that we’re not worthy of love. Our own self-judgments can prevent us from being open to accepting love when it is shown. We may be so attached to a particular way that we want love shown to us that we fail to recognize love when it comes right to us.
Expressions of love include touch, words of affirmation, acts that are intended to bring ease into someone’s life, gifts, and our focused attention. If our perception of the expression of love is limited, we may fail to recognize love when it is demonstrated. A person may give an expensive gift for a birthday, and the recipient may not feel loved because there was no card with the loving words they were longing for.
There is a common misconception in our culture that self-love spontaneously arises within every person. There is a belief that we can’t fully love someone else until we love ourselves. While there may be some truth to that notion that we can’t give love if we don’t feel it in ourselves, we can act in loving ways toward others if we choose that intention.
Most of us have had the experience of receiving love from others before our capacity to give love is fully activated. This belief that we should be able to give love even if we never received it ourselves is a fallacy. It is in receiving love that our capacity for reciprocating is activated. Until we have that experience, we are unable to give it to others.
Many people are exposed to love, but out of their need for protection and their resistance to being vulnerable, they are unable to experience the benefits of love when it is shown. Children who are abused or neglected often learn to close down their emotions to minimize the pain of mistreatment. This protective response can get carried into adulthood, and not only protects us from being vulnerable to greater suffering but also prevents us from experiencing loving responses. It’s not a matter of not being exposed to love, it is a matter of internalizing love when it is turned toward us.
There can be shame in admitting that I need more love than I’m getting. We may fear that it makes us a needy person. We may fear that the deficiency of love is a reflection of our own inadequacy. If so, we attempt to conceal this need out of shame, rather than seek out ways of giving and receiving love more fully.
Loving people aren’t afraid to ask questions. If you really want to know what the person wants, find out by asking. Ask them directly how they want to be loved. We can grow the courage to speak honestly about what assists us to feel fully loved. When we commit ourselves to become a deeply loving person, all that we need to learn to both give and receive becomes available to us. Since loving relationships are the key to living a life of deep satisfaction, achieving master the art of love is a worthy use of our time and attention.