A friend of mine recently put up a little post on FB which I thought was worthy of sharing. He has granted me permission to repost it on this blog. What he wrote has such truths to it that I thought it should be shared with the world and not condemn to just being a status rant on FB with all the privacy restrictions (not that those privacy restrictions are a bad thing, they are actually a good thing to have). To give the readers a cultural context to work with, the people he talks to live in Singapore, an Asian society.
“If this is love, then why don’t I feel it?” Someone once asked me this after decades of marriage. This is the same question I ask of the people whom I counsel and work it.
Whether we choose to admit it or not, love is not an intellectual exercise. You can rationalize the nature of your relationships till your brain short circuits but if you don’t feel loved, you won’t feel loved.
Most of us are from a generation where parenting philosophies were based on our parents own limited experience of love from their parents. Many struggle to understand the concept of love. When parents think that ‘love for their children should be kept in their hearts’ and ‘expressing their love will spoil their children’; where ‘tough love’ was an adolescents’ rite of passage to adulthood; and words of affirmation or encouragement were doled out only when expectations were met, achievements were acknowledged and even higher levels of accomplishments were set; most grow up trying to find ways to fill that emptiness inside.
Relationships don’t go very far or have much depth because a vicious cycle of maladaptive behaviors will repeat itself in a misguided understanding of what love means and how it should be expressed. Years of attention seeking, demanding and possessive behavior; all in the hope of getting a response to feel special, loved and accepted. Until the realisation that childhood coping behaviors have no place in adult lives.
My work with long term male inmates as well as youths sent for reformative training have given me a deeper appreciation of how much we need to feel loved growing up and how the lack of it could lead to feelings of inadequacy, hurt, frustration and disappointment which would manifest itself in the form of angry and maladaptive behaviors which could include violence, rage and even addictions – all in the hopes of overcoming feelings of helplessness and powerlessness. Grasping at something that’s perpetually just out of reach has a tendency of making you feel like shit about yourself and your life.
When I had children of my own, I instinctively thought of my own childhood and that sort of guided me in my parenting efforts. Hit or miss, it was often a case of how good I felt about myself which in turn affected my kids. Until I realized that my own love and happiness needn’t be contingent on the actions of others. Then love for others could be unconditional and openly expressed without fear of recrimination or judgement. But surely there had to be a clear and distinct way of communicating love for another?
Enter Dr Gary Chapman’s Five Love Languages. These may have evolved over the years, but I have discovered that these 5 signs of expression combined with our 5 universal needs pretty much determines levels of self-esteem, motives behind our motivations, the quality of relationships with others and our overall quality of life.
Like our parents when we were growing up, the ones with the most power to hurt us are the ones closest to us – the ones where we have placed certain expectations on – reciprocity being one of them. Unconditional love may be what everyone is looking for, but if we don’t replenish our own emotional stores, we would soon run out and dry up. While God’s love can transform me, I’m also human enough to admit that I need to feel the love of my fellow men or woman.
Words of affirmation
Acts of service
Receiving (Giving) gifts
Telling someone they’re special, capable and they mean the world to you affirms their self worth and makes them feel good about themselves so they don’t have to go and do things to try and prove their self worth.
Making it a point to chill with them or finding time for snuggles or hugs takes care of both spending quality time and the element of physical touch. Couples who put aside time for intimacy or have a habit of spending quality time together; parents who have daily or weekly habits of family and one to one time build up positive goodwill in their relationship banks that they can draw upon during times of trials and adversity in their relationships. Imagine your relationship bank is empty and negative moments are frequent, it will strain things past the point of tolerance.
Giving each other gifts doesn’t have to bust the bank. A thoughtful gesture now and then to tell them you were thinking of them when you bought that curry puff or that $10 pack of durian will mean more than you think. So if you are already doing this, ask yourself if that’s all others really want from you.
If none of these love languages are being communicated, or what you are doing is missing the mark, then you can be sure that the size and quality ($) of your presents during birthdays and Christmas is going to be how your love is measured. And yet once the novelty of these expensive but infrequent gifts wear off, that emptiness returns.
Husbands and wives who seek out the company of others outside of their marriage do so because their primary needs are not being met. Youths who seek the company of other youths or join gangs do so because they cannot find what they need from their families.
Clubs, discos, pubs and short term stay hotels are filled with people looking for something to make them feel good about themselves, to help them feel loved and wanted, to help them forget about the current lives they are living for a few hours. Then the experience wears off and they are back in the real world. And the emptiness and frustration return and the anger at their helplessness bubbles to the surface waiting for the moment to unleash itself. Right or wrong, at least they feel differently for the moment.
Then there are those who find solace in sports or other healthy endeavors such as public or community service to mask their own loneliness and lack of affirmation or whatever from their loved ones in the hope of getting it from others through their accomplishments. Sadly, such affirmation while meaningful, will never be the same as those that come from the mouths of the ones we love.
So child or adult, male or female – we all deserve to feel loved and to be loved. We need to love and to find ways of expressing it. Unless these needs are met, channelled in the right direction, received and reciprocated, we will continue to scurry around, picking up scraps of it wherever we can, but never ever really feeling satiated or satisfied.
If you have read this lengthy post and feel that you are having your needs met from those that matter, I congratulate you and urge you to reciprocate.
If you think you aren’t getting what you need, please feel free to share this with the person who matters most to you. But for your relationship’s sake, please don’t keep doing the same old thing but expecting a different result. — Alastair Tan.
To what he wrote, I would just add that its all in the perception of the person receiving the experiences. Some people might argue that the perception of experiences are hard wired; to that I would ask who did it? And, when, and where, did the wiring occur? Some of the past posts would have brought some clarity to these questions. The key is that “we” the people who are perceiving the experiences are the ones in control of how we choose to perceive it. Granted when the wiring was taking place we have no one to guide us, to let us know that what we are perceiving may not be what is actually happening. For example, the parents who have to make ends meet have to leave their only child at home while they are out the whole day. The child might perceive it as he/she was being abandoned and that his/her parents do not love him/her anymore. The child does not know that the biggest reason they have to work hard to make ends meet was because they loved him, and if they do not bring home enough money, the child may not survive to see tomorrow. There in lies the dilemma of life in a society.