When discussing the concept that a root cause of relationship anxiety is the fear of being hurt by love, course members and coaching clients will often say, “I had a good childhood with loving parents. Why would I be so scared of love?” I’ve written other posts about how essential it is to peel the veil of perfection or idealism off of our parents or childhood if we’re going to heal, for there can be no doubt that, because we’re imperfect humans, there will always be places where our parents missed the mark, times when they didn’t attune, and incidences where they failed to honor our sensitivity or teach us how to feel our feelings. Very few parents of older generations possessed the emotional intelligence to raise emotionally intelligent children. It wasn’t their fault; they simply didn’t have the healing tools at their disposal that we do today. The fact is that most of us – and perhaps all of us – were raised by parents who had significant emotional deficits, who, even if they were loving and attentive to us didn’t have the faintest idea how to show up for themselves in a loving way. We learn more by what we see than what we’re told.
But this isn’t a post about lifting the veil of a parent-illusion. For even if by some rare circumstance you were blessed with the most loving parents in the world who had the most loving marriage in the world you would still likely be afraid of love. Why? Because from the moment you’re thrust from your first perfect home of the womb where all of your needs are instantly met and you float in a state of warm, perfect union to the state of instant separateness that defines being born where the needs of the body are paramount, painful, and immediate, you experience grief and loss. We’re not born laughing; we’re born crying, and sometimes screaming. Where you never knew cold, now you shiver. Where you never knew hunger, now you scream from an empty belly, and sometimes your mother doesn’t know what it is you need. Where you never knew pain, now you cry. Where you never knew loneliness, now you’re separate. As much as today’s parents try to attend to the newborn baby’s every need, it’s simply not possible. We miss cues. We misunderstand. We can’t prevent our babies from feeling discomfort and pain.
It hurts to be born. It’s hard to be a tiny, helpless baby in a huge world. And it’s scary to experience the separateness that defines being human. Alain de Botton describes this experience beautifully here:
It’s the middle of the night, let’s imagine, and we’ve been on the earth for about three months. A lot is still very unclear. We are profoundly helpless, barely able to move our own head and utterly at the mercy of others. The sources of our suffering and joy lie far outside our understanding. Hugely powerful needs pass through us at regular intervals and we have no way of making sense of them to ourselves – let alone of communicating them reliably to others.
A minute ago, we were asleep in a dark enveloping warmth. Now we’re awake, bereft, isolated and very uncomfortable. There seems to be a pain somewhere in our stomach, but the agony is more general; we are lonely and profoundly sad. The room is dark and there’s a mysterious set of shadows on the wall that appear and vanish at random.
In a rising panic, we start to scream out in the darkness. Nothing happens. We pause to recover our breath – and then scream even louder. Our lungs strain with the effort. Still nothing and the darkness and loneliness grow ever more threatening. Now true desperation sets in; this feels like the end of everything good and true – and we scream as if to ward off death.
At last, just when it seems we could not go on any further, the door opens. A warm orange light is turned on. It is a familiar face. They smile at us, say the name they often use around us, pick us up and put us against their shoulder. We can hear a familiar heart beating next to ours and a warm hand caressing the top of our head. They gently move us to and fro, and sing a tender, sweet song. Our sobs start to abate, we pull a weak smile; it feels like the vicious demons and merciless goblins have been sent packing – and that life could be bearable after all.
For every single person on this planet, this is part of the fear of loving. For we know from the moment we’re born that we will never attain the perfect union that we experienced in the womb again. Some people try to reclaim it through the fantasy of romantic love. Some try to find it through drugs or alcohol, food or shopping. There are many ways to anesthetize against the fundamental loneliness of being human and try to find the oneness and perfect union that we cellularly remember is possible.
To be human is to be wounded. To be alive is to know fear. To love is to know pain. Sometimes it’s helpful to know the roots of the pain as the mind likes to attach context to its suffering, but sometimes we don’t know why we’re afraid of love. If you’re suffering from relationship anxiety and you’re having difficulty identifying root causes, it can be enough to say, “I’m scared of love because I’m human. I’m scared of love because love is a risk and I know that I have been hurt before and I might be hurt again. I’m scared because my first unconscious memory of being human included loss.”
Does this mean that we’re doomed to a life of pain and misery marked by separateness and loneliness? No. It means we’re all broken and we’re all whole, and this is exactly how it’s supposed to be. Artists and mystics understand this; “We’re Wounded in All the Right Places,” sings K.T. Lang in the beautiful film “What About Me?”, and Leonard Cohen, referencing the line from Rumi (“the wound is where the light enters”) reminds us of this truth as well as he sings, “There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”
How does this help us when it comes to healing our hurt places, especially when they show up in love? Because if you buy into the ego’s or ignorant self’s argument that relationship anxiety couldn’t possibly apply to you because you had a healthy childhood and, therefore, have never been hurt by love, you need to understand that we have all been hurt by love. To be born is to be hurt by love. To cry without someone attending is to be hurt by love. To be left alone in a strange place is to be hurt by love. To be teased or made fun of, even if only once, is to be hurt by love. Once we understand this then accept it deeply into our bones, we can get on with the task of addressing the fearful part of us with our own loving hands so that we don’t have to sabotage and possibly walk away from the person standing before us who, while capable of hurting us again, also has the capacity to help us heal and learn, over years and possibly decades, that love with a safe and loving partner is the reparative cove and safe haven that we’ve been longing for since the moment we were born.