When you Feel Unworthy of Love: How Your Relationship to your Parents Shapes your Ideas of Being Loved

This is kind of a big topic. I don’t think I’ll be able to give it the care it needs in about two thousand words, but I’ll go over some of the basics and my thoughts on the subject. I had a life’s time worth of feeling unwanted and unloved by my caregivers. And I know I’m not alone in my experiences. I’ll go over some of the ways my need for love was neglected, how it mirrored the relationships I found myself in later in life and what I’m doing now to help reverse some of the feelings of unworthiness around feeling and being loved.

Like I said, it’s a big topic. But hopefully some will recognize the patterns I’ve experienced in my relationships and not feel so alone. Then we can begin to change. Let’s do some growing together : )

I Love you, Or do I

When I was a child, both of my parents were somewhat affectionate. I’ve said before on this blog that my childhood, up until I was eight, wasn’t all that bad.

But things changed abruptly when a family member lost a battle with cancer and our family fell apart. Though their death only hastened the inevitable. Our family had been on the decline for a while. And when we were put to the test with the death of one of our most independent members, we failed.

We were inconsiderate of one another’s emotional states and needs. We didn’t know how to communicate openly and honestly with one another about how we were feeling. We were always guarded against the next cutting remark one of us would inevitably make. Angry outbursts in the forms of yelling and breaking things were the norm and sex appeal and being attractive were prerequisites for approval and feeling loved.

We were so oblivious to each other that one of my caregivers slammed my thumb in a car door as I was getting out of it, and walked away from me while I was screaming to her for help. I was only four at the time, but these emotionless displays were the norm for our family.

So when we told each other that we loved one another on a semi-frequently bases, what was the message we were supposed to glean from our displays of affection? This was confusing to say the least. Sure, families have disagreements and I’m not trying to say that we can’t get upset with, or be irritated or even angry with one another.

But the underlying current of most of our interactions were based in passive aggressive judgements with cruel intentions. This was a cold and fearful environment to grow up in and one that’s taken decades to wake from the trance of, as well as all the unhealthy message I was being sent. The main message being, “I’m saying I love you because I’m supposed to. It’s my job. But I’m truly and really disappointed in who you are as a person and I’ll let you know every chance I get.”

As a child, I had no idea what to do with this reality I found myself in. I was desperately seeking the approval of my caregivers, only to be thwarted at every turn, every attempt. The slightest comment was taken as prime directive to feel a part of the family, feel wanted. I once made fun of a Doors song that was playing on the radio on one trip to the mall because I wanted to gain the favor of my caregivers by making fun of my other caregiver. They liked music from the fifties and was divorced from the caregiver I was currently with. The Doors sounded like something my caregiver would have liked, so I made fun of them hoping to feel belonging at someone else’s expense.

I was then chastised for not knowing who The Doors were. So I studied Jim Morrison in an attempt to be more like him and hopefully more accepted by my caregivers at the mere suggestion that he was more liked in the family than I was (also my caregivers were living like he was to a lesser degree). This did not bode well for my future life choices. But there was so much contempt flowing so freely in my family, that seeds of love didn’t stand a chance to take root.

Choosing Relationships When you Don’t Know How to be Loved

So no surprise, later on in my life, when it came time to choose a partner I chose people who would always keep love at a distance from me. I did this because it was what was modeled for me, but also because giving and receiving love freely was something that was scary to me. I should also mention that I was also keeping love from my partners. Mostly because I didn’t know how to give love.

There were feelings of fear, getting hurt again by those whom I would let in, but there was also a sense that I was playing with fire. If I didn’t know how to handle letting in love, I would most definitely get burned. By letting in too much too soon, and without knowing how to take care of myself or rely on my resources when the risk of loving got to be too much. Or even know what my resources were. This is a vulnerable place to be.

And being vulnerable while sitting with that discomfort was not something I was willing to do. Nor was it something any of us were willing to do, family or partners. We couldn’t admit that we had been hurt by one another and made it a point to act as though none of what was happening mattered all that much. Even though it was tearing us apart on the inside and from each other. This is what is meant by the phrase in Duran Duran’s, Ordinary World, “pride will tear us both apart”. That’s exactly what it had done to us. These were the rules we had adopted from our families.

Not only that, but we were constantly unsure of ourselves. Where we stood with one another. How we were held in each other’s regard. The uncertainty of whether or not we would be rejected again brought with it a fear as well. It also eroded communication. For me, there was a strange side-effect of being scared to connect, and it was of always having to be right.

When I was being ruled by the fear of being connected, I felt as though I always needed to be right, in order to avoid any uncertainty or ambiguity. If I was certain all the time, especially of others emotional states and intentions, that wouldn’t leave any room to be in the suspense of unknowing, which also made me feel unsafe. So I was vocal about my opinions and projected my observations onto others. It was an unhealthy way of dealing with the turmoil of the emotional world I was avoiding, but it was all I had modeled for me at the time. I just didn’t know any better. Nor the people I was with.

So we perpetuated the cycle of feeling hurt, projecting that hurt onto one another and were hurt all over again in the process. And these were the types of relationships I sought out. Mostly because they were “safe” in that they wouldn’t push me to take a look at the fear that was lying underneath the pride and judgements. Once I broke from that cycle, things got a lot stranger before they got better.

Breaking From the Cycles of Fear, Pride and Judgement

Breaking that cycle was some of the most difficult work I’ve ever had to do. And most of the work I didn’t even realize I was doing until I felt as though I was in over my head. The first thing I needed to do was stop running from all of my relationships. Because relationships were where I would learn the most, about connection in healthy ways.

I wasn’t able to stay locked in my room by myself, hoping to become a healthier version of myself. There’s only so much work we can do on our own before we need to start practicing what we’re learning. The old adage, “start and accept where you are,” is something that was true for me. I was running for so long, that I didn’t have the time to stop and accept where I had gotten myself. For me, it was a lonely place when I realized I had alienated myself from almost everybody I knew.

I didn’t realize the gap I had left in people’s lives when I left either. I didn’t even realize that I mattered to that many people, or to anybody really! I was so used to looking at myself through the lens of neglect and how I had been treated growing up, that I didn’t even think that I mattered all that much. But this was not the case. I had hurt a lot of people by leaving them, and myself the ways I did. And accepting my hurt and how I hurt others, and then trying to reconcile with those I hurt, was what helped me to learn some much needed humility.

Because in a way, feeling as though you don’t matter is arrogant. Not realizing that you have an affect on others is another version of being self-absorbed. But this isn’t as bad as it sounds. The intention, for me anyways, wasn’t to be arrogant, mean or dismissive. In a backwards way, I was being humble. I didn’t think I mattered, so I assumed nobody else was thinking about me. The intention wasn’t malicious, but the effects of how I was behaving were hurtful. And especially towards how I was treating myself.

So, I began taking care of myself and my needs better. I started listening to myself again. Instead of doing what I thought I should be doing because of how I thought I was being judged by others, as I had when I was trying to emulate Jim Morrison. Now I was listening inwardly to what I wanted, what made me comfortable and happy. What brought me joy.

“Find What Feels Good”- Yoga with Adriene

This was when I started doing yoga. I began with my sister years ago. Only I was very hung-over the first and only time I went to yoga in my twenties, and in front of the beaming sun to boot. It was not the experience it has turned into for me. I started again in my mid-thirties, and really took to it. I began at the YMCA, and then later at a few miscellaneous studios as well as on my own. This is when I found Yoga With Adriene.

Doing yoga with her videos helped me to reframe my relationship to and with my body. I hadn’t really thought about how I treated myself before, but it wasn’t healthy, that’s for sure. I was eating whatever I felt like, whenever I felt like it, drinking close to my daily caloric calories for the day in alcohol and led a very sedentary lifestyle which mostly consisted of playing video games among other addictions.

Adriene had such a positive attitude, while encouraging her audience to “find what feels good” by practicing some self-care through exercise, that I found it enjoyable to flow through the assinas. Much the ways I had enjoyed it when I was practicing at the YMCA. With the dim lights and LED candles, it felt like an intimate experience. Sort of the way I feel when I listen to D’angelo, only less sexy : )

Cooking was another way for me to “find what feels good”, and opened me up to greater connections. Thanks mainly to the Minimalist Baker, I learned how to nourish myself with healthy foods, instead of eating and drinking whatever I felt like. It also helped me to connect with some estranged family members as well. By making my self-care Sunday meals, which later turned into my Friday night family meals, I had managed to bridge the gap from learning how to care for myself, to extending that care to others. Win win. I’m also incidentally in the best shape of my life.

So if you’ve found yourself in a similar place to the one I’ve described, do not lose hope. You are not alone. The path isn’t always easy, but finding help from others, accepting where you are and practicing a little self-care goes a long way. Finding role-models, especially when you’ve had little to no guidance along the way has been a huge resources for me. I have a photo of both Adriene from Yoga with Adriene, and Dana from Minimalist Baker, on my phone as inspiration. And speaking of resources, head on over to my Resources Page for more inspiration.

I hope this has been helpful for those looking for a little bit of guidance. Thanks for reading, and remember, you’re not alone. Peace : )

Image Credits: “A green heart for you !! have a sweet and nice weekend.” by Matthew Fang is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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