I ended my last article by saying, “you are emotionally dysfunctional.” It’s a statement many of you might take issue with, but what I was trying to say was “every one of you wants love,” but because of your dysfunction, most of you will never really get to fully know or experience it. Why? Because you learned as children that love only went to those who were either strong, good looking, obedient, smart, successful or, intimidating, controlling or manipulative. But, no one ever said open, vulnerable or transparent.
It’s no wonder, then, that you would be reluctant to risk being vulnerable, to reveal any weakness or shortcomings you perceive in you or to share what you truly emotionally feel if you think it might be controversial, unacceptable or less than perfect – your rationale being, that by concealing your perceived faults, you will avoid rejection and enhance your chances for acceptance and love. All the while, the truth is that when you gain love by false pretenses, you never feel loved for who you are.
Dysfunctional orientations start early in life and even can manifest themselves in the behavior of young children. For example, try to visualize a boy and a girl, in the first or second grade, who are attracted to one another. How do they demonstrate their feelings?
Openly? Kindly? Affectionately? Quite to the contrary! Neither is willing to risk the possibility that their overtures
will be rejected.
Consequently, he constantly provokes her by poking her in the ribs, hitting her on the shoulder or knocking the books out of her hands. In contrast, she denies any interest, verbalizes that he’s gross and she is quick to find fault with him. When they finally connect, it’s through a series of small, cautiously escalated steps – such as, “Well, I like you a little,” “Well, I like you a little, too,” “Well, I like you a little more than a little,” “Well, I like you a little more than a little,” etc., etc., etc.
Even at this young age, you readily can see the effects of the nonverbalized message they and each of you covertly received earlier in life – a message that implied, “one of the greatest sins you can commit is to love someone who doesn’t love you back,” i.e., to be vulnerable. As you grew, the same message prevailed, but your behavior became more sophisticated. You no longer physically provoked or openly criticized, but you still did everything in your power to avoid the possibility of rejection. Later, you intellectually learned differently, but deep inside, the notion that you only would be
loved if you were a good boy or girl, continued to control your behavior.
Consequently, your sense of worth was derived, not through your own accomplishments or feelings of worthiness, but from the opinions and behaviors that others demonstrated toward you. Their approval became so vital that some of you would go so far as to push your partners away in order to determine how much they really cared – the dysfunctional reasoning being, “the more pain you are willing to endure from me, the more I can believe you truly love me.”
When you say it that way, it sounds almost absurd, but in a different context you might view this thought process as completely understandable. For example, the angry teenager who runs from the dinner table, retreats to his or her bedroom and then waits to see if you’ll plead with them to return and eat with the family, is doing the same thing.
Later, as an adult, he or she is apt to say, “I know how much he cares, because he’s willing to go with me to visit my family, even though he has little regard for them,” or “In spite of how much she dislikes football, she goes to every game with me. It confirms how much she cares.” The sadness is that the more you push someone away or need for them to experience discomfort to demonstrate their love for you, the more it reflects how unlovable you feel yourself to be and how emotionally needy you and your partner are.
That being the case, it becomes essential for you to realize that, “the extent to which you are emotionally dependent on others to determine how sufficient you are, is the degree to which you have yet to discover your own sense of worth. The solution is readily apparent; you must learn to live on the basis of what is positive about you.
To do so requires that you perceive yourself as worthy of love, no matter how many shortcomings you’ve made, mistakes you’ve committed or fears and insecurities you possess. How do you achieve this? By forcing yourself to run toward your fears, doing things that challenge you and taking the risk of honestly sharing you with others. By virtue of your newfound ability to be vulnerable, you will like yourself far more than ever before.
You no longer will need to hide what you believe, punish yourself for being weak and dishonest or question whether you’re deserving of the love you do receive. As a result, you will discover that your authentic you is far more acceptable to the world than the false idealized person you previously portrayed yourself to be.
Unfortunately, intellectually ac-
cepting this notion is far easier than feeling it. You probably are able to recall numerous times, in your past, when you wanted to openly share your emotions or opinions with a spouse, parent or friend, but you refrained from doing so, because you were reluctant to risk being rejected. In order to overcome your fear, I’d have you try to perceive each of your earlier failed attempts as vulnerability training sessions, designed to enable you eventually to be totally transparent. It is a testimony to the fact that people learn more from their failures than their successes.
So, give yourself some slack. Don’t judge yourself negatively when or if you fail. Instead, know that the future will hold countless opportunities for you to redeem previous behaviors and to take credit for your successes.
In my next article, I will share the five steps required to diminish your fear of exposing who you truly are.