Love is the greatest force in life. The existential question is whether or not we dare to allow it. What we meet others with breeds what happens between people.
Ruth Hansen, cand. psych., aut., MPF, director and partner in DFTI
Love is the driving force, but it is not always expressed lovingly. We’ve all been hurt. We’ve all been overlooked, misunderstood, and let down in some way, which makes it difficult to connect and open up. We learned to cope with the pain of not being met as children. When faced with vulnerability in later life, such as failure and repetition of old pain, we tend to protect ourselves by using learned, old patterns or strategies.
Untreated old wounds can break up and make it difficult to connect with and spend time with others. “Being oneself… together” is, of course, even more difficult. Love can both liberate and bind us and the other. Taking ownership of when and how we open and close contact requires us to be able to feel and identify our own open wounds or old scars. This kind of openness allows for new options and contacts.
It’s important for family and psychotherapists to see how the individual, consciously or unconsciously, contributes to family interaction, for better or worse. Although each person and family has its own unique way of relating to each other, there are some simple and common ways to relate that typically create distance and frustration or anger over time.
Many of us learned as kids that conflicts rarely end well. It’s best to keep quiet so it doesn’t spiral out of control. It’s better to ignore the conflict, accept it, and hope for a return to normalcy.
Making decisions based on open dialogue and mutual exchange of views is not innate. It takes practice and courage to be open to other people’s views. I am in danger of making mistakes, which can be humiliating and even shameful for some. Most debates are held in private and focus on being right and convincing rather than on sharing wisdom. As a form of debate in the workplace or in politics, it is common and perhaps unsatisfactory, but as a form of family togetherness, it can contribute to distance and frustration.
A closed agenda often greets children. There is something specific they must do, realize, change, or learn. People of all ages need to be met with interest and seen as they are, without having to change. Otherwise, a sense of wrongness and low self-esteem develop. Paradoxically, this can lead to adults constantly having to prove their worth by teaching children and adults what they think they know.
The ability to trust others’ strength to overcome adversity and pain is difficult to learn. Efforts are made to avoid discontent and promote harmony and safety. Over time, the other will be deprived of the responsibility to choose and respond.
The gaze naturally turns to the other to see what one lacks or receives too much of. The gaze can be colored by what you didn’t get earlier in life. It’s difficult to relate to his unsatisfactory or painful present or past without blaming others. Blame, accusation, or criticism easily expresses an underlying desire for closeness.
We can take responsibility when we see our own role in the interaction, how we may even close off and contribute to distance. This is for adults, not kids. Never blame kids for the family’s mood or dynamics. They often blame themselves and feel resentment when the adults abdicate or share responsibility (or the child).
Personal or shared responsibility for the family atmosphere has nothing to do with being a perfect partner or parent. Daring to open inwards and feel and see one’s own reactions and actions, while also being aware of them, is what it is all about. This process changes and heals. We can choose to accept responsibility for our own reactions and actions, or we can choose to absolve ourselves of all responsibility.
Standing up for ourselves, not as a defense or an attack, but as an attempt to be as honest with ourselves as possible in relation to the other, can be a way to reach out and form a bridge. With greater self-acceptance and spacious indulgence with one’s own limitations comes the possibility of a close and liberating relationship with another.
We can learn from the past and create new opportunities for the future by giving what we desire.
Love is an uncontrollable force that governs us. Love cannot be willed, but we can try to open it and let it fill both inwardly and outwardly.