Thursday, March 3, 2016

Earning Love

"it’s important to separate the nice things you do for your friend from the hope that they’ll love you back if you just give enough" ~Ginny Brown

This is, I think, the basis for many unhealthy relationships - that is, the belief that if I just do the right kinds of things and become the right kind of person, I will be rewarded with the kind of love I am seeking. For starters, abusers frequently reinforce and exploit this belief by tying their love to certain of their victim's behaviors as a reward. The recipient is flooded with warm fuzzy reinforcement to continue their unhealthy relationship with the abuser.

Keep in mind, I'm not saying victims are too stupid to see through this and walk away. On the contrary, emotional needs are as important to our health as physical needs like shelter and food, and an abuser who can provide for some of those emotional needs can be as difficult to survive without as an abuser who provides for physical needs, when the victim has few other options.

But even outside of an abusive dynamic, it's still an unhealthy belief to hold. Can I really be happy in a relationship where I feel like their love for me is contingent upon constant performance? Christianity nurtured that dynamic in my life, and by the end of my journey, I was left feeling worthless and empty and deserving of hell.

Without this belief that I can earn love through good deeds, what then am I left with? I've had to rebuild a worldview that elevates the inherent worth and dignity of every person, because of our "flaws", not in spite of them. Service to and connectedness with others is the closest thing to a spiritual experience I have. When I am affirming their value as individuals in my life and affirming their uniqueness and worth as human beings, I'm affirming that same worth within myself that we both share.

I'm still growing and developing as a person for whom this doesn't come easy, but what I strive toward is behavior toward others that is emotionally rewarding for their own sake, not for some promise of future return. Service, friendship, caring, nurturing to others are not banking on future return of love; I'm thriving within a shared self-love. I may still occasionally wonder whether there is potential for romance or affection between us, but I am enriched by the growth of friendship and community in the present.

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