“And still, after all this time, the Sun has never said to the Earth, ‘You owe me.’ Look what happens with a love like that. It lights up the sky.” ~Rumi
I grew up believing love was conditional. My grandmother, as much as I adored her, was extremely controlling, and unless I met her high standards of behavior and gave her a certain level of attention, she treated me with coldness.
Whenever she disapproved of my behavior, she would tell me, “I love you, but I don’t like you.” As if she had a switch she could turn on and off that stopped or started the flow of love from her heart.
When I was in her good graces, she gave me the world.
After my grandfather passed away, I provided her much support and attention. As such, she became very loving and generous toward me. Helping me pay off my credit cards, gifting me valuable pieces of her jewelry, praising me on my accomplishments. It felt amazing to be loved by her. But this kind of love based on conditions is not sustainable.
Eventually I fell out of her favor, and the switch turned off once again. The flow of love stopped. This pattern continued until she passed away a few years ago.
I do not fault her or claim to be a victim, as I understand she learned this behavior from her own mother, and it was passed down for generations. Even more devastating, she grew up in Nazi Germany, where her family was prosecuted for being Jewish. These are deep multigenerational wounds that need healing.
As an adult I am aware enough to break this inherited cycle. I recognize how I have repeated this pattern in my own relationships.
I am very nurturing and giving to others. This is my love language and it feels good to give. However, when a relationship ends or the flow of love stops, I feel those old emotional wounds resurface.
When the love I attempt to give is rejected this causes me much pain and distress and makes me question my own value. I make it mean something about myself, as I did with my grandmother. That I’m not enough, worthy, or lovable.
I have also withheld love and affection toward others when I have felt vulnerable or hurt. We mirror for one another the parts of ourselves we reject, the parts of ourselves that need healing.
I’ve recognized that the only way to break my unhealthy relationship patterns is to work on healing my emotional wounds and develop love for myself.
How can we cultivate self-love and change our relationship patterns?
1. Become the observer.
The first step to breaking down the barriers that impede self-love is through awareness of our thoughts. By observing our thoughts, we can begin to identify our own destructive patterns and shift our thinking. As Buddha said, “All that we are is the result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think we become.” Our thoughts become our words, our words become our actions, and our actions become our life.
So often we stand in our own way. By living in our own personal dramas. Through our stories and conditioned thought patterns. By our inability to see things as they actually are. So many of these barriers exist in our own mind.
In order to become more aware of our thoughts we need to carve out space to simply be still and watch them. Meditation and mindfulness are powerful tools to develop awareness.
If we want to take it one step further, we can write down the flow of thoughts, and from this space we can see the often-ridiculous nonsense our mind produces. The more space we have from our thoughts, the more we can find peace within ourselves and can choose where to direct our energy.
2. Find ease in your aloneness.
I find it extremely unconformable to be alone. I have this irrational need to be in constant communication with others, yet at the same time, when I feel I am being stifled or overwhelmed, I have an intense need to retreat and go within.
Then often when I am alone the negative thoughts and questions of worth resurface. My mind replays all the ways I have failed in my relationships and in my life. I become sad or angry or hurt as I put energy into these thoughts. It’s a toxic dance with my own thoughts and emotions.
There is a difference between being alone and being lonely. Being lonely is where we feel isolated and disconnected from others and from ourselves. Being alone is being comfortable enough with ourselves to sit still in our own presence. To quiet the mind and simply be present with our breath.
When we find ease in being alone with ourselves, we can move from a place of self-love rather than a place of need or insecurity. The more comfortable we become with ourselves, the more ease we will experience in our relationships, which will be founded on an open flow of mutual love and acceptance.
3. See the love all around.
I often ask myself why am I so concerned about the few people who treat me unkindly when love exists all around and within me.
There are many instances in my life where I have been rejected, and I dwell on these relationships for weeks; meanwhile, my best friend or my puppy or a stranger on the street is demonstrating love toward me.
When we focus on what is lacking, it closes us off to the flow of abundance always available—the love demonstrated in nature, the love pouring from other relationships in our lives, the love that exists in our own heart.
When we shift our focus from what is missing and see what is right in front of us, we develop an increased level of awareness and attract like situations, relationships and experiences.
4. Practicing presence, trust, and surrender.
The more present we become, the less we live in our minds and the more we move with the flow of life.
We can always choose a higher path of acceptance. When we find ourselves in a situation or relationship that is not in our best interest, we can choose not to take things personally or make it mean something about ourselves. We can have enough self-respect to walk away from a relationship or situation that is not healthy.
Trust is letting go and allowing the beauty of life to flow through us. If we could trust our path like we trust our own breath, that with each exhale a fresh inhale will come and fill us back up again, then perhaps it would be easier to let go.
Releasing attachment, for me, is a regular practice, which is why I tattooed the word “surrender” in Sanskrit on my ankle as a daily reminder.
One of my favorite books, The Mastery of Love, by Don Miguel Ruiz Jr., tells the story of the Magical Kitchen.
The story goes like this: Imagine you have a magical kitchen. You have so much abundance and amazing food to eat that you generously share with everyone. Everyone eats at your house because your kitchen is overflowing with nourishment.
Then one day, someone comes to your door and offers you pizza for life. All you have to do in return is allow them to control you. What would you do? You would laugh and say, “I don’t need your pizza! I have a magical kitchen, but come in and enjoy the food I have to offer!”
Now imagine you are starving, and your kitchen is empty. You haven’t eaten anything substantial for days. Now someone comes to your house and offers you the pizza. And you are so starving you accept it, allowing them to control your life.
All of our hearts are like the magical kitchen, though we forget or get cut off from the abundance of love in our hearts. We accept relationships and situations that are unhealthy for us because we are starving for love and affection. All the while our heart has an eternal flow of love that asks for nothing. We are full of abundance, and once we rediscover this universal truth, we will never be hungry again.
The most important relationship in our life is the one we have with ourselves. If we want to attract people and situations in our life that are healthy and based on mutual love and respect, then we must heal our emotional wounds, change our patterns, and love all parts of ourselves without condition. Only then can true love flow in our life and our relationships.
About Shannon Leigh
Shannon Leigh is a student and creator of life. She is here to learn and share experiences with others through the practice of yoga. She believes yoga brings us back to our most authentic self, and the best way we can be a light for others is to cultivate self-love and acceptance. From unconditional love the magic of our lives can unfold in the most beautiful ways. Visit her at beloveleigh.com.