True love. This phrase has been drilled into our heads by fairy-tales and movies with happy endings all of our lives. It conjures up thoughts of men on white horses charging in to save the day. Teenage boys standing in the rain with boomboxes overhead and one on one basketball games for the chance to win someone’s love and affections. However, the reality of love is much less newsworthy. Authentic love requires us to love with our whole heart. When I first encountered the concept of wholehearted love it was in Brené Brown’s book The Gifts Of Imperfection: Let Go Of Who You Think You’re Supposed To Be And Embrace Who You Are. As a qualitative researcher, she spends a lot of time collecting data on various topics and then following the truths revealed by that study. From the data she gathered regarding love she came up with a definition that I think is much more accurate than the vision we currently have.
Through the data she defines love this way:
“We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honour the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness and affection.
Love is not something that we give or get, it is something that we nurture and grow, a connection that can only be cultivated between two people when it exists within each of them-We can only love others as much as we love ourselves.
Shame, blame, disrespect, betrayal and the withholding of affection damages the roots from which love grows. Love can only survive these injuries if they are acknowledged, healed and rare.”
By this definition it is plain to see why many relationships do not thrive. Most people spend so much of their lives protecting their own feelings that they never truly open up and allow themselves to be vulnerable with anyone. I know that it has been a challenge for me to allow myself to be wholehearted with family, friends and romantic partners throughout my life and I believe that this inability to trust someone else with my feelings has crippled many of my connections. This fear of being hurt has led me to shallow friendships and uneven romantic partnerships because I found myself hustling for my worthiness instead of reveling in the fullness of who I am.
The first thing that I did to correct this imbalance was to learn to love myself by these standards. How can I expect to attract a romantic partner who exhibits these traits unless I first cultivate them in myself? How can I expect my friends and family to trust me with their inner most feelings if I am unable to trust myself with my own emotions? Loving myself, flaws and all was harder than I thought it would be and took a lot of work. Heck I still need to remind myself to be respectful, kind and to show myself affection but I’ve gotten much better at it over the last couple of years. I’ve taught myself how to do manicures and some fun nail art, started working with a trainer to build strength, started taking better care of my skin and nutrition and when times get tough or I miss the mark I try to speak kindly to myself to get through the rough times.
During this process I also began to be more honest with my friends and family about my feelings and began to be more purposeful in communicating my feelings with them. I also began to be more open with my romantic partner about my feelings and desires for our relationship and this has created a wonderful safe space for us to explore what we mean to each other and how we want to shape our connection moving forward. These types of interactions are still very new and nerve racking for me however I began trusting the people in my inner circle enough to share my feelings of love, appreciation, joy and thankfulness for our connection. To my surprise instead of them running from me, as has always been my fear, these connections have blossomed into deeper connections. I have also been able to extend this courage to the workplace and am now speaking up, offering suggestions and being more forthcoming with my concerns which has created new opportunities for me to advance my career within the company.
This process has shown me that there is an amazing strength in vulnerability. It takes courage to allow someone to have access to your feelings, however the reward of deeper connections far outweighs the fear of rejection. It has not been all roses during this journey. I have faced rejections, the pain of knowing that my feelings were not reciprocated or that some people do not want to form deeper bonds and I have learned that this is OK. Through this definition of love I have embraced the idea that “Love is not something that we give or get, it is something that we nurture and grow”. Thinking of love in this way has allowed me to have a sense of peace because I know that I am living and loving with my whole heart even if friendships end, family connections change or romantic partners leave and that is pretty amazing.