One of the most significant unconscious drivers of our behavior is the answer to this question:
What do you believe you have to do, or who do you believe you have to be, to be worthy of receiving love?
The answer to this question is what I call our “Love Strategy” — the actions and behaviors we engage in to try to earn love or prove our worthiness to receive love.
Our Beliefs About Worthiness to Receive Love
We develop beliefs early on about what we had to do and who we had to be to earn love, especially from our parents and other close caregivers.
We form these beliefs based on how people around us acted. Even if our early care-givers loved us unconditionally, they sent us messages that shaped our beliefs about our worthiness to receive love.
Consider this scenario:
A parent comes home aggravated after a bad day at work and maybe has a little less patience for a young child.
Angry about other things, the parent snaps at the child.
Stop it. Cut it out. Cant you just behave and be quiet?
The child doesn’t know that the anger isn’t about them. Maybe the other parent, trying to be helpful, tells the child to go to their room for a while, to settle down until the angry parent calms down, until it is safe to return to normal child behavior.
This is how the child learns that their parent’s love is conditioned on their behavior.
Children need to feel love and belonging to thrive. So the child learns what to do and how to be to receive this love from the parent. In a child’s mind, an angry parent isn’t a parent who loves them — even if the anger has nothing to do with the child.
The child doesn’t know that the anger might be unrelated to them. Even if the parent tells the child that the anger isn’t about the child, it doesn’t register.
Perception is stronger than reality here. The child sees and hears what’s in front of them. More significantly, the child feels the energy of the parent’s emotion, and thus there may never even be a conversation where the parent can assure the child they are loved.
What’s Your Love Strategy?
So this is how the conditioning starts. We learn at an early age what we need to do to earn love, to feel safe and secure.
Some of us learned that to earn love we had to do everything the right way. Be good. Get good grades. Be the best in the class or on the field. Always tell the truth. Show respect for our elders.
Whatever it was, these strategies became our default ways of being in the world.
By the time we cognitively understand that what we experienced in our formative years was not about us, that true love is unconditional, that we do not need to do anything to earn love, that we are worthy of love just as we are, we are already so entrenched in our habits of how we try to earn love.
I haven’t found anyone who doesn’t fall into these patterns at some points.
Breaking the Default Strategies
The first step to breaking the habit is awareness. Seeing what you do to feel worthy of receiving love is an important first step.
Then comes the work of envisioning an alternate reality.
One question I sit with often is a version of a question posed by meditation teacher Tara Brach:
How would your life be different if you believed you were worthy of receiving love just as you are?
How would you show up differently if you truly believed — if you embodied the knowing — that you didn’t have to do anything, or be any specific type of way, to receive love?
To be honest, I often find it hard to wrap my self around that concept, to fully embody a vision of this.
It’s a slow process to undo this conditioning, and in a world that constantly reminds us what we must do to receive love, it requires daily vigilance to remember our wholeness and worthiness.
But this I know for sure:
I am worthy of receiving love just because I am.
You are worthy of receiving love just because you are.
Nothing more is required.
Happy Valentine’s Day.