The True Nature of Love - Part I, What Love is Not

"We live in a society where the emotional experience of "love" is conditional on behavior. Where fear, guilt, and shame are used to try to control children's behavior because parents believe that their children's behavior reflects their self-worth.

In other words, if little Johnny is a well-behaved, "good boy", then his parents are good people. If Johnny acts out, and misbehaves, then there is something wrong with his parents. ("He doesn't come from a good family".)

What the family dynamics research shows is that it is actually the good child - the family hero role - who is the most emotionally dishonest and out of touch with him/herself, while the acting-out child - the scapegoat - is the most emotionally honest child in the dysfunctional family. Backwards again.

In a Codependent society we are taught, in the name of "love", to try to control those we love, by manipulating and shaming them, to try to get them to do the 'right' things - in order to protect our own ego-strength. Our emotional experience of love is of something controlling: "I love you if you do what I want you to do". Our emotional experience of love is of something that is shaming and manipulative and abusive.

Love that is shaming and abusive is an insane, ridiculous concept. Just as insane and ridiculous as the concept of murder and war in the name of God",

Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls by Robert Burney

One day several years into my recovery I had one of those insights, those moments of a light bulb going on in my head, that was the beginning of a major paradigm shift for me. It was one of those moments of clarity which caused me to start reevaluating the mental perspectives and definitions that were dictating my emotional reactions to life. My relationships with myself, with life, and with other people - and therefore my emotional reactions to life events and other people's behavior - are dictated by the intellectual framework/paradigm that is determining my perspective and expectations. So the intellectual attitudes, beliefs, and definitions that are determining my perspective and expectations dictate what emotional reactions I have to life - what my relationship to life feels like.

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I am not sure if this particular insight came before or after I had started consciously working on recovery from my codependency issues. I count my codependency recovery as starting on June 3, 1986 - exactly 2 years and 5 months into my recovery in another twelve step program. It was on that day that I realized that my emotional relationship with life was being dictated by the subconscious programming from my childhood - not by the intellectual attitudes, beliefs, and definitions that I had consciously chosen as being what I believed as an adult. To my horror I could see clearly that my behavioral patterns in my adult life were based on the beliefs and definitions that were imposed on me in early childhood. And I could see that even though these subconscious beliefs were based partly on the messages I received, they were even more firmly grounded upon the assumptions that I made about myself and life because of the emotional trauma I had suffered and because of the role modeling of the adults that I had grown up around.

On that day 13 years ago I Truly was able to see and admit to myself that I had been powerless to make healthy choices in my life because the emotional wounds and subconscious programming from my childhood had been dictating my emotional reactions to life, my relationship with myself and life. The saying I had heard in recovery that "if you keep doing what you are doing, you will keep getting what you are getting" suddenly became clear. On that day, a paradigm shift occurred that allowed me to see life from a different perspective - a perspective that caused me to become willing to start doing the work necessary to change that intellectual programming and heal those emotional wounds.

That is the way the recovery process has worked for me. I have an insight that allows me to see an issue from a different perspective. Once my perspective has started changing, the paradigm has started shifting, then I can see what needs to be changed in my intellectual programming in order to start changing my emotional reactions. I see where I have been powerless - trapped by old attitudes and definitions - and then I have the power to change my relationship to that issue, which will change my emotional experience of life in relationship to that issue.

(When I started writing this column, I was not planning on focusing so much on the process - oh well, I guess it was necessary, and hopefully will be helpful to my readers. Maybe, I just wanted to include the fact that my 13th anniversary in codependence recovery is upon me. Whatever, I will get on with the column now.)

I don't remember how the particular insight that I am writing about here came about - whether I heard it, or read it, or just had the thought occur (which would mean, to me, that it was a message from my Higher Self/Higher Power - of course any of those methods would be a message from my Higher Power.) In any case, this particular insight struck me with great force. Like most great insights, it was amazingly simple and obvious. It was to me earth shattering/paradigm busting in it's impact. The insight was:

If someone loves you, it should feel like they love you.

What a concept! Obvious, logical, rational, elementary - like, duh! of course it should.

I had never experienced feeling loved consistently in my closest relationships. Because my parents did not know how to Love themselves, their behavior towards me had caused me to experience love as critical, shaming, manipulative, controlling, and abusive. Because that was my experience of love as a child - that was the only type of relationship I was comfortable with as an adult. It was also, and most importantly, the relationship that I had with myself.

In order to start changing my relationship with myself, so that I could start changing the type of relationships I had with other people, I had to start focusing on trying to learn the True nature of Love.

This, I believe, is the Great Quest that we are on. Anyone in recovery, on a healing/Spiritual path, is ultimately trying to find their way home to LOVE - in my belief. LOVE is the Higher Power - the True nature of the God-Force/Goddess Energy/Great Spirit. LOVE is the fabric from which we are woven. LOVE is the answer.

And in order to start finding my way home to LOVE - I first had to start awakening to what Love is not. Here are a few things that I have learned, and believe, are not part of the True nature of Love.

Love is not:

Critical ~ Shaming ~ Abusive~ Controlling ~ Manipulative~ Separating ~ Demeaning ~ Humiliating ~ Discounting ~ Diminishing ~ Belittling ~ Negative~ Traumatic ~ Painful most of the time, etc.

Love is also not an addiction. It is not taking a hostage or being taken hostage. The type of romantic love that I learned about growing is a form of toxic love. The "I can't smile without out you", "Can't live without you". "You are my everything", "You are not whole until you find your prince/princess" messages that I learned in relationship to romantic love in childhood are not descriptions of Love - they are descriptions of drug of choice, of someone who is a higher power/false god.

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Additionally, Love is not being a doormat. Love does not entail sacrificing your self on the altar of martyrdom - because one cannot consciously choose to sacrifice self if they have never Truly had a self that they felt was Lovable and worthy. If we do not know how to Love our self, how to show respect and honor for our self - then we have no self to sacrifice. We are then sacrificing in order to try to prove to ourselves that we are lovable and worthy - that is not giving from the heart, that is co-dependently manipulative, controlling, and dishonest.

Unconditional Love is not being a self-sacrificing doormat - Unconditional Love begins with Loving self enough to protect our self from the people we Love if that is necessary. Until we start Loving, honoring, and respecting our self, we are not Truly giving - we are attempting to take self worth from our behavior towards others.

I also learned that Love is not about success, achievement, and recognition. If I do not Love my self - believe at the core of my being that I am worthy and Lovable - then any success, achievement, or recognition I get will only serve to distract me temporarily from the hole that I feel within, from the feeling of being defective that I internalized as a small child because the love that I received did not feel Loving.

I realized that this is what I had done for much of my life - tried to take self worth from being a nice guy! or from a princess or from becoming a "success". As I started awakening to what Love is not, I could then start exploring to discover the True Nature of Love. I started consciously realizing that this is what I had always been seeking - that my Great Quest in life is to return home to LOVE.

LOVE is the answer. Love is the key. The Great Quest in life is for the Holy Grail that is the True nature of Love.

next: The True Nature of Love - Part II, Love as Freedom

APA Reference
Staff, H. (2008, November 4). The True Nature of Love - Part I, What Love is Not, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 23 from

Last Updated: August 6, 2014

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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