A conversation I had this week with a young friend of mine has been rumbling around in my mind. We talked about experiencing love and even recognizing that she loves others. As a result, I’ve come to a new realization: sometimes people have not been offered the opportunity or freedom to recognize and fully experience love, to have the freedom of cherishing the power authentic, unconditional love has in our lives.
A look at what could happen when we have never experienced authentic, unconditional love
The subject of love has been discussed, explored, examined and promoted in virtually every medium, from romantic novels to revered books such as the Bible to movies to greeting cards. Scholars and poets and everyday folks have focused on the meaning of love, their experiences of being loved and of having their hearts broken. They share ways love can nurture, inspire and even seem to save lives (how many of us are so touched when we see YouTube videos illustrating the power love has to promote healing )
My young friend has had many very painful, traumatizing experiences in her life and huge struggles with family relationships (especially a very conflictual relationship between her and her mother), as well as the pain of having an absentee father. She seemed surprised when I asked her if she had told some key members of her family that she loved them. “I guess I love them. I never thought about it. And no, I’ve never said the words ‘I love you’ to them. We don’t do that in our family.”
When I asked her how many people were important in her life had told her they loved her, she only knew of the few who had tried to exploit her who said this to her.
We talked for a while about what the sensation as well as the feeling of love is. Looking puzzled she thought about it and then noticed that when she brought to mind the people in her life who had been protective and caring and who she had in turn cared for, the thought of them gave her what she called a little fluttery feeling deep in her chest. When I suggested to her that that might be a sensation we call love, she looked puzzled and surprised.
I was having this personal aha moment and enormous sense of sadness that she had not had the freedom to identify, acknowledge and embrace experiences of genuine, safe, warm and comforting love, both as a recipient and as a giver of love.
There was no question in my mind that she was experiencing love for her brother, sister-in-law and nephews as well as her new puppy, but she had not been guided in the process of awakening to those powerful, tender realizations of what love feels like, of having the freedom to affirm the love that was the overriding force in certain relationships that were important to her.
Never taking for granted that children know they are loved
I think it is important for parents not to take for granted that their children know they are loved unconditionally, which is more than just being cared for, valued or appreciated.
Children benefit from being told in words “I love you” and then being able to associate that love with the experience of being deeply, deeply cherished. They need the emotional as well as physical embrace by the significant others in their lives.
For parents who did not grow up hearing those words or experiencing the authenticity of genuine, unconditional love, this can be a very challenging subject to consider. As it was for my young friend, it became a source of new awareness that I hope over time will allow her to grow in the realization of the power and the freedom of openly experiencing and expressing love for others along with the ability to openly and authentically receive it in return.
I hope over time this awakening and awareness will bring her a deep joy, peace and the beautiful exhilaration about life we have when we know we are loved and can love others freely.
How many others are out there who have not been invited to fully recognize and experience the giving and receiving of genuine love? And as parents, how do we make sure this is embedded in our children’s minds and hearts?
Invitation to reflect:
- Consider the degree to which you have consciously noticed and appreciated your love for others and their love for you? (Note that this needs to be pure and unconditional experiences of love, not love with strings attached or connected to messages of limits and deficits in you.) To what extent can you bring up the sensations and emotions that translate as “love” to you?
- To what extent are you openly, sincerely transmitting messages of unconditional love to the children in your life?
- To what extent have you noticed that those children not only seem to be experiencing that love, but are able to verbalize how safe and cherished they feel as a result of that love? To what extent do they seem aware that the ways they return love to others is a beautiful power they as well as all of us have as human beings?
Diane Wagenhals, Director of Institute for Professional Education and Development, Lakeside Educational Network