We humans are adorable. We crave love, jonesing for it desperately like a junkie seeking out the next fix, yet most of us have no idea how to love and be loved. Why? Because our original teachers, our parents, usually didn’t know how to really love us either. Instead of growing up with childhood lessons that guide our Love School curriculum as thoroughly as we learn our K-12 education, most of us were fed a laundry list of lies about what love is and is not, based on a romanticized Disney princess notion of love. As you get older, the media reinforces it with romantic comedy movies, love stories in books, and pornography’s graphic images of how sex is supposed to be. No matter how big your heart is, if you believe love is what you are shown in the media, you are going to wind up disillusioned. If you add to the media’s distorted view the screwed up messages about love and sex that arise from the church, the patriarchy, and the conditioning of a confused culture, it’s no wonder we grow up feeling disoriented and disappointed, suffering from what Christine Hassler calls an “expectation hangover.” Love disappoints us over and over again. But is that thing that disappoints us really love? I don’t believe so.
Most people mistake love for comfort or lust or boundaryless fusion or simple compatibility. Unless we begin to wake up, we tend to seek out those who first coddle and comfort, and later trigger and retraumatize our deepest wounds, and we mistake this “woundmating” for love. (Hat tip to Jeff Brown for the spot on awesome coining of the term “woundmates.”) Woundmates fit like lock and key into each other’s conditioned patterns and that lock to our key makes us feel comforted and complete but also, often, rejected and lonely and despairing when our traumas inevitably get triggered and we pull away from our boundaryless merging. But that is not love. That is what my Advanced Integrative Therapy (AIT) therapist Asha Clinton, PhD calls “symbiosis.”
Many define love by the relationships that feel easy. You know the ones—where someone finishes your sentences for you, anticipates and meets your needs before you have them, sits with you peacefully and wordlessly because there is nothing to process, and offers you comfort. These people rarely initiate conflict with you. They validate and value you. They’ve got your back. They would do anything to avoid hurting you. They uphold your image of yourself or even uplift it. They remember your birthday and bring you soup when you’re sick. You feel like you’re resting in a nest of feathers when they walk in the room. It’s just so easy to be with them.
What many don’t realize is that these relationships are often fueled by unspoken agreements like “I’ll baby your ouchies if you baby mine.” Coddling each other’s wounds so we don’t retrigger our traumas isn’t love. Cultivating the courage and willingness and strength to heal our wounds together is closer to what real love actually demands.
Others seem to crave those relationships that appear to thrive on conflict. Instead of coddling each other’s wounds, you stick swords in them and then process the sword wounds for hours or one of you walks out, until you miss each other and fall into bed to repair with hot make up sex. When one or both of you mistake abuse for love, you have fallen prey to a “love reversal,” which usually happens because someone in childhood would emotionally or physically abuse you and then confuse you with the words, “But I love you.” As I wrote about in “This Is Not Love,” such love reversals are not love. They are woundmating. Some people might think they have a decent partnership, but if you look closely, often these seemingly peaceful unions are kept in place by two people who are walking on eggshells, trying with all their might to keep a very fragile bubble of codependence from popping and causing them to bump into each others trauma bubbles. While there might be a level of symbiotic harmony, these relationships usually lack real intimacy and depth, since all kinds of exiled hurting parts live in the depths, and they are both hell bent on not healing those hurt parts. So they sacrifice really knowing themselves and one another intimately, not realizing that the “harmony” they think they have won is the booby prize.
So If Woundmating Isn’t Love, What Is?
Why do we all crave true love, yet we seem so unable to recognize or cultivate it? First, we have to give ourselves and our loved ones the unconditional love we crave. WE have to be inordinately gentle with ourselves because—and I really want you to hear this—IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT. It’s not the fault of your loved ones either. It’s your RESPONSIBILITY (and it’s their responsibility too), but no one is at fault—not your parents, not your narcissistic ex, not the family member you are estranged from, not you.
You are not broken. You are not unlovable. You are not a failure. You (and all of us) are simply at the mercy of the big “T” and little “t” traumas of everyday life, which have interrupted our connection to the Source of all real love, which I call your Inner Pilot Light. When this Source is veiled by unhealed trauma, love will always elude you and you will keep attracting woundmates who can’t love you back. (Again, it’s not your fault.) Because most of our parents (usually unwittingly) try to control us rather than love us, we grow up with fierce protector parts of our psyches—inner critics and judges and generals and managers that berate us all the time, coming down on us like drill sergeants in charge of whipping us into shape. They torture us so much that we lose it, allowing any number of other protectors who are also just trying to keep us safe to take over, the parts we’re really ashamed of—our rage parts, our abusive parts, our abandoning parts, our addict parts, our cheating parts, our dissociative parts, maybe even our suicide parts. Then all those drill sergeants start judging, criticizing, and attacking the people we care about, and the extreme protectors, which we pathologize and label and try to either medicate, hospitalize or imprison, act out and do things that harm us and the ones we love, effectively destroying any seeds of real love that might have had the chance to thrive.
Without This One Thing, Love Will Always Elude You
When Valentine’s Day comes around, it can be a glorious celebratory holiday for the charmed few who grew up healthy or one of the brave ones that dared to do what it takes to fully heal from past wounding. But it’s often a triggerfest for everyone else. Those who are unhappily partnered wish they could repair their relationship, while those who are unpartnered often feel like they must be fundamentally flawed in some way. Only the rare people who grew up with awakened parents who didn’t traumatize them with poor boundaries and the brave, badass ones who have willingly gone into the crucible to heal these traumas get to eat the fruit of love’s promise.
If you’re one of the blessed ones, please know that I’m aware that having a blessed life doesn’t mean you live a pain-free life. Enjoy your Valentine’s Day and bow deeply to the love in your life and in your own heart. If you’re one of those people, I hope you will send this blog to someone who is still struggling—along with a love letter on Valentine’s Day to remind them how worthy they are of real true love. If not, keep reading, because what comes next is my love offering on Valentine’s Day, because you deserve to get the love that is your birthright.
So . . . how do we get the love we crave? Here is the one thing you need to truly let love in. As Dick Schwartz, the founder of Internal Family Systems (IFS) says, “YOU ARE THE ONE YOU’VE BEEN WAITING FOR.” The love you crave is right inside of you, just waiting to pour into you what you seek elsewhere. Without a solid, steadfast connection to your Inner Pilot Light, real love will always elude you. But once you tap into it fully, you will discover (with some hilarity, usually) that LOVE IS WHAT YOU ARE.
If you can’t feel this love flooding into you yet, how can you heal what interferes with the Source of all love? Full healing is beyond the scope of a blog, but here’s the work that beckons for you. Keep in mind that none of us are fully codependent or fully narcissistic. This is why my therapist uses the term “symbiosis,” because if you’ve had boundary injuries that have left you boundaryless, you’re likely to toggle between both patterns. That said, most of us swing more towards one extreme than the other, depending on the nature of our boundary injuries and the stage of childhood development when we got wounded.
Healing The Codependent Types
Some of us respond to these boundary injuries by becoming overly responsible codependent types who irresponsibly take responsibility for cleaning up the messes other people make.
If this sounds like you, your job is to set and enforce boundaries. Your work is to stop putting yourself and your loved ones at risk by taking on what is not yours. Your job is to heal the boundary injuries from childhood that made you take on responsibilities you should not need to take on so you ONLY take responsibility for your own messes. Your job is to heal your addiction to compulsive fixing, helping, and rescuing, to stop trying to control the other person by taking on the role of cleaning up the messes your irresponsible loved ones make for themselves as a way to earn their loyalty or soothe your fear that they will abandon you or harm themselves. Your job is to sit in your own discomfort when you have to watch your loved one reap what he/she sows as the result of irresponsible choices. Your job is to see with clear seeing that you are not a victim of these irresponsible people who hurt you. You bring it on yourself. Remember, while it is your responsibility, it is not your fault. Your boundaries were injured and you’re confusing love and control, but it’s not your fault. Your job is to let your Inner Pilot Light love bomb you with all the love you’ve been craving and not receiving. Your job is to let this infinite Source of love fill you completely. Your job is to seek out support from others who are like you, who have interrupted this pattern and are now capable of loving you from the other side of the healing. Your job is to get expert help so you cannot just see those traumas that made you vulnerable to taking on responsibilities that are not yours. Your job is to get help actually CLEARING those traumas, so your inner children can be tended by the loving reparenting only your Inner Pilot Light can offer.
THIS is love.
Healing The Narcissistic Types
Others respond to childhood boundary injuries by narcissistically acting out irresponsible behaviors and depending on overly responsible codependent types to clean up their messes. They blend with a whole army of scary, acting out parts in their psyche who think they are doing a necessary job to protect you from seeing the really painfully vulnerable hurt parts underneath. Those parts make up all kinds of rationalizations and defenses and justifications. They numb you to your natural empathy so you can’t feel the pain you inflict on other people as a result of your irresponsible choices. You expect your overly responsible loved ones to clean up your messes, but you’re not realizing how unfair it is to expect your loved ones to reap what YOU sow. They can’t help themselves because they’re so afraid to lose you. But the harm you cause to yourself and others is eating away at you, only feeding the story inside of you that you can’t bear to hear, the story that tells you “See how unlovable you are?” But it’s a lie, my love. You ARE love. You are deserving of love and you are capable of giving love, if only you bow before the mercy of Love Itself and beg for help from your Inner Pilot Light, from God/Goddess, from experts who can help you heal, and from others who were wounded like you are but are now healed and want to help you.
If this sounds like you, it’s your job to see the truth, even if it hurts to stop numbing your empathy and fully feel the impact of your irresponsible choices—on yourself and on others. It’s your job to get expert help healing those vulnerable hurting parts so you don’t need those irresponsible parts to keep acting out. It’s your job to learn to respect boundaries, and to love and heal the parts of you that cause you to lose impulse control. It’s your work to start taking on adult responsibilities and own up to the reality that you reap what you sow. Irresponsible choices lead to painful consequences, and it’s not fair to depend on your overly responsible loved ones to clean up your messes for you. It’s not loving (for themselves or for you) when they do that. Your job is to humble yourself, to admit that it’s not your fault but that you’re powerless to handle this on your own. Your job is to take responsibility for making apologies and making amends to those who have irresponsibly cleaned up your messes for you, enabling you in a way that doesn’t let you face the full consequences of your reckless behavior. . Don’t shame yourself. Remember, it’s not your fault. It’s your responsibility, but it’s not your fault. Your job is to love bomb yourself, even the parts that get you in trouble, to allow your Inner Pilot Light to love even the parts inside you that you might be inclined to demonize or hate. Your job is to be willing to get treatment and let skilled experts help you mend your hurt parts so you can finally learn how to love. Your job is to learn that you are not damaged goods. You are a spark of the Divine and this makes you inherently lovable and worthy.
THIS is love.
Unless we all take responsibility for the parts we play in woundmating in the name of “love,” love loses. Because we have had our Inner Pilot Lights veiled by these boundary injurying traumas, the love we crave always feels impossibly out of reach. UNTIL NOW!
You can’t do better until you know better. Now you know at least the first steps of what you need to own and heal.
Getting The Help You Need
On this Valentine’s Day, I invite you to choose to prioritize loving YOU and all your parts. If you can afford one-on-one therapy, please get thee to an Advanced Integrative Therapy (AIT), Internal Family Systems (IFS,) or Somatic Experiencing (SE) trauma healing therapist STAT. You can find trained therapists on all of their websites.
*AIT founder Asha Clinton, PhD and I will be co-leading an AIT Basics training seminar for helping professionals in Mill Valley in August 2019. You can register here. Learn more about What Is AIT here.
If you can’t afford therapy, you can 12 step something (which is by and open to anyone who needs it). If your wounding has led you to act out the more codependent patterns, you can get help in AlAnon, ACOA, or CODA. If your wounding has played out in the more narcissistic pattern, chances are good that you’re blended with an addict part that might be ready to finally 12 Step something—substance abuse, sex addiction, workaholism, gambling, etc. You can 12 step almost anything that you use to numb your painful feelings these days! Get a sponsor. Work the steps. And don’t skip finding a way to clear the traumas that got you into these patterns in the first place—otherwise your recovery will be much slower and less permanent.
Many people really need to 12 step both patterns, since the boundary injuries can play out both ways, depending on who has the most power in the relationship and how much you play out your boundarylessness on yourself (by being irresponsible with yourself in a way that harms you). You can learn more about 12 Step programs in general here or Google search 12 step meetings in your neck of the woods.
If therapy or 12 step doesn’t resonate with you, tune into your Inner Pilot Light and ask what you need. See what drops in intuitively. Let synchronicity help you get the help you need.
Happy Valentine’s Day, Beloved!
This Valentine’s Day, give yourself the gift you truly need—a lifelong, abiding love affair with the inner Beloved who can truly help you love and be loved, which I call your “Inner Pilot Light.” If you feel drawn to deepen your connection to your Inner Pilot Light, sign up for the free Daily Flame emails here. Or read my new book The Daily Flame: 365 Love Letters From Your Inner Pilot Light. Or join the Healing Soul Tribe of people committed to loving one another and living an Inner Pilot Light-led life as we all walk each other home. You can find other resources to help you deepen your love affair with the Divine Spark inside of you here.
With prayers for healing and hope for true love for us all,
PS. I have lots of events coming up as part of my book launch. Learn more and get tickets here:
Santa Cruz, CA–1440 (just me)
More Details Coming Soon:
Denver: Mile High Church & the Internal Family Systems (IFS) conference in Denver
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