When Feeling Loved is Scarce: How do We Find Care in Our Relationships When Love is Finite

It’s no secret that I grew up in a household that confused feeling loved and belonging with how we were seen by others. There were undercurrents, okay maybe tidal waves of insecure self-image that ran through my family. Starting with weight and extending to the clothing we wore. Or how clean our house was, whatever the focus was, there was always the feeling of being judged. And who we were was written all over us by the things we did and owned.

Growing Up in a Cold, Unloving Environment

This was a very cold environment to grow up in. Or rather I imagine it would feel cold if I had the ability to feel anything. There was always a numbness that came with the lifestyle. A heavy feeling. As though the air were ripe with criticism and it was only the work of a moment for someone to descend, dispensing with whatever it was that I was doing wrong. There’s a line in a song by Peter, Bjorn and John’s, “The Chills” that sums up this feeling, “your tongue is sharp, but I miss the taste of it.”

And that’s how it felt. There was a maddening search for approval from someone who constantly held it just out of reach. And feeling approved of was a precursor to feeling loved and belonging. But the game was rigged. I would never meet my caregivers impossible standards, because they in turn never met the impossible standards set by their caregivers. You can’t give what you don’t have. And in this case it was approval for reaching a standard they themselves never reached.

Lack of Feeling Loved is Generational

Looking back now, I’m able to see with some clarity as to how this has played out from generation to generation. Also the sheer amount of emotional manipulation my family has endured and doled out simultaneously has help me to piece together that, we all probably feel a little like frauds when it comes to feeling love and belonging. That’s how I felt for a long time.

The feeling still pops up from time to time. Something I’ve come to expect. You don’t experience years of neglect and abuse and suddenly expect those feelings of inadequacy to go away overnight. It takes years of self-care and reparenting to even begin to feel again. This was the case for me anyways. Then you’d better buckle your seatbelts because all those feelings come crashing in like the aforementioned emotional tidal-wave, taking with it just about all of your stability and core sense of self.

Navigating Expectations and Practicing Feeling Loved

So if we’ve only really experienced critical judgement from caregivers and the moments of care, love and tenderness were fleeting if present at all, then how do we chose love? From my experience, it helps to practice the actions that add up to feeling loved. The patience, with yourself and others. Keeping a nonjudgmental state of mind is another piece of the puzzle. Or at least not getting wrapped up in the story you tell yourself about what you’re doing wrong or how you or somebody else isn’t adding up to someone’s expectations.

And none of this is easy. So another aspect of practicing feeling loved is being forgiving. Of ourselves and others when we’ve stumbled. It’s inevitable that we will make mistakes. Maybe by judging somebody else for making a mistake, instead of asking if they’re experiencing stress in their lives that may be impacting them in the here and now. Or beating ourselves up for overlooking a task we should have gotten to. Where we could be appreciative of how much we’ve accomplished during the day.

Patience and Understanding Leads to Forgiveness and Change

So if patience and understanding are the pieces to feeling loved, forgiveness is the glue that binds them together. But don’t forget to be open to the feelings we have that follow, when we practice patience. Or how we feel when we’re being accepting of and listening to others. Because those are the spaces where we change. When we “be the change you want to see in the world” or ourselves.

And of course like anything worth the while, this all takes time. Another way to practice patients with yourself. When I started noticing how often I was judging others, it took some time before I could look at someone and not automatically deem them as overweight. Or unattractive. Two main areas of focus in my family when it came to being judgmental. And it still happens. The difference now is, that I can recognize the thoughts that come to mind. And now I can let them be, without judging myself for having them.

When Your Thoughts Aren’t So Loving

Tara Brach said something that really hit home with me in one of her talks. To paraphrase, she said that you don’t have thoughts, your mind secretes them. Saying you’re having a thought is like saying you’re circulating your blood. They just happen and the mind has no shame. And from my experience, I can get pretty worked up over the thoughts that are popping up.

Especially if you’ve experienced any sort of verbal abuse or emotional manipulation from those closest to you. Self-doubt, fear and frustration are only a few of the emotions that come to pay a visit. And the thoughts that accompany them just as unpleasant. So it’s nice to know that the thoughts that run through your mind aren’t a reflection of who you are. Or that you’re being too judgmental.

Once we begin to cultivate these traits in ourselves and with others, we then can have the experience of feeling loved. Also feeling caring and ease in our relationships. Emotions that may not have had modeled for us in our youth. It may not be easy, but it’s worth the while. To foster these aspects of our relationships in order to feel a deeper connection and maybe more fulfilled. So stay the course! It’ll be difficult at times, but it gets easier with practice. Peace, and thanks for reading :]

Image Credits: “Scarce blood enough in all their sickly veins” by harold.lloyd is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Updated: 7/29/22

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