Love. For some this word immediately evokes ideas of romance. For others, they think of their loving childhood families – parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Still others think of their children or their closest friends.
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.
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.
At the core of all heartbreak is fear. Fear of being alone. Fear of being worthless. Fear triggers a primal fight or flight response and whoosh! Rationality flies 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 that has served me far better.
Love is an act of courage. Love is facing that fear of rejection and worthlessness.
Love is honest, even when it hurts. And sometimes, love means walking away from relationships or habits that are not serving a positive purpose in your life.
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.
Without accountability, we might have affection and attraction, but we do not have love.
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.
Love is accepting ourselves and others where they are at, even if that isn’t a very pleasant place.
I no longer had to choose between loving someone and my own emotional or physical safety. 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 my self 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?
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 or flight, I could finally relax. For the first time in 40 years, I understood what happiness actually felt like.
This all sounds great, right? You want in on this, right?
Okay. It’s all here if you want it. But I’m warning you, it’s not easy. It’s not comfortable.
You’re going to have to be willing to get real, feel terrified sometimes, and be hard on yourself and others.
Theodore Roosevelt said, “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty.”
You’re going to have to be brave. But you can do it. I’ll help if I can. Because I love you.
Begin Redefining Love today!
Copyright © Redefining Love 2018.
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.