What makes you feel loved?
Whether in a familial, platonic, or romantic relationship, what are the things a person does that really let you know that the other person loves you? How do you show love? Have you ever talked about these things with your family, friends, loved ones?
The ways in which we communicate love is a language that is made up of words, actions, behaviours, and so on, and each person has their own individual language that is shaped by their culture, upbringing, socialization, experiences, and so on.
While this communication is highly individual, there are commonalities which exist and which can often be grouped into types. Additionally, certain commonalities also seem to occur as a result of specific phenomena.
There was a meme going around Facebook recently which paraphrased said basically that people who grow up feeling unloved or unsure of whether they are loved overcompensate in relationships by doing everything they can to be useful. The idea being that if they couldn’t be inherently loveable, that they could at least be useful.
It makes sense if you think about it.
If you are unsure what love feels like because you’ve never received it or because it seems uncertain or inconsistent, then in an effort to understand, you will search for something that feels like it. If there is ever a moment when people seem to like you, it’s when they need you to do something for them. All of a sudden, they’re your best friend. And to someone who has never felt the real thing, that moment can seem genuine.
But what usually happens when someone needs you for something and they get what they want, they don’t need you anymore and so they drop you. And so the message gets reinforced, love is being useful to someone. When you stop being useful, they stop loving you.
Your entire mission then becomes to be as useful as possible for as long as possible.
In some, this can manifest as ambition – I’ll become a doctor because then I will be successful and my parents will love me because they can brag about me and I can take care of them. I’ll also be helping so many other people and everyone will love me.
In others, this can become a driving need to do volunteer work, and charity work, to be the best possible employee they can be, to go above and beyond at everything they can do.
It’s not something they are even necessarily aware of, but rather what in a sense they’ve been programed to do. In their own psyche, their own worth is entirely dependant on how much they can do for others.
Not everyone on the receiving end of that kind of attention is deserving of it, and neither is simply receiving all the labour someone is putting out an act of love.
While doing things for your loved ones and helping them is a good thing, when doing so is tied in with your sense of self and your belief that you must be useful to be loved, it creates very tangible problems.
What happens, for example, when you are unable to be helpful. Since this behaviour is usually the result of emotional abuse, it is often accompanied by mental illness, meaning that there will be times when you are unable to get out of bed, let alone do anything that might be characterized as useful. Or what about other disabilities that might affect a person and make it difficult to be “useful”?
It can deeply affect your sense of self. It can make you feel like you don’t deserve love.
After all, if you didn’t deserve love as an innocent child from the people who were supposed to love you, then how can you deserve love now that you can’t be useful?
The truth is that a person being deserving of love is not dependant on their usefulness or benefit. Children, for example are all deserving of love and nurturing, and those that don’t receive that are no less deserving of it. But for many children of emotional abuse, that’s not the reality that they experienced. For them, they only ever received affection when they were useful.
Another problem is that inevitably, a person who derives their worth from being useful to someone, often attracts people who believe that showing love is letting people do things for them. Your being useful is not a perk but an expectation. Ultimately though, what they love isn’t you but rather what you do for them.
Since it’s not about who you are as a person, there is no reason to get to know you. The only interests they care about are the ones that they’re interested in as well and even then, only on their own terms. They don’t get excited just because you are excited, instead they may even make it seem like your excitement is annoying and unnecessary.
It’s not uncommon for these same people to show love in performative ways that are more about the audience watching them then the person they’re ostensibly for. Grand gestures meant to show everyone how much they love you or how great they are at loving.
I remember years ago when a partner of mine had included as part of their anniversary gift to me, a letter outlining the way they felt about me about our relationship. It included some of the struggles we had faced, and different reasons why they loved me.
I knew the expected script was to be thrilled and so touched by the thoughtful letter, and yet while a part of me was, another part of me was heartbroken. Because while the letter was supposed to be all the reasons why they loved me, not a single one of them had to do with me. Everything related to different things I had done for them, about the ways in which I was useful. None of the reasons had to do with me as an individual person, about the things that made me different from any other person who might have performed these tasks.
None of the plans for the future or goals or wants related to me either, but rather to what else they wanted me to do for them.
For all intents and purposes this was supposed to be about me, or for me, and yet there was so little actually having to do with me in it that with the exception of the shared experiences, it could have easily been about anyone.
Still, it seemed selfish to me to demand that someone express love to me in a specific way. Wasn’t the important thing that I was being told I was loved and that the sentiment involved them keeping me around. Surely that was love?
Since my disabilities made things difficult on us and they had to pick up certain tasks that were difficult for me to do, it was up to me be even more useful to make up for it all. But the harder I worked, the sicker I also got, and it seemed the more resentment I received. I became more and more convinced that I was a burden, a pattern which honestly describes many of my relationships. I tried to make myself smaller and smaller, to take up less space and be less noticeable. Since I couldn’t think of ways to be even more useful not without killing myself, I settled for instead trying to need less directly from them so that the assistance I could provide would then seem better by perspective.
After all, the only way for me to deserve love was to be useful, so I had to minimize as much as possible the burden that was me.
Except that love that depends on my shrinking as much of myself as possible ultimately isn’t love. If the person I’m with can only stand to be with me when I’m less of myself, then how is it that they love me? What me is it that they love?
It came as no real surprise when the relationship ended around the time when my usefulness did.
This is one of the ways that abusive patterns repeat themselves and reinforce themselves. For all that you learn that being allowed to be useful isn’t love, once again, the pattern reasserts itself in a way to reinforce the idea that your loveability is in direct proportion to your use and the less useful you become, the less loveable you become.
Since your experience is further reinforced by troll brain repeating the same, it seems harder and harder to break through.
And yet, we see others having relationships that fit the pattern of what we feel love should be. Where the two support one another mutually and it’s not a question of who does more or who is more helpful, but rather a partnership. Where the love isn’t dependant on what you can do for me, but rather a mutual desire to see the other one happy and to be happy together. To want to make a life together.
For me personally, the times I’ve felt most loved has been when I could tell that I mattered to the person with me. It’s not about say always putting me first, but just giving indications that having me in your life is important to you. That you think of me not just when you need something from me or when I’m in your field of vision, but just because you like to think of me. About having taken the time to see the whole person and not just what they could do for you but who they are. Little acts of kindness and appreciate for one another just to show each other you matter and you are thinking of one another.
Of reciprocity. Of learning each others love languages and speaking them together.