We are many-storied creatures. Every morning, we wake up and tell ourselves into our story. When you study a life, as I have many times as a therapist, you realize that how we tell ourselves into our story generally determines how things will go for us. As American Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield says, “We can tell stories that lead us to greater suffering and desperation, blame and fear, or we can use stories to open the heart of compassion. We can use stories to support the generous impulse that’s there in us. We can use stories to connect us to one another.” The problem is that much of our personal story is unconscious to us, a jumble of scripts generated by the imprints of our experiences, often running and ruling us from underneath.
The places where we run into trouble and suffer in life are the places where our stories have gone awry, where things have gone badly and where we have chosen inappropriate responses or just avoided the powerful emotions and effects attending such events. Some of our most affecting experiences have occurred when we were too young, too immature or too distracted to comprehend the full import of what was happening. So we are left with distortions in our story about how life actually works, and significantly, we still may carry painfully charged emotions that were not fully experienced. These incomplete elements of our story severely limit our range of choices and behavior. The still emotionally-charged memories and associated fantasies from different periods of our lives can inhibit us and become barriers to the life we want to or were meant to live.
Love, the Great Mystery
Love, the great mystery of love––romantic love, intimacy with family, friends, and lovers, passion and sexuality, eros, affection, acceptance, human kindness and compassion, agape, the miraculousness and the magic of love, love in its 10,000 ways––is a calling of the soul. Love is the province of life in which we all participate in various shades. We have come into life in need of love, in a dependent state. From the very first breath, we have a need to be cherished, valued and cared for; only later do we learn how to give that love to others. If someone hadn’t loved us an awful lot during our first years we would never have made it into life. But when we are young we are like sponges and we don’t have filters or discernment, so we often experience love in distorted ways and draw conclusions about such experiences that may or may not be true. The emotional atmosphere in our family, where love and affection abide in varying degrees, has strongly determined the path of love in our adult lives.
Nevertheless, we all emerge from our origins with a longing to be loved and be met in mutuality. As adults we experience a healthy instinctual drive toward coupling, a compelling desire to share affection, pleasure and intimacy and to connect and be understood by others. Just like the mirroring our mothers gave us, we long for the mirror of the other and the give and take of loving relationship. As we grow, the mirroring of all those we have contact with helps us develop a sense of self, and that development continues throughout life. Yet love and relationship difficulties are the leading reasons that people seek out psychotherapeutic help. Of course, that makes perfect sense. Our important love relationships are where we have the most at stake, where we are most vulnerable and are, hopefully, close to our truest story. Relationship is a container for our souls where we will encounter essential problems and suffer wounds, and where we often find ourselves most troubled and wounded deeply. C.G. Jung, the eminent Swiss psychologist, said that “The love problem is part of mankind’s heavy toll of suffering, and nobody should be ashamed of having to pay his or her tribute.”
But the wounds of love are not what you would necessarily think. Love wounds are not restricted to broken-hearted adults suffering from love gone wrong. There are the traumas big and small, starting with birth, that preoccupy us and remain essential woundings to heart and soul. Alienation, neglect, abandonment, betrayals and the myriad of heartaches are prominent in the hidden landscape of love. When we are vulnerable, the survival instinct is very active, even to the point of dissociating from unpleasant experiences.
Our capacity to deny-and-protect-in-order-to-
survive has left many of us with unresolved heart pain and self-deceits from all portions of our lives. The wounds of love can hijack our stories with false beliefs that take us off course from healthy heart and soul connection with others. These invisible wounds are often grown over with scars, psychological armor and defenses that constrict our aliveness and our willingness to fully risk ourselves, heart-and-soul, to the promises of love. The dilemma is that love requires us to be present and vulnerable, otherwise we are just going through the motions. The original intent of that word “vulnerable,” its definition and roots in our language, means “willing to be wounded.” We must find our way back to being vulnerable.