Note: this is the second of a three-part series.
Why is it that some people block themselves from giving and receiving love? Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt explain the process in the book Receiving Love (Atria, 2004) :
- When we are born, openness and receptivity are our natural state.
- When a caretaker does not properly deal with our normal developmental needs and functions—by neglecting our needs, invading our bodies or our spirits, or excessively shaming, punishing, denying or denigrating us—our self esteem is wounded.
- We deal with that wound by rejecting in ourselves the same impulses, desires or behaviors our caretakers rejected in us. Every time we are wounded, we reject more and more things about ourselves, so that eventually…
- Our conscious (self-accepting) self gets smaller and our unconscious (self-rejecting) self gets larger. Our available pool of skills and resources is depleted, so we meet life with a limited number of defensive, angry, critical or mistrusting reactions.
- So now, as adults, we may find ourselves being overly controlling of our intimate partners—as well as defensive, critical, demanding, manipulative and self-absorbed. We do this to attempt to protect ourselves from further judgment, criticism and rejection. We may try to micromanage our environment as a way of trying to keep ourselves safe, or we hold tightly onto what’s left of ourselves as a way of protecting against further encroachment and self-erosion—and therefore resist or block our partner’s influence, requests and feelings.
- In addition, we try to make the pain of rejection go away by denying our needs, natural self-expressions, impulses and desires, which were the cause of our rejection in the first place. So we resist satisfying many of our needs. What we wind up with is more defenses. We try to fill up the emptiness our defenses cause by grabbing onto food, drugs, alcohol, work, parenting, gambling, spending, starving, anger, control or other compensating behaviors.
- Because we unconsciously yearn for the self expression, desires and needs we have now repressed, we either choose intimate partners who exhibit the traits and behaviors we have rejected, or we project those traits and behaviors onto our partner, essentially assigning our partners the characteristics we don’t allow ourselves to have. We attribute to our partner a quality, fault, skill, motive, thought or feeling that actually comes from us.
- The degree to which we carry this self-rejection is the degree to which we cannot receive love. It is painful to become aware—especially when someone appreciates or loves us—of the parts of ourselves that we have rejected, so we resist the gifts, and sometimes we reject the people who bring us those gifts. Thus we unwittingly reject loving and being loved.
Hendrix and Hunt offer an example from a common interaction that most parents have with their children: laughing and having fun. When a parent reacts with disapproval when others are “too silly,” then laughing and having fun become painful to the child—so we eventually reject such behavior. Then when our intimate partner offers us something fun, we reject it, or we become critical of our partner. Soon enough, our partner stops trying to engage us in laughing and playing, and then we feel hurt and deprived. It is in this way that our private personal childhood injuries end up directing traffic in our intimate relationships.