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Growing up to Love
We all know the first need of survival is to breathe. If a newborn baby fails to breathe it will die very quickly. After that comes water and food. Then there are less urgent needs such as shelter, ones without which life would be less comfortable, less satisfying, and would leave us ‘hungry’ for something. One of these needs is love.
However, in our times we have developed a rather strange definition of love. Somehow we have, in our literature and drama, and of course in our personal experience, believed love to be some sort of magic relationship, a sort of soul mate, that if we find, we will live ‘happily ever after’. But in fact few if any of us find such a mate, and ‘love’ relationships are usually only partly satisfying, or often deeply painful.
However, without love – defined differently – none of us would have survived physically or psychologically.
Birth has already been mentioned, and without someone there to meet us, and in meeting give years of their life to supporting and nurturing us during infancy, we would not survive. Not only is the giving of food and protection necessary, but also, if we are to grow into a reasonably well adjusted and happy adult, that caring person, and many others, also need to give a lot of themselves.
Somewhere in this giving and supporting of life lies a more fundamental definition of love. What has already been said above about birth is an introduction to this. Birth demonstrates to us some wonderful things about the mechanisms of love we might take for granted, but that are true at many levels. The forming baby links to its mother through the umbilical cord. This remarkable link brings nourishment to the forming child, and is an enormous self giving of the mother’s being to that of her baby. In a very real way, the umbilical cord is the flow of life. If it were cut without any substitute the baby would die.
Firstly through the mother’s breast. Through that connection it again receives nourishment, but it also receives in the milk things that help it meet the infections and threats confronting it in the external world. Again, connection means survival.
Connection means life
At an even more subtle level another connection is attempted that isn’t always achieved. The baby attempts to form a living bond with its mother. In all mammals this level of connection is vital. Without it the baby will die unless it forms that bond with another adult. However, the bond is not simply that of having someone to feed you and protect you from harm. That simply feeds the infant body. But within that body is an infant consciousness, a living, feeling, learning and wonderful being. This ‘consciousness body’ also needs feeding to survive and grow. Babies abandoned and brought up by animals never become a human being. They remain at the psychological level of the animal rearing them. i Such connection means a sharing of caring love, of ideas and thoughts, and a way of helping the infant consciousness to find ways to learn, to explore, to be curious and adventurous.
These fundamental facts of biological and psychological life go on being true up the scale of human experience. They may not be as visible as the physical sperm and ovum merging, or the umbilical cord, but if you examine your own feelings and experience you can see them yourself. Understanding them and working with what is understood is vital for surviving in a changing world. A baby certainly faces change, and so do we. Love, in the form of vital connections at a physical and psychological level, is fundamental to human life. We need love, and we need connections.
Returning to basics again, it is obvious that the food we take in is central to our growth and continued existence. By food is meant the body and substance, and all they contain, of plants and animals. Those animal and plant substances are transformed into personal substance and awareness. Maybe this is a bit philosophical, but I believe that Life, in the form of its plants and animals, gives of itself to itself as a form of love. Life on this planet is fundamentally about giving and receiving from each other. You might view that as killing and taking; or you can see the wider picture or overview of it and see it as a universal process of symbiotic relationship.
However, we do not need the philosophy to see that the giving of language, the sharing of emotions and ideas, the flow that occurs in intimate relationships such as exist between mothers and their children, is what enables us to grow into a person who can talk and think. Without that you would, like the babies reared by animals, have no personal awareness. Self awareness, personality, personal existence, is not innate. It is not God given. It is a gift self aware people give to their children and each other. We literally create each other. Without such flowing, self giving – loving – connections we are either stunted in our growth, as are many fostered or abused children, or our growth stops at some point. We take each other in just as we take in the bodies of plants and animals. That is love.
Enabling, fostering and developing that sort of love does not usually last long in the romantic ‘I’ll die without you’ feelings many of us associate with love in today’s world. But, to be honest, if we do ‘fall in love’ with someone, and experience the incredible intensity of connection with that person, a huge flow is created. In that magic connection enormous amounts of exchange go on. This is because it is exactly like a psychic umbilical cord through which we give of each other, usually without being aware of what is happening. If it works well we absorb different ways of behaving or responding, different ideas or information. Perhaps we experience a different way of seeing the world and our life in it. At its most profound it opens us to experience the huge universal truths underlying existence – the wonder of birth and motherhood; the universality of having a mate; the power of nest building and how it links us with countless other forms of life.
Devoid of the innate guidance animals have that relates them spontaneously to each other and their environment, we are stranded, left largely to our own resources. For many of us, having our instinctive love injured either by parents who themselves didn’t know how to really connect physically, we do not know how to love fully – except maybe in a very dependent, needy and painful way. As such perhaps we need to learn how to ‘make love’. Not being able to rely on our rather disturbed habitual responses that were put into us as we grew; put in by a society that in no way demonstrates real lessons of love and survival; we need to form our own loving relationships out of an awareness of what is fundamental.
Having sex as a pastime, as a form of no handed masturbation in which we make no real connection with a partner, is not fundamental. Making fun relationships is not fundamental to the way life works. Most interactions in nature, even to the frequent sexual interactions of Bonobo apes, have individual and social meaning. Such interaction are for bonding and connection. But those are just suggestions, and the best way forward for each of us is to honestly admit what is or is not working. And when something is not working, we need to avoid blaming everyone and everything else. That doesn’t mean completely blaming oneself. That is anti-productive. It means daring to look closely at what assumptions, pains, feelings of dependency, loneliness or other factors contributed to what did not work – in both partners.
It might be easy to completely blame a partner who simply walks away from a relationship. However, you were the person who chose to connect with that partner. Why? If you don’t understand that you might do it again, or avoid all further relationships.
Pain in relationships, tremendous dependence, fear of abandonment, jealousy and desire to control or constantly reject or hurt ones partner, can all be understood if we recognise and work with what has been explained about the fundamental process of love.
So let us revisit some of what has been said in a new way by seeing how love passes through very clear stages.
First Stage – The Womb
Life in the womb is typified by complete dependence and helplessness. This means enormous possibility of feeling vulnerable. And if you don’t believe a foetus can feel or experience anything, think again. There is enormous evidence from the various approaches to psychotherapy that there is great sentience from the beginning.ii While there is not personal awareness, there is certainly a process of learning that involves developing responses to what is being met. For instance it is now understood that the developing child can be powerfully influenced by what the mother eats, drinks or experiences. Some recent findings show that the foetus actually adjusts to foods and other external conditions. There is in fact a growing body of research which attempts to understand the prenate as an intelligent and sentient being.
However, the aim here is not to explore the proof of prenatal sentience, but to summarise what problems might arise in adult life due to disturbances at that period of our development. Remember that this period of development is one of incredible sensitivity to influences such as drugs, including alcohol and nicotine. It is the most fundamental level of love, during which complete dependency and vulnerability exists.
Basic to stages of growth is the understanding that further development takes us into the next stage. If the particular stage is disturbed or injured in some way, then further development can be obstructed. What often gets in the way of us seeing that such damage to further development has taken place is that the body continues to mature and grow. However, the psychological or emotional development can remain at an infant or foetal level while the body ages. In fact some people remain deeply dependent throughout life, and find it impossible to survive alone.
Stage Two – Infancy
At birth we slowly emerge from the complete dependency experienced as a foetus. But we are still deeply dependent upon the loved person for ones needs, physical, emotional and social. The only difference is that if our connection with the mother fails, another person can take over our caring. If this has actually happened in ones own infancy, it can lead to the need always for more than one source of ‘love’.
This stage is typified by great anger, jealousy or pain if the loved one relates to anyone else, is lost, or threatens to leave. In an adult who has not matured beyond this stage, threatened loss of connection leads to enormous feeling reactions that may also be felt at a time of emotional withdrawal of the partner, even if there is no sign of them withdrawing physically. There is a desire for unconditional love and a need to be always with the loved one. In an adult with this level of love, sex may be a part of the relationship, but the main need is a bonded connection. This is sometimes felt as a need to have the loved person want you as much, or as desperately, as you want/need them.
Possibly the greatest fear, one that can trigger great anger, or an enormous desire to placate or earn love, is the threat or fear of being abandoned. Many so called adult relationships have actually not matured beyond this stage of love. The loss of a partner results in enormous emotional pain, anger, attempts to placate or regain the loved one, and feelings of personal worthlessness – I’m not good and unwanted – can haunt the abandoned partner.
It is from this level of emotional development that the frequent refrain heard in popular music arises – I can’t live without you. True – the baby cannot live without a loving mother.
Stage Three – Adolescence
This stage of love is about the long process of gradually becoming independent of the parent or parents. There are many strategies people use to attain this or move toward it. Anger or loathing for parents can enable the risky move of leaving them. ‘Falling in love’ with someone can unfasten the emotional and economic dependence on parents or carers and fix it on someone else. The break may be made without this transference of affection by fixing ones attention on attaining a degree or new situation in life.
Other possible facets of the adolescent stage of love may be anxiety, uncertainty or clumsiness concerning emotional and sexual contact with the opposite sex; desire to explore many relationships; discovering what ones boundaries and needs are; powerful sexual drive.
In this stage any partner will probably be loved for the person’s own needs – for example the person might need to get away from family and the ‘loved one’ is an aid to this. There may be great romantic feelings and spontaneous love which are hard to maintain in face of difficulties.
The signs of this stage of love in adulthood are usually seen as enormous emotional responses, highs and lows, to relationship. This can lead to depression, alcohol dependency and active aggression or desire to break up the relationship because of the emotional turmoil they bring about. Part of the stress is linked with the drive to become independent, so the dependent connection with a partner can result in a see-saw – be with get away from – response.
Remember, this is a time of enormous adjustment and change, physically, emotionally and socially. If these changes have not been navigated in actual adolescence, they will still be facing us as an adult in the relationships we enter into.
Stage Four – Adult Love
We do not usually emerge into the ability to love without the dependency, pain, jealousy and angers of infancy and childhood in easy progression. Many adults never manage adult love, but remain stuck in various adaptations to infant, child or adolescent love. Adult love brings with it a growing sense of recognising the needs of our partner yet not denying our own. It enables the ability to be something for the partner’s sake without losing ones own independence or will.
This means a real awareness of the issues that colour or influence relationship, and meeting them as partners. Independence and closeness or connection is achieved together. We become caring sexual partners through discovering each others needs and vulnerability, and supporting each other in them as far as we are able. This is done not through fear of abandonment or losing love, not through fear or avoidance of loneliness, but through admiration, respect and a working connection that has mutual advantage and nourishment in it.
My partner is a grown up child
Taking all the above into account, what do you think it would be like to fall in love with or get married to someone who is only four or six years old emotionally? If you can’t remember being that young, love at that age means being incredibly dependent, with an enormous need for attention, possibly very jealous if someone else gets the love you desperately want; and if you lose a parent/loved one at that age it is devastating, even life threatening. But it may mean, because of early hurts, being unable to feel or express love.
I know this story very deeply, because it happens to be mine. Soon after my premature birth my ageing grandmother took over my rearing – my mother was working almost every day – so my grandmother became my first great love. But this first love of mine died before I was two. It left a very sensitive wound of loss in me.
I suppose I was one of the lucky ones as my mother took over after my grandma’s death. However, the wound was pierced once more when I was put in a hospital at three without any warning. The terror of feeling I was unwanted and was now losing my mother was beyond easy description. Then, at five my mother decided to punish me for being late home from school. Okay, she was worried, but she said to me, ‘You hurt me, and now I am going to hurt you.’ She did. She stripped me, bathed me, telling me she was sending me to the orphanage.
Remember the wound of loss? Well that really opened it up and deepened it. I was on my knees begging not to be hurt like that again. But it didn’t have the effect my mother wanted. Of course it was only an awful threat, but it was real to me, and I responded by cutting my mother out of my life as completely as I could. I cut out all love I felt for her and killed any emotional connection. It wasn’t a conscious act, more like an attempt at survival as I struggled with the apparent fact that my mother could get rid of me at any time.
It was a tragic act, and unfortunately the tragedy went two ways. My mother never received the love from her son that she could have had, and I never learned to let my love grow beyond that of a five year old. I married and helped raise five children, was capable, a hard worker and provider, but didn’t now how to love. My mother of father had never showed me, but I did have the buried memory of my grandmother.
Part of the tragedy of the lost love that had occurred in my life and can be seen in countless other lives if you look around, is that most of us have actually buried our childhood so have no awareness at all of what love is or what has been lost. So as a married adult I thought that what I was experiencing daily was natural. What gradually woke me up was what I could see concerning the way I dealt with my children. It horrified me enough to start probing to find out what the problem was. Also there was something like a buried agony in me that set me searching for something I couldn’t define. I was desperately lost in ‘normal’ life. It was and is the ‘normal’ life I see many people still lost in. Maybe your child self didn’t get buried for the same reasons mine did, but are you still searching? Do you sense something is missing? Is there a hole inside that you try to cover up with enormous external activity, ambition, alcohol or medication? Do you recognise some of the signs from what was described above about the ages of love?
My story continues in both a tragic and a transformative way. My terrible need to find what was missing drove me to leave my wife and children. I found a woman who for the first time in my life I could explore a loving relationship with. To my amazement I discovered I was a five year old emotionally – even though in other ways I was a capable and creative adult. I couldn’t let my new wife out of my sight. I was intensely jealous, and was terrified of loss. But like a shattered war victim who has buried awful memories I gradually uncovered my past. Slowly I learned to grow up to love. The empty space has gone. I am no longer desperately searching for someone who will make it alright. Loss is no longer a terror, and I honestly believe I can love without those pains.
We are all different, and I am not suffering the illusion that if I pay thousands of dollars to a millionaire she or he will be able to tell me how to get rich. It is pointless to tell you the circuitous route and the magical moments of my personal journey. But I can tell you some of the landmarks of the road to transformation from being a baby in love.
Opening the doorway to love
The doorway to change is opened by honestly admitting your emotional age and recognising that it is not normal, as our culture suggests, to feel agony or huge grief in loss. Those arise, as do jealousy, rage, and all the other responses to relationship we develop, through childhood hurts, from an almost universal sickness of our times. The fundamental needs of childhood are almost never met by modern parenting within the environment of today’s commercial and industrial world. The love sickness is seen everywhere.
There is an enormous amount of ways we could have reacted to our own love problems as a child. Those reactions remain almost totally unconscious in adulthood. Some that I have witnessed are:
- Being intellectually capable and dealing with love and relationship like a captain in command of a ship – in control – never letting it get out of hand or allowing the emergence of emotions.
- Enormous pain or discomfort if you become intimate or get emotionally close to the person you are involved with. This causes a kickback that leads you to pull away from the person. The approach and retreat goes on again and again.
- Terrible urgency to avoid being alone or without a partner. This can lead to the awful feelings that you are unwanted, unloved, or of no account in the world.
- Dreams or fears that your partner will leave you for someone else – or even die.
- Avoidance of the opposite sex, sexual connection, or of a loving, caring and prolonged relationship.
- The inability to love – i.e. to deeply give of oneself – or the rejection of love from another.
- Enormous introversion or enormous extroversion
- Brutality or hurtfulness in relationship. This can be in the form of subtle accusations or criticisms masked as rational comments.
- Fear of death.
- Release through pornography or sexual diversions.
After the admittance of your emotional age, the next landmark is to recognise what the signs of adult love might be. This may be an ideal goal as few of us reach the zenith of adult love. However, having walked some of the way myself and seen it in others, the sign of adult love is its unconditional nature. We see this in some parents. Their love doesn’t change or diminish when their children leave home and go with other partners. Such love is unconditional. It is not grasping or controlling. It does not lead to sulking or great pain, but has achieved emotional independence. Therefore it offers these things to those loved.
As I say, this is an ideal, but mature love is when we accept that the person we care for is a separate and unique individual with their own needs and directions in life. We do not love them if they obey all our needs arising out of our fears and pains. We love them simply because they are who they are, because we respect and admire them, and we allow them the freedom that hopefully we give ourselves.
Caring and honesty are a part of this acceptance into and allows us into a wider life. One needs to be honest in ones dealing with other people and oneself. This is obvious in that the wider life IS made up of other people. Unless one has achieved a trustworthy place in the hearts of friends and those near you, then you are obviously not let into the deeper aspects of their life because they cannot trust you with little things, let alone their soul or affections. This means there are various levels of marriage and love arising from this trust. There is a form of marriage that spans time and different personalities. In this form of marriage you have learned to trust someone so well you had agreed deep within self to unite your life with them for ones entire existence. This was not a conscious decision and ritual. It happened because there was nothing between yourself and the other person that could interfere with continued sympathetic contact no matter what the life situation. It didn’t matter what the gender situation was between people who married in this way. The link was one of care and trust, and it spanned many physical existences.
This is an unconditional love. It doesn’t place the conditions on the other person of only being loved or lovable when they remain our satellite. When we do that we make of them a possession, somebody manipulated by our own moods, fears, emotional blackmail, or underhanded tricks. If we are grown up in love and our partner leaves us or goes with someone else, having matured we will have already seen that as a possibility (come on, look around). It will mean difficult changes, but not ‘heartbreak’, not depression or long years of grief or anger. It will also mean that because we love that person we will continue to be interested in their welfare and be glad if they are happy. If that sort of love is not possible for you start asking yourself why, and look at the roots of you own love. Remember your youth and childhood. It is a slow thing to regain such memories, but that is the way to becoming whole. If you don’t know who you are you are really only half a person, only half remembering who you are.
To grow up and become a mature lover takes courage. Each time we try to possess the other person, lash out at them through jealousy, curtail their life through our fears and insecurities, we need to stop and say, “This is childhood behaviour. I will not let this anger, possessiveness, jealousy or emotional blackmail be perpetrated on the person I presumably love. I will face this and deal with it as my personal difficulty. I will not rationalise and excuse it by saying to my partner that I love them. That is an underhanded excuse. It is not love.”
Recognising the Face of Love
The next stage in growing up to love is another act of recognition. What you are looking for in this is whether you are seeking someone else to assure you of love. You cannot find love while you believe it depends on someone else. That is child love again that depends on the parent for all needs – perhaps even for survival.
This is a difficult one as our whole social and cultural mythology surrounding love is that we need someone else to provide it. That is true in childhood, but not in adulthood. The lie of it can be seen when we look at those abnormally dependent partners who constantly clamour for attention for fear of loss or competition. If we see that as abnormal and childlike, what is the opposite of it?
If you honestly explore where jealousy, fear of abandonment, dependency on your partner arises from, I know from experience in tracing my own and many other people’s love problems, that they arise from childhood.
Perhaps you will have to accept this on trust, but love is not something you possess or develop. It is like life itself, given to you as a part of your existence. It flows through you, and that flow may have been damaged or twisted during your life, but it is still fundamentally there in you and can be released by undoing the knots. Then it is yours whether you are with a partner or not. Love is then a meeting of equals who shine the precious flow of this wonder on each other and magnify it. We do not claw at each other trying to get what is missing in ourselves.
There are no quick fix tricks in this opening to love, just as there are no quick fix tricks to growing physically from childhood to adulthood. Both of them flow from the core processes of life in you, and need you to work with and honour that process. Physically you do not honour it by not eating good food, not sleeping, exposing yourself to excessive stress and ignoring injuries and sickness. You do not honour your personal growth to maturity by denying you have a relationship with the Life that gives you existence, and that its gift of love and wellbeing may have been injured or twisted in some way.
Just as you would tend a gash in your leg, so you need to heal the wounds to love. A wounded leg would severely limit your ability to function in life. Wounded love is no less a difficulty in living your best.