Most of us long for a deep and lasting love – a love that is vibrant, intimate, safe, and constantly deepening and growing.
Perhaps the issue that causes the most amount of suffering for many of us is missing that kind of love.
What is wrong and how can we change this painful situation?
How can we create and sustain the love we so long for?
This is the issue and the questions that most concern us; and the work of the Learning Love Institute is devoted to finding solutions to these questions.
The work is devoted to finding a path toward deep, vibrant, sustained, committed, and sexually alive but exclusive intimacy.
Let’s take an example.
Alice is a 35-year-old woman with a long history of troublesome relationships with men. She has always been attracted to men who are not really interested in a committed relationship. When she is with them, she quickly loses herself and becomes a beggar for love and attention, complaining that she is not getting the love and attention she would like. She also says that she is hopelessly jealous and gets depressed whenever the man she is dating even looks at another woman. This only drives the other person away and the man tells her she is too needy and too possessive.
Recently she began a story with a different kind of man, one who really wants to be with her but she finds she is still attracted to her former lover who only wants a casual affair. While making love with her new man, she fantasizes about the other one. She says that she thinks about the other man obsessively but at the same time, does not want to let go of the new man because she does not want to be alone. When asked what it is for her to imagine to be alone without a man, she says that it is simply too painful. She comes to us wanting a solution to her problem and some advice about how to get her former lover back.
As a child, her father was angry, frequently yelled in the house, and beat her often. Her mother was terrified of her husband and not only did not protect her from her father’s rage but also often criticized and yelled at her. She still feels afraid of her father who continues to be a rageaholic and feels distant from her mother. She admits that she has deep shame and insecurities about herself, especially as a woman, and is full of fear.
The first question that arises for us while listening to Alice’s story is, “what is the root of her problem?”
Often, especially when we are in pain, we are looking for a quick solution, a quick fix.
This was also what Alice wanted – at first.
She wanted some simple advice to make the pain go away and how to make her ex want her back.
But the remedy for Alice’s situation is much deeper than finding a practical solution for her problem.
The remedy involves deep inner exploration to discover why she is creating this predicament.
She is quite typical of a person who is a dependent in relationships and looking for a man to rescue her from her pain, fears, and insecurities.
She also suffers from low self-esteem and does not feel worthy of love.
There are two basic wounds at the root of her problem – the wound of abandonment and the wound of shame.
These wounds come from experiences in childhood many of which we may have forgotten, denied, or minimized.
It is clear that Alice did not have secure, dependable, consistent parental love. She has no inner experience of being loved and valued as a person or as a woman from when she was a child, no good role model for functional intimacy, or for a loving male presence.
The lack of these things influences the kinds of men she is attracted to and the treatment she receives from these men. It has left her with deep wounds of shame and abandonment.
But it is not really the wounds that create our problems.
It is what comes as a result of our wounds. It is our false sense of identity, a negative sense of self or sense of others and the world in general, an identity of mistrust, deficiency, inadequacy, and terrible loneliness that causes our suffering.
From this false identity, we generate negative and false beliefs, negative and painful feelings of despair, hopelessness, and helplessness, and destructive automatic behaviors that produce the very results we are so afraid of.
That is what creates our suffering!
Often, we are not aware how profoundly our damaged sense of self influences our life today, especially our relationships.
Alice’s pattern is just one example of how our wounds and the false identity that comes from these wounds can affect our life today.
Here is another example:
Dominick is a 57-year-old wealthy businessman. Ostensibly, he comes to therapy because of continual conflicts with his girlfriend of three years and would like to find a way for them to be together more harmoniously. He complains that she pressures him for deeper commitment and is often highly reactive and emotional – both of which make him angry and pull away. He is used to having his own way. He is not accustomed to trusting anyone and he uses his wealth and the considerable force of his personality to get people to do what he wants. He has had three significant relationships in the past including a marriage that produced three children all of whom are now adults and living on their own. But he suffered a terrible loss in his family and the pain of that experience caused him to reassess his life motivating him to seek out therapy.
In his relationships with women as well as with his children, he admits he was never available because he was consumed with his work. Now, he regrets this, especially regarding his children and he feels that his current girlfriend is the first connection that really matters to him and would like to make it work. In couples’ sessions together with his girlfriend, they fight. She claims he is selfish, obsessed with being right and in control, and does not embrace her as “his woman.” He argues that all her emotional outbreaks and pressure only makes him less willing to give her what she wants.
His greatest difficulty has been to tolerate his vulnerability and to expose it because it was never safe for him to be vulnerable as a child. He grew up with a raging, rigid, unaffectionate, and critical mother and a father who was collapsed, weak, and absent. Therefore, whenever he felt frightened, insecure, or out of control, he retreated into his own world.
He has used his considerable intelligence and persistence to excel in school and later to excel and become wealthy as a businessman. He decided very early that it was not safe to be open and that he needed to take care of himself. Intimate relating was not only a low priority; it was not even in his radar. In all his former relationships as well as his current one, as soon as he felt the slightest pressure or expectation, he would run away by losing himself in his work and justify in his withdrawal with the belief that all women are “bitches”.
The beliefs that are driving Dominick’s behavior is that it is not safe to trust anyone especially women, that he must always be in control, and his value and meaning is based on his success in his work.
Alice and Dominick have something in common.
Their wounded child’s negative false identity and negative beliefs are running their lives.
The important question, then, is “how can we change this negative sense of self and develop more trust in ourselves, others, and life?”
To make this change, we need to understand what we call, “the wounded child state of consciousness.”
In the child state, we want to avoid discomfort, fear, or pain in any way possible.
The child has no interest or ability to contain, accept, or stay present to any kind of disturbance.
It wants harmony, comfort, and nourishment.
From that space, in the child state, we will control, manipulate, fight, compromise, rescue, become subservient, or withdraw whenever we feel threatened, insecure, or unloved.
In the state of wounded child consciousness, it is always the outside circumstances or the other person or people who are at fault and we will try to fight, fix, change, control, or go away to get rid of the problem.
We will try to avoid any kind of attack, slight, judgment, rejection, failure, or criticism because we don’t want to feel the pain and fear these can cause.
And if we experience any of them, we will react – quickly, automatically, and often unconsciously.
A setback of any kind, a rejection, failure, or lack of attention, can confirm negative beliefs about life, others, and worst of all, about ourselves all of which are already inside of us for a long time.
In the child state, if we encounter a failure, obstacle, or discouragement, we either compulsively and perhaps aggressively push harder, complain, or we give up and become depressed.
The child hates responsibility and may leave messes hoping that someone will magically take care of them.
Or we may go the other extreme and become overly responsible, obsessively taking care of things, solving problems, and keeping the boat afloat fully convinced that no one can do it as well as we can.
Furthermore, our child likes to live in fantasies because often reality is too painful and frightening, escaping into spiritual platitudes, rules, and ideas.
Do you recognize any of these patterns in yourself?
Can you recognize your own child state of consciousness in your relating with others, especially with those closest to you?
Underneath these behavior styles are some strong beliefs that may be determining how we live and how we relate.
- “What is the point, I might as well give up.”
- “You can’t trust anybody. I will never get the love, understanding, or attention I need.”
- “I deserve to be loved unconditionally.”
- “Other people are responsible for my pain.”
- “I need someone to make me happy.”
- “It is not safe to be vulnerable because others will take advantage of me.”
- “It is important to help people even if I don’t want to.”
- “If I stand up for myself the other person will be hurt or take advantage of me.”
- “I have to be careful because something bad could happen.”
- “I don’t deserve love.”
- “No one really understands me.”
- “I can’t make it.”
- “Everything is too much.”
- “I am too selfish.”
- “Life is too hard and difficult.
- “It’s all my fault, I am bad and wrong.”
These are all aspects of the child state of consciousness.
We all get taken over at times by our child state.
But are we aware of it and how much do we allow it to run our lives?
When we enter a relationship, most of the time, it is not from our mature adult self who sees the situation the way it is.
Most often it is from our wounded child self who either doesn’t see the other or ourselves fully.
Once we can identity, feel, and bring awareness to the child state of consciousness, we have the ability to live and relate from a higher level of consciousness.
The secret to finding love is coming out of our automatic and pervasive child state of consciousness and replacing it with a mature adult state of consciousness.
So, how do we change from living in the child state of consciousness to living in a mature adult state of consciousness?
The first aspect of our healing is recognizing we have been living in our child state of consciousness and beginning to see how our child thinks, feels, and behaves.
Prior to developing this awareness, we are living like robots.
We use a metaphor in our work to describe this state.
We ask people to take a pillow and imagine that this is their wounded child.
Then we tell them that when their wounded child is running their life, it is like the pillow is on their head.
“Your adult self is not in charge of your life, your child is driving your car.”
“Imagine what it is like if your child is driving your car.
Chances are you will drive into a tree or hit another car, perhaps your girlfriend’s car.”
Observing and getting to know our wounded child state of consciousness involves noticing three aspects of this consciousness – feelings and body sensations, thoughts, and behavior.
Normally, in our unconscious state, we do not separate these three aspects of our experience.
But if we pay attention, we can begin to observe our child in action.
For instance, Alice already anticipates rejection because she believes this is what she deserves. Inside, she feels profoundly insecure and empty, powerless and unworthy with men. She covers this insecurity with expectations that a man should be there for her, be totally present, and available. However, her expectations and clinging behavior drive men away.
We call this, “abandonment and shame goes shopping.”
Dominick is hoping that he will finally be understood, respected, and loved unconditionally and he believes that this is how a woman should treat him. Inside, he feels profound mistrust. As soon as his partner disappoints him, he runs away fully convinced that he can never trust anyone. He is convinced that the only way to find peace is to be alone and to retreat whenever he feels threatened.
We call this, “mistrust goes shopping.”
However, the awareness of our wounded child’s feelings, thoughts, and behaviors is just a beginning of our journey.
A crucial and essential aspect of the work is to learn to feel what we went through and understand profoundly how and why we are so taken over today by our wounded child.
It involves stepping into the shoes of a child who was neglected, invaded, unsupported, humiliated, even abused, reliving this experience and feeling the effect it had and still has on us.
It involves going back in time with the awareness and resources of an adult, re-experiencing all the minor and major disrespects and neglects we had to live through, and seeing the sense of ourselves that we developed as a result.
This stage is not a quick fix.
It takes time and patience.
With skilled guidance, we can begin to feel the depth of the trauma each of us experienced in the different ways we lost ourselves, developed false ways of being, and lost our trust in ourselves and life.
This process happens in layers of discovery, layers of remembering, and layers of feeling the pain, shaming, and terror we experienced and still experience.
Often, we are hesitant to see and feel our childhood as it really was.
We prefer to pretend and hold on to the fantasy that all was fine.
But then we cannot understand where our negative self-image, beliefs, and actions come from.
Also in this deep exploration of our childhood traumas, we are able to feel the pain, shame, and fear and even shock that we have been carrying all of our lives and how easily small triggers in our lives can provoke it today.
Let’s go back to Alice and Dominick.
As we guided Alice back to her childhood, slowly she was able to feel how painful it was to have to live with her father’s rage, and how much terror it instilled in her. She could feel how unprotected she felt with both her parents and how she blamed herself for what was happening. She could not imagine what it would be like to be loved and cared for. But it was healing for her to feel the love and acceptance she felt with us and from us and could imagine that we were the parents she never had.
As we helped Dominick to dig into his past with conscious regression, he also could feel where his mistrust started. He could see how he developed a self-sufficient strongly independent style as a way of surviving and is still living this way. He recognized that his little boy inside did have any trust that he would be loved, understood, and allowed to be himself. Through a series of breakthroughs, he was able to feel the pain of being raised by such a rigid and cold mother and his anger toward his father for being absent and not standing up to his mother.
The second step of healing is understanding and feeling how much fear, shock, and shame we have inside by allowing ourselves to feel our past just as we felt it as a child.
In this stage, we begin to recognize how and why we developed a negative self-image based on insecurity, fear, and mistrust and poisonous negative beliefs that run our lives.
And by diving deeply into exploring and feeling the wounds of childhood, something quite magical happens. They begin to heal and we find ourselves spontaneously making better choices today.
But the journey of recovery is still not over.
There is a third aspect to the work.
This aspect of the work involves bringing new awareness into our day-to-day lives.
This awareness includes:
- Recognizing in our daily lives when we are in the child state of consciousness.
- Taking new and constant risks that challenge our old way of thinking, feeling, and behaving in spite of our fears.
- Motivating ourselves to raise our level of life energy by moving our bodies on a regular basis in spite of our resistance.
- Opening to intimacy in spite of our mistrust.
- Consciously choosing to move out of our child state of consciousness into a mature adult state of consciousness.
The “mature adult state of consciousness” is based on what we call, “core insights”.
- “I recognize that the difficulties I have in my life and in my relationships come from my childhood trauma and I need to commit to work on these wounds in therapy.”
- “Taking little risks to become more alive brings more positivity into my life and helps me to get out of my negative mind.”
- “I am learning to trust my intuition when evaluating people, and to respect and honor my own needs as well as another’s.”
- “I am aware that no one is going to rescue me from my fears or pain and intimacy means that I need to learn to contain my frustration when I am not getting what I want or expect.”
- “I am also aware that coming close to someone will challenge me at times to set limits and stand up for myself.”
- “I understand that love is based on being responsible with my energy. I need to find ways to regulate my nervous system and stress, make friends with my anger and not throw it on my partner.”
- “I am not a victim. Other people and life respond to me according to whether I am living in my child or my mature adult state of consciousness.”
- “I recognize that I will receive love if I give it but I am also committed to being authentic and giving my love in a way that feels right to be.”
Alice and Dominick are still in a process of healing and neither is yet in a functional, healthy relationship. But they accept that they need to work on themselves to heal, are committed to making this an ongoing commitment, and are willing to feel their pain and fear. Furthermore, they have much more awareness for when they are acting out from their child.
Alice recognizes that focusing more on herself helps her not to rely on a man to complete her. She is compromising less with men, is more aware of when she loses herself in trying to please, and is beginning to feel much better about herself as a person and as a woman. She is working out regularly at a gym, more careful about how and what she eats, and more able to risk to express her feelings and set limits.
Dominick recognizes how he has been obsessed with control, how he has and still often mistreats women he is in relationship with and is taking more responsibility for the pain he causes. He sees how automatically he blames and runs away and is risking staying connected and sharing his hurt when he feels abandoned. He too is taking better care of his body,
In essence, this third aspect of the work is about awareness and bringing new awareness into our lives. With this new awareness, we can come out of living in a child state of consciousness and embrace a mature adult way of living and loving. Also, by taking regular risks that challenge our negative sense of self and beliefs, we re-program ourselves, gain confidence, and change our feeling toward ourselves, others, and the world.
In these pages, we have attempted to outline the approach we use to help people recover a healthy sense of self and of the world and build a foundation for a functional relationship with themselves and another person.
We feel that the end point of self-work happens when we are able to find fulfillment in four essentials aspects of our lives – our intimacy, creativity, physical health, and sense of meaning in life.
To attain this point, it is crucial to find a method that works and confidence in those who are guiding us toward our depth, truth, and self-love.
But most importantly, it requires patience, perseverance, commitment, and trust in the growth process.