Looking through old photographs of my parents before they were married I see a couple in love, a couple I don’t recognise. Finding a memory of affection between them eludes me, unless you count the awkward hug my father gave on the news of my grandfather’s death. Their love, such as it was, remained hidden through most of my life.
In supervision recently I am exploring my own thoughts.
“I continually notice a difference between people who are stuck but desperate to free themselves, and those who are stuck but seem content to continually suffer by spinning their wheels”
Nobody consciously wants to stand still when the water starts to lap at their chest, but sometimes we appear powerless to the relentless push of the tide as it threatens to rise up above our heads and consign us to the murkiest of emotional depths.
Breaking whatever particular cycle we happen to be caught in is not easy. Low self-worth leads to shame, leads to fear of judgement, leads to avoidance, leads to emotional paralysis, leads to low self-worth, leads to shame…and so it goes. Until we change something in that chain we remain in chains.
Maybe it’s easier for a therapist to work with the proactive and pragmatic, but they are the rarities.
When I think back through my own life it is the patterns of behaviour which I followed religiously, even in the face of insurmountable evidence pointing towards their worthlessness, that have caused me the most trouble, especially in relationships. People pleasing, self-deprecation, bitterness and resentment as a response to emotional pain. None of them ever worked, but even the smallest change reaped the most bountiful of rewards.
At the root is the necessity to take ourselves more seriously, to invest more heavily and heartily in our own recovery. The notion that by focusing on everyone else we will help ourselves is badly misguided. When it comes to emotional resilience charity most definitely begins at home.
When we love ourselves properly we can let go of our own desperate need to be loved, and then really offer care and affection outwards towards others. Without that self-regard, it is impossible to love freely because our own self-image is so painfully fragile, and we lie motionless, dependent on the validation of others, just to feel that we are enough.
Reaching the end of my work with a couple who have been through great turmoil in their relationship we are reviewing their objectives from our first meeting. It’s a conversation we barely need to have because I can feel the difference, the change in connection between them. Then something remarkable happens, which illustrates the feeling of stability which comes from self-awareness, and the resulting freedom to give without condition or expectation.
The husband says, “I’ve realised I’m in love with my wife not with my relationship”
When we understand the power in giving love to ourselves we no longer need to cling onto what we have so fiercely because we stop needing it, which is paralysing, and start valuing it, which is liberating.
On this Mothering Sunday, it’s a good time to remember that by far the greatest gift a father can give his children is to love their mother. But it can only be done if he has worked out how to love himself first.