What does it mean to redefine love?
Redefining Love is not just about romantic love. It is about how we relate to everyone around us, from casual acquaintances to our friendships, our children, our families of origin, and yes, our romantic partners.
Redefining Love is personal growth philosophy that teaches people how to set boundaries and hold themselves and others accountable with love. The philosophy is built on a foundation of three pillars: Boundaries, Accountability, and Grace.
In order to successfully redefine love, all three of these concepts must be present. Without each of these, Redefining Love is not possible. Each of the three pillars must be applied both internally and externally.
What this means is that a person must first look inward, and define who they are and what they stand for (boundaries), give themselves credit for their strengths and openly admit their weaknesses (accountability), and love themselves through their pain, disappointment, and heartache (grace).
Once a person understands these concepts as applied to themselves, they are ready to begin redefining love externally. They can begin to set boundaries for themselves, and respect the boundaries of others. They can begin to hold others accountable for their words and actions. And they can do these things with love, because they understand that most people are doing the best they can with the temperament and experiences they’ve been given, which is grace.
Let’s talk about love…
We are social creatures. We know instinctively that we need love to survive. Even the most independent people are hungry for love. Not only do we need to receive it, but we need to give it in order to be fully human.
Webster’s defines love this way: 1) strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties, and 2) attraction based on sexual desire; affection and tenderness felt by lovers.
Love is generally associated with feelings of warm regard, mutual respect, and admiration. Love is a positive thing, right?
Certainly it is. Until it’s not.
I was a social worker for many years. I saw a lot of brokenness and pain. I saw parents betray children at monumental levels. And yet, the children always loved their parents, regardless of how badly they’d been hurt by them.
Why is that? Because we are programmed to love. It is literally written into our genetic code. We are born vulnerable and dependent. Love is what connects us, so that we rely on others, so that we take care of others, so that humanity can survive.
It is love that motivates women to stay with abusive partners. It is love that drives children to run away from foster homes back to a neglectful, drug-addicted parent. In many cases, when someone hurts us, it is because we love them. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t care.
When we are emotionally hurt, we are called heartbroken. Literally, we are raised from infancy with the idea that if love doesn’t feel good, we are broken.
And since in reality nothing can always be good 100 percent of the time, there is not a single person among us who reaches adulthood without some measure of brokenness. Even the most sheltered child is disappointed from time to time.
When isn’t it love?
Love, as it is defined by culture, can sometimes motivate us to make poor choices. We’ve all hurt someone we love at one point or another. We say something hurtful out of anger. We forget an occasion that is very important to someone else. We get so caught up in our own fears and insecurities that we don’t think about how our actions impact others. These things are simply part of the human experience.
However, love never motivates us to betray others, to physically harm others, to threaten others, or to control others. That is a need for power, not love.
Betrayal, control, and abuse – be it emotional, physical, sexual, or spiritual – are the opposite of love.
It can be hard to recognize the difference between power and love, particularly in relationships where there is established authority, such as parenting and complementarian romantic relationships. When we experience heartbreak, our ability to be objective is diminished.
At the core of all heartbreak is fear.
We fear being alone. We fear being worthless. Fear triggers a primal fight, flight, or freeze response, and whoosh! Rationality flies right out the window, right along with our self-worth.
It took me 40 years of heartbreak and hours of therapy to realize that it doesn’t have to be this way. I’m not broken. I’m fully human, with a full and deep capacity for love.
Before I could get to this point, I had to completely rework my concept of love I have come to the conclusion that Webster’s has it wrong. Love is not always strong affection or attraction.
I came up with my own definition of love that has served me far better.
Love is an act of courage. Love is facing that fear of rejection and worthlessness.
Love is knowing who we are, and being true to that, regardless of what others think.
Love is accepting ourselves and others where we are at, even if that isn’t a very pleasant place.
True love requires accountability, of yourself and others.
If love is always honest, then we can’t tiptoe around our pain. We must face it head-on. We must speak up when we are wronged, and we must admit when we have wronged others.
Once I redefined love, my world blew wide open.
I felt safe to say NO. I knew where I ended and others began. I stopped running from myself and for the first time realized I had beautiful gifts to share with the world.
I no longer had to choose between loving someone and my own emotional or physical well-being.
I no longer had to swear off all affection for people I disagreed with.
Redefining love allowed me to love those who hurt me from a safe distance.
I’d always struggled with the idea of grace.
Why should I offer love to those who are cruel to me or others?
This new definition of love allowed me to love people in spite of their shortcomings. Love no longer required adoration or warm affection. It only required honesty, accountability of myself and others, boundaries, and grace.
Redefined love is universal. We aren’t meant to love only those whom we hold in warm regard. We must love everyone.
We are culturalized to believe that love is always happy.
If love is always warm, if it is always nurturing, then when someone we love makes us feel sad, angry, disappointed, or disgusted, we become disoriented.
When those we love hurt us, we become afraid. If love is equal to trust and adoration, and we don’t always feel positive about our love relationships, does this mean we are bad at giving or receiving love? Does this mean we are unlovable or incapable of loving others?
We are afraid of those who are different from us. If love is always a warm feeling of affection, then loving someone we strongly disagree with or dislike is an impossibility.
All of this confusion creates fear…
…which breeds loneliness, bitterness, spite, rage, and darkness.
This is the state I found myself in when I began my journey to healing. I was terrified of trusting others, and every time I did, I was disappointed. People kept screwing up, and I kept getting hurt.
My definition of love did not allow for mistakes, pain, or selfishness. I did not know how to give myself or others grace. I felt like the only option was to lock up my heart and hide it in lonely isolation.
Once I redefined love…
… after a lifetime of living in a perpetual state of fight, flight, or freeze, I could finally relax. For the first time in 40 years, I understood what happiness actually felt like.
I could forgive even the deepest hurts.
I could open myself up to new and lasting relationships.
I could trust myself to make healthy connections with others.
And I could set boundaries with love.
This all sounds great, right?!
Okay. It’s all here if you want it. But I’m warning you, Redefining Love is not easy. It’s not comfortable.
You’re going to have to be willing to get real, feel terrified sometimes, be honest to yourself and others, and get very vulnerable.
Theodore Roosevelt said, “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficult.”
You’re going to have to be brave. But you can do it! I’ll help if I can. Because I love you.
I promise, it is worth it.
I invite you to begin your journey to Redefining Love today!
Copyright © Redefining Love 2021.
The author of Redefining Love is not a licensed mental healthcare professional. The information included on this site is for general informational purposes only. For mental health questions or concerns, please reach out to a licensed mental healthcare professional.