Each of us has a list of conditions and rules regarding what makes us worthy of receiving love, compassion, and acceptance.
We use these lists as the benchmarks for what makes us worthy of receiving from others, as well as from ourselves. We also employ these criteria to assess who is deserving of our love, compassion, and acceptance.
We live according to these rules, even when we are not fully conscious of them. We create strategies to meet these rules, and use them long after they stop serving us. In order to shift the strategies, we first must uncover the rules and see how we got here.
Uncovering Our Rules
Where did these benchmarks come from? And how can we bring these rules into the light?
I really love how Tony Robbins approaches this. He tends to ask two foundational questions:
(1) As a child, which parent’s love did you crave more?
Many people instinctively respond to this with a clear answer. Others are taken aback, asserting that both parents loved them.
This question isn’t about who loved you more, or who did you love more. It’s about whose love did you crave more.
Often, there is one parent who doesn’t display love as freely as the other. As children, we may perceive that one parent imposes conditions on us for showing love and affection. Sometimes both parents impose conditions, but there is one parent you try to win over more.
Who was it for you? Don’t think about this too hard.
(2) What did you have to do to earn that love?
Our rational mind knows that the answer is “nothing.” Parents love children unconditionally. Or so they say.
(I don’t have children so I can’t verify this firsthand.)
As children, we rarely perceive that love to be unconditional. If you get angry about something and you tell a child you love her while you feel the energy of anger, the child doesn’t perceive love.
For some people, “energy” is some esoteric concept. Here’s what I mean by “energy”: Imagine walking into a room after 2 people just had an argument. You can feel the energy of their argument even if they are no longer speaking. As an adult, you likely know that the tension you feel in the room isn’t about you. But a child doesn’t have this level of understanding. To a child, the people in the room are angry — possibly at him. The child perceives anger, not love.
As children, we learned to navigate around these uncomfortable energies. We figured out what we need to do to earn love — or at least the expressions of love — from our parents. And we figured out how to avoid the anger.
That became our strategy for meeting the conditions or rules we needed to meet to earn love.
- What did you need to do?
- Who did you need to be?
What Form Does Love Take?
You may not even have thought about it as love. This is also worth exploring.
- What did the love you craved look like?
- What form did it take?
- How did you know you were loved?
Perhaps I love you wasn’t said much in your house when you were growing up. But there was something that your parents said or did that let you know they loved you.
Perhaps it was an outward display of affection. Or a certain way they acted towards you. Maybe you equated another emotion or another phrase with love. Maybe you craved your parent to be proud of you. Perhaps you wanted your parent to spend more time with you, or you wanted attention. If you were subject to physical or emotional abuse, maybe the freedom from that attention was what you craved.
What Are Your Strategies?
The point is that whatever we craved, and whatever we called it, we knew, on some subconscious level, what we had to do to receive it. We figured it out.
And once we figure it out, it became our strategy.
The strategies we adopt as children become our emotional, mental, and behavioral habits.
At some point the strategies we created as children no longer serve us.
What strategies are you still holding onto that no longer serve you?