Late one night I was sitting at a gate in Seattle waiting for my flight. A young boy sat a short distance away sobbing. His parents were very upset and yelling at him. His mother was telling him how selfish and self-centered he was. Periodically the father would angrily add to the discussion. The boy’s sister sat and watched smiling smugly. The boy was unable to catch his breath he was crying so hard. Several people moved away obviously uncomfortable about the exchange.
The young boy kept trying to defend himself and his mother continued to tell him how wrong he was. I felt powerless as I watched the drama unfolding before me. I wanted to run over and say to them, “Stop! Don’t you realize what you’re doing to your son?” The young boy’s sobs continued to deepen and his whole body trembled. After a few more futile attempts to communicate his feelings his eyes stopped focusing on his parents, his body was present but you could tell he was no longer listening.
As a young girl I too had cried as I listened to my mother yelling at me about being so selfish. I never quite understood what she was talking about. I tried so hard to please her yet I always seemed to fail so miserably. Eventually I stopped crying and became defiant. It was safer to be angry than it was to be sad. Long before that I had stopped feeling lovable. By then I knew there was something inherently wrong with me, how else could I fail to make my mother and everyone else in my life happy. But deep down inside of me there was a little voice I seldom heard that said, “What about me?”
As I watched that young boy I realized I was witnessing the creation of that part of him that would always feel unlovable. With each word and gesture his parents were reinforcing the beliefs that, no matter what he would never do anything right and that he was unlovable. As he retreated further and further into his mind’s chatter I could only imagine what decisions he was making, ones that would affect his ability to feel loved, to love others, to be intimate, and to experience freedom, joy, and happiness.
It is in those darkest hours when we feel so alone, when we have to face the end of a relationship or the death of someone dear to us that we need to feel loved and that is also often a time we feel most unlovable. Recently I realized a good portion of my life I had been unlovable. I wasn’t unlovable because there was something wrong with me. I was unlovable because I had walled myself off from love, no one could love me because I couldn’t and wouldn’t let love in. Love was just too scary and painful.
That realization was incredibly freeing for me. There wasn’t something wrong with me after all. Feeling unlovable was an accurate description that had nothing to do with me being a valid, worthwhile human being. Feeling unlovable simply meant that I was unable or unwilling to allow myself to feel loved at that moment.
Intimacy is such a funny thing. As a species we seem to crave it while at the same time doing everything possible to avoid being vulnerable enough to experience intimacy. I think of intimacy as “into me see.” If I feel defective or unlovable I am certainly going to protect myself. I am not going to willingly allow you to get to know the real me.
Chances are, if I feel unlovable, I don’t know the real me either. I am not going to let myself know what I’m feeling or what I want or need. I am going to find some way to numb myself out – to avoid intimacy with myself as well as you. I may even try to please you in order to get you to like me instead of focusing on my own wants and needs.
When my flight arrived in Anchorage I saw that little boy struggling to get his parent’s bags off the carousel. By now it was well after three in the morning and there was this little boy trying to get mom and dad to love him. Do you remember what it feels like to try to get someone to like you? Have you ever given up part of yourself to try and save a relationship?
I believe that as human beings we need to feel loved or lovable. We all learn to express that need differently. Some of us become demanding and try to control other people’s behaviors, others become whinny, some become like a bottomless pit, always needy. We can cover up that need with anger or indifference; we can hurt one another or even kill one another. To hide that need we can use something such as an addiction or simply wither up and die inside. Unless we face that need directly we actually cut ourselves off from the very thing we so desperately seek.
As I watched that young boy I realized the reason I had felt unlovable all those years was because I was . I was unable to be loved, accept love, or even love myself. Those decisions I had made long ago as a little girl had trapped me in a prison – as a young girl I wasn’t able to realize that I had an endless well of love within my heart; that no matter what others were saying I could use a gentle inner voice to remind me that I was perfect just the way I was.
As a child I was told sticks and stones could break my bones but words could never hurt me. In my life that hasn’t been the case – no one has thrown stones at me but I have heard many unkind words. Those words lose their sting when I learn to be loving toward myself. I am lovable when I am able to love myself.
Freeing myself from the echoes of all the old wounds is a process of learning to be my own best friend. I must learn to listen to myself and make sure all of my internal commentary is nonjudgmental, loving and kind. I need to become aware again of my wants and needs.
Part of me wanted to go over to that little boy, hold him in my arms, and tell him how wonderful he was. I wanted him to know that he was loved and very lovable. I wanted to ask his parents what they wanted to create in that moment. I am sure they loved their son. I’m fairly certain they had no idea how deeply they were hurting their son. They simply wanted him to modify his behavior.
When I think of all the wisdom I dismissed as a child because of miscommunications. My mom wanted to help me avoid some of the pitfalls she had encountered in her life. All I could hear was I was doing it wrong one more time or my mother’s way was the only right way. I wasn’t able to feel her love no less internalize and use the wisdom of her years.
I have learned to go inside and see what I am telling myself whenever I am reacting to someone else’s words. When I need to defend myself or in some way feel judged or devalued I am the one creating those feelings. If I feel unloved today I know it is because I am unavailable to being loved. If I am feeling judged I am the one doing the judging. No one can affect the way I am feeling unless I agree with what they are saying. What freedom, today I can chose how I feel regardless of what is going on around me.
Next time you feel like arguing with someone remind yourself that their opinion doesn’t count unless you let it. Let the other person have their opinion, after all it in no way diminishes yours unless you allow it to. Words can only hurt us if we agree with them.
A wonderful exercise is to carry around a small notebook and whenever you are feeling judged or ‘unloved’ to a few minutes to write down your inner dialog. What are you telling yourself? We swim in a sea of unconditional love yet we have the ability to feel unloved. Noticing how we do that is incredibly freeing and transformational.
With love and aloha,