What is love? What does love mean to you? How do you feel when you say that word to yourself? What is it like to say to someone “I love you?” How do you love when you’re feeling hurt?
There are different kinds of love over the lifetime. Some examples are: romantic love, affectionate love, family love, love we have for neighbors, coworkers, friends, pets. So many different kinds and types of love exist. Love also means different things to different people. It’s important to know yourself well enough to recognize how you love and the different types of love you have in your life.
How does love become different for everyone? Well, not everyone grows up exactly the same. What was love like for you as a child? Was love easy or difficult to find? Love languages exist because love is expressed differently. The way we shared love growing up as children with our parents may seem very different from the one we share in marriage. It looks different, right? What is ironic is that some of our childhood love or love language is mimicked in the way that we learned to accept, reject, and express love in our marriages. Also, what we expected out of life and what we learned to expect out of love in relationships comes from childhood learning.
There is an ebb and flow of love and closeness this happens in all of our relationships. Just like we feel happier on some days as compared to others, we may feel less expressive of love on some days. Does that mean love is gone on those days? That depends on whether you believe in conditional or unconditional love. If love is conditional, based on what is happening in the moment, then you may not feel loved during such times. If you feel love is unconditional, then even in less happier days, you know love is always around, whether it’s from friends, coworkers, family, or significant others. Or even if you feel it for yourself.
What about love when we are feeling hurt, disappointed or angry? It is hard to feel positive and negative emotions at the same time. In those moments you can feel disappointed and still be loved or know you are loved. This is why it’s importnt to understand the difference between unconditional and conditional love. What does love mean to you? What do you expect from love? Our love changes throughout our lives as we mature and grow emotionally. Expectations of love, as children, changes over time from single-digit ages through the teenage years and into our 20s. As love matures and grows, love expectations change.
What love is not. Love is not what someone can do for you. Love is not living so others can fill the emotional voids in your life. Love is like the icing on the cake. A cake is still a cake without icing. But adding the icing makes it sweet. Emotional voids are the responsibility of the adult feeling the void. Emotional voids cannot be filled by other people or things. If a need, not a want or desire, but a need feels unmet, then an adult has the need and therefore the responsibility to fill that need with healthy self-love. If you are feeling an expectation of someone else to ease your pain and believe you cannot fulfill this for yourself then your level of self-love is hurt, wounded, and low. How you love yourself dictates how you love others. Self-love is the opposite of self-sabotage, risk taking behaviors, self-loathing, and self-abandonment.
Love of self means having a deep appreciation for who you are in humbleness and humility, understanding your flaws, being able to forgive, and have enough courage to apologize, and know that it’s okay to make mistakes. Emotional love for self is to know you belong and to know that you are love able, and enough. That is how unconditional love looks and feels. Unconditional love for yourself is very important because your ability to love yourself dictates how you well you love others. Becoming overwhelmed by broken love due to childhood woundings or from a betrayal changes how you love. This creates an illusion that “others” are responsible for filling the void of brokenness. It is in this illusion that love can break and become difficult. This is where the love expectation shifts from the self to someone else on the outside. An example is seeking approval from others. This can feel overly important and also feel fleeting and not permanent. Counseling can help break through the illusion and unpack love expectations.
Being able to distinguish the different ways people can love will help you acknowledge and recognize love that is being expressed towards you instead of misunderstanding and under appreciating someone else’s love language. Love and affection can feel genuine and sincere as long as you can understand yourself and others better.