The biggest obstacle to cultivating authentic intimacy with the special person in your life may be the part or parts of yourself you do not love. There are hidden parts of you, parts you have never fully accepted, perhaps parts of you that were rejected, shamed by a parent or parts you feared would cause a parent to reject or abandon you when you were a small child. These hidden aspects of you, essentially, are the main obstacles to forming and enjoying the healthy, loving, mutually enriching couple relationship you desire.
These hidden aspects of yourself are powerful shapers of your life. Even if a miracle occurred and you awakened tomorrow morning to find your relationship instantly transformed into a healthy radiant one, for example, you will not likely be able to sustain the changes long enough to enjoy them. These unloved parts of you would likely begin to act quickly to return your relationship back to what you had before.
Though some call this “self-sabotage,” it really is not. These hidden parts of you are controlled by a part of your mind known as the subconscious. It is responsible for managing all processes of your mind and body that you do not have to think about with your “conscious” mind, the part that does conscious thinking, makes plans, decisions, and so on.
Your subconscious mind monitors all systems 24/7. It never rests. That’s because its primary directive is to ensure your survival. Unlike the conscious mind, it does no thinking of its own. It does not recognize a difference between a physical threat and a psychological threat to your emotional safety, it will keep anything that resembles a close intimate relationship at bay until you are prepared to receive another’s love by knowing, as a prerequisite, how to nurture your own unrestricted self-love and self-acceptance.
This is not self-destructive behavior, rather self-preservative. It is an instinctive survival response that is activated automatically—based on your current set of beliefs about yourself, others, life, etc.—to protect you from what you believe, deep down, you cannot handle. In a sense, you cannot. However, that is only because you do not think, for some reason, that you are worthy of your own unconditional love and acceptance. You have been conditioned to believe that, in order to feel loved and accepted, others in your world “should” treat you in specific ways, otherwise, it means you are not. It is this type of thinking and beliefs that create a felt sense of being unloved or not accepted as you are. This keeps you continuously looking for someone or something out there to do it for you. This is not the way you and the world of relationships are designed to work.
What Keeps One From Fully Loving Self?
What keeps you from loving or connecting to the part or parts of yourself you do not love or fully accept? In one word, fear.
Fear is a natural human response that serves our survival. The rush of adrenaline triggered by our fears prepares us to either physically run away from or face a potential danger. Fears that seem bigger than us or life, however, can prevent us from growing by facing and participating in life. In this case, fear is a misuse of our imagination. Fear in the face of a tiger in the jungle is a healthy fear; however, fear that we are not inadequate because someone gives us a look of disappointment. Once we realize that fear is an energy of the mind to which we have an array of options we may choose from, we can stop fear from controlling our lives, and take charge ourselves. We can choose to avoid what we fear, but we may also choose to face them, and create the life we want to live.
More specifically, existential fears related to an inborn drive to protect your life—to survive, exist—these are the fears of rejection, abandonment, inadequacy, loss of control or loss of self to others, fear of failure, all of which come with the territory of being human. On the surface, for example, you may be aware that you fear and want to avoid conflict. Beneath the surface, deep down this may have to do with what fears conflict triggers beneath the surface, such as fear of rejection or inadequacy.
This is why your brain is in its most alert state of learning and awareness when you face danger, real or perceived. You were born wanting to learn, and the primary thing your subconscious seeks to learn first is how to help you survive in relation to others. Your current deepest fears have to do with early wounding experiences, the memory of which continue to be held inside. Rejection or abandonment by caregivers in early childhood spells death. A child’s survival is completely dependent on caregivers in childhood. Each of us, it seems, come into this world wondering intensely, and seeking answers to the following question: “Is it safe to be me, make choices, express feelings and yearnings, and still get my needs met for being recognized, valued, loved and accepted unconditionally in my relationship with you?”
Though your thinking mind as an adult may not seem concerned with these questions when you get triggered, the heightened intensity you feel is reflective of how you felt in similar situations as a child. Triggers activate old pockets of negatively charged memories. These existential fears were more highly charged then because, as a child, you were truly vulnerable. You needed your defenses. The misuse of your imagination, at the time, was actually useful to help you survive. Infants and small children literally cannot survive without love. In fact, even more than sustenance, children need love in the form of loving care, touch, eye contact, attention, being comforted, held. Your defenses helped your brain cope with the stress of having you needs met inconsistently, inadequately or at the expense of allowing you to exercise your own inner resources. How critical these factors are to the normal growth and development of an infant’s brain has been substantiated in numerous studies of attachment in the last century, a theoretical framework first formulated and researched by psychiatrist John Bowlby in the early 1900s.
You may think that you are the only one with a particular fear, that nobody else could possibly be scared of ordinary things such as water, heights, public speaking, or flying. These types of fears are very common, and you can have great success overcoming them. Remember, it is not the absence of the fear but the courage to take action anyway that determines success. When we learn to face our fears, we learn to observe our thoughts and feelings but not be ruled by them. Instead we choose how to shape the lives we want.
Problems usually occur when the wires get crossed and we develop a habit of running away from a fear that needs to faced while simultaneously facing a danger we need to avoid. Our brain, when it operates optimally, has the power to observe, create and make informed choices. Regardless the fear or its intensity, we have the power to create new connections by choosing to respond differently. When we choose to think of or “explain” a fear to ourselves in a way that fulfills our emotional needs to feel good about ourselves and our lives, we create powerful new life serving connections in our brain. When our conscious mind and our subconscious mind are in alignment, we flow.
This journey requires a step by step approach, trusting life to unfold, moving and acting with courage through the process.
1. Set an intention to practice and cultivate self-love and acceptance.
Begin with making a commitment to practice self-love and self-acceptance, especially in moments when you may feel unlovable or a loved one seems most unlovable to you. Remind yourself that self-love is not narcissistic love; it is the opposite of being selfish or egotistic. A person who is narcissist or egotistic is desperately attempting to fill the void they feel inside, the self-loathing, low esteem. Their boasting or blasting displays a super wounded and fragile ego. They are trying to make life work by living in illusions of control. And, by the way, you will never do this perfectly, so accept you are perfectly imperfect—or imperfectly perfect—whichever you prefer! As you do, you will notice new energies and capacity to accept and love others, unconditionally, to be present when they express painful emotions and deal with your feelings of wanting to run away or shut them down.
2. Empathically connect to thoughtfully respond.
It’s impossible to stay empathically connected to the other in a relational interaction if you do not connect empathically in the present moment to compassion for yourself. It is only natural that fear gets triggered in our closest relationships, therefore, all of our existential fears are relational, that is, they are in essence fear of intimacy. It is in our intimate encounters that our fear of rejection or abandonment, fear of loss of control or fear of loss of self in the relationship, get stirred. Automatically, we get defensive in order to maintain or even cause distance between us. After all, that is what the fight or flight response does. If we faced a tiger, we would do something to either run away from it or scare or eliminate it, as a way of dealing with our fear. Thus, defensiveness serves to produce distance. The problem in couple relationships, of course, is that distance causes us anxiety. The whole point of an intimate relationship is to fulfill each person yearning for closeness, isn’t it?
3. Practice consciously observing and replacing judgments.
If you have judged yourself as unlovable deep down inside, the more someone attempts to love you, the more reactive you become, the farther you stray from healing solutions. You are not doing this to sabotage your relationships. You are doing this because, by design, the part of you that runs your body, the subconscious mind, has primary responsibility to ensure your survival. And, it still thinks that criticism or an unfulfilled request of a loved one spell danger! It is a misuse of your imagination. Beliefs you formed as a small child are still operating to help you feel “in control” and “safe” in your world. In reality, these are causing you a lot of undue stress and suffering. The truth is you CAN handle your emotions, you can experience your fears, and they are not real threats to you at all!
4. Breathe and feel your feelings with an understanding love.
An understanding love grows your inner wise-self. You have the capacity to calm yourself by connecting to your feelings, breathing deeply, and affirming your intention to do so. Turn inside. What are you feeling? Scan your body for sensations. What are you sensing physically, and where is this feeling located? Do you fear a relationship is going to fail and inadequate in changing its course? Do you fear there is something inherently wrong with you? Do you question whether you deserve to be loved based on your past? Whatever you feel, just observe and feel your feelings. Breathe deeply into your sensations, noticing and following them as they circulate in your body. Breathe in love, feel grateful for your ability to feel your fears—they are useful action signals—containing a lot of information on what you want and do not want, as well as a potential source of energy to formulate action plans. Enjoy building courage to feel your fears. An understanding love allows you to feel your fears, and upsetting emotions in general, without triggering your body’s survival reaction.
This is about becoming more and more consciously authentic, empathically connected to compassion for yourself—as a human being. It’s a humble love, in a sense, because it leads you to see that your highest interest is intricately connected with the highest interest of the other. It calls for humility, as you give yourself and life to understanding the way you are designed, the way relationships are meant to work, much like a scientist who studies physical laws, such as the Law of Gravity.