Do you know who will never leave your side? You. Perhaps this is the relationship you need to nurture the most.
We can’t live without it. And we shouldn’t. Unfortunately, most of us look for love in all the wrong places. This may be a book about relationships, but make no mistake: the love you experience with others will be a direct reflection of the love you share with yourself. Wherever this text takes you, and in whatever place in life it has found you, I want you to understand, above all else, that love is an internal experience. It is found and felt from within. A relationship can help you cultivate more love but, essentially, it will amplify the abundance or lack of love you carry towards yourself. So, let’s talk about where that comes from.
The need to be loved is so strong that from day one of our existence, we demand it. That basic emotional need doesn’t disappear as we get older, instead it grows even stronger.
Which one of us doesn’t want to find their soulmate, or thinks they have found them? The one, the love of our life, the person we can’t live without?
Modern relationships are more complex than ever and our approach to love often comes from a place of lack rather than an outpouring of a cup that is already filled.
Understanding how to love is complex. From a psychological perspective, the way we learn to feel and express love starts from a very young age. Most child development specialists will tell you that newborn babies have two emotional responses: attraction and withdrawal.2 They are attracted by whatever brings them pleasure, comfort, and stimulation, while withdrawing from anything unpleasant, like bitter tastes or physical discomfort. Depending on the care that an infant is given, its consistency and its predictability can contribute to the type of attachment style it develops, or the way it relates to others. In adulthood, it is critical to meet your attachment style with grace and healing so that you do not try to seek a partner who will ‘fix’ or ‘complete’ you. We’ll talk more about attachment styles in Chapter 2.
As babies, we want to be soothed, rocked, or comforted by our caregivers, because we can’t yet regulate our emotions ourselves. Without realizing it, the way we experience and express love is influenced by how others responded to our emotional cues. In our adult relationships, many of us mirror what we learned at a young age, having formed specific attachment styles.
Beyond basic needs, you are a unique individual with experiences, memories, likes, dislikes, habits, and preferences. How you were raised is only a portion of what teaches you how to love – along with your personality and one-of-a-kind perspective. The more intimately you craft yourself through personal development and expansion, the more aligned you remain with the love you have to offer others. As the ancient Greek aphorism goes, ‘Know thyself’.
Many people don’t take the time to explore themselves and so forget who they really are. As life goes by, they accumulate false ideas about themselves or assume thought patterns that aren’t really their own. In effect, they live without having a deep sense of self, which stops them from forming genuine connections with others.
Acquiring that deep sense of self-knowledge is how you invite conscious, happy, healthy, and fulfilling relationships. Navigating relationships is challenging enough, but to not be rooted in your deepest values and beliefs will make it feel impossible.
Whatever you bring to a relationship, you can be certain that the other person is also carrying their own baggage, and that’s a lot to grapple with. How do you navigate what is right or wrong for you if you aren’t crystal clear about what that means?
We often enter connections with people wondering if they will like us. But do we like them? Discernment is incredibly important when seeking a compatible partner. But it’s also a trait of those who seek love from a higher awareness and not from the unmet, unconscious needs dictated by our early attachment figures.
I think Rumi was spot on when he said that love can be a bridge between you and everything else, no matter what form it takes. How you create that bridge is up to you, but it has to start with a solid base, right? You have to begin from a sound starting point and know that the crossing will be secure enough to prevent you from falling. It’s the same with love: if you aren’t grounded in your own self-love, it’s tricky to manoeuvre yourself in relationships with new partners.
Knowing who you are is a good starting point. I don’t just mean your name, what you do for a living, or what your favourite colour is, but REALLY having a strong sense of self-awareness and identity. This begins with self-inquiry – raising questions in a mindful way that will help you to rediscover who you are. As a taster, I want you to read the questions below and give yourself some time to reflect on them:
1. How do you see yourself?
2. What makes you who you are?
3. What do you offer?
4. What do you need?
5. What are your deepest values?
6. How do you handle criticism, rejection, or failure?
7. What are your non-negotiables with yourself and within a relationship?
8. Are you capable of giving without expecting to receive anything in return?
9. What does your ideal relationship look like? How do you contribute to that image?
10. How do you respond to interpersonal challenges?
You don’t have to answer these right away – I’m putting them out there so you can think about them a little bit. You might find some of them tricky or that they take you down a path you aren’t ready to explore, and that’s OK. I do want to say, though, that if you are looking for meaningful connections, you’ve got to do some self-discovery first. You can’t expect a doctor to cure an illness if they don’t look at what’s causing it – or prescribe the right treatment without any idea of what’s wrong in the first place. In the same way, life doesn’t get any better if you are stuck in a pattern of thought and behaviour that isn’t serving you, or is leading you nowhere.
What do you want and what do you bring to the table?
Are you willing to challenge the stories about relationships that you maintain? Is it worth thinking of things differently to shed light on new ways of connecting with others?
Excerpted with permission from Closer to Love: How to Attract the Right Relationships and Deepen Your Connections by Vex King, published by Pan Macmillan India.