February 10, 2015
Have you ever been told you are lovable? If you have, what did that mean to you? Did you believe it and take it seriously or discount it altogether? Your reaction might depend on who said it and the nature of your relationship with that person. If you have a pattern of doubting your lovability, it may be due to painful childhood experiences that left you with insecurities and self-doubt. This pattern can lead to unhealthy relationships, jealousy, love addiction, possessiveness, even abuse and victimization.
Through the years I have encountered hundreds of clients who are frantically searching for a partner who will make them feel lovable. Those with a painful family history and inconsistent attachment in childhood may start this search very early in life in the belief that having a romantic partner is proof that they are worthy of love. When they are alone they feel defective and unwanted until they find love again.
Kate at age 33 was one example. She came to me for counseling when her most recent relationship ended. She was devastated and viewed the break up as proof that she was not lovable, even though she chose to end the relationship. This was not the first time and she was tired of repeating this painful cycle. Kate was sure that her problem was her choice of partners and she wanted to do better the next time. The flaw in her thinking was that in reality, her choices were a reflection of how she felt about herself. She also would never be loved enough by another person to heal the wounds she had been carrying since childhood. Kate did not know that her lovability did not depend on anyone else. It was her birthright.
We are all lovable from the moment of our birth. In an ideal world we would be in the arms of a loving parent who locks eyes with us when we are born and assumes full responsibility for our survival and wellbeing. He or she would be our “person” for life. Unfortunately, we all know that in the real world, other factors can interfere with that bond. Human beings may have great intentions, but life stressors big and small sometimes distract a parent from their task.
When parents are distracted, all children have a degree of anxiety depending on the situation. Fortunately, children have the ability to develop creative ways to try to get the necessary comfort and attention from their “person”. When we are very young we are dependent, physically and emotionally, and our tools are limited to our smallness and cute smiles and most of all, our natural lovability. In some cases, parents are able to be consistent in their responses and provide secure attachment which helps us to know that we are lovable. If attachment bonds are insecure and inconsistent, we begin to develop doubts about our worth and lovability and in adolescence and adulthood begin to search for someone who will validate our worth. Ironically, we may not be able to trust or accept authentic love even when it is offered.
You Can Be Love-Able and Possess Love-Ability
Since we are born lovable, we can reclaim our lovability with help and support, but romantic relationships are not the best place to start. Being lovable is inherent. It is not earned and it is not dependent on the approval of another person. Whether you are alone or in a secure relationship, you are still lovable. You are forever and always lovable. Even if a bad childhood led you to feel unloved and unworthy, you are still lovable. Even if you feel ashamed due to past failures and mistakes, you are still lovable. Even if you have been rejected or abandoned by someone, you are still lovable. You possess the capacity to attach to others and to receive love from others even when you feel that no one loves you.
Lovable adults are not necessarily love-able. Due to circumstances in your past you may have lost awareness of the lovable creature you are and lack the experience and skills to be successful in a loving adult relationship. There are times when we forget who we truly are, especially in romance, and develop the false belief that because someone withholds their love from me, I am not worthy or able to receive love. Kate held negative beliefs from her past – “I’m defective, imperfect, flawed, broken, hopeless, abandoned, inadequate, and unattractive.” Whenever she felt alone or unwanted, she struggled to manage the urge to jump into another relationship. Once she saw her pattern, she was able to use counseling to address her long held negative beliefs and 12 step meetings for support in her commitment to having only healthy relationships. Gradually, old beliefs were replaced with acceptance and love for herself. Her choice in partners became clearer and easier to identify.
In adulthood, love-ability comes from the practice of self love, experience, knowledge of oneself, and learning from mistakes. It does not simply rise up from the attention or approval of others. When you love yourself, you attract people who recognize your value and worth. When adults are in loving relationships they are participating in the experience of mutual love. In a loving relationship we make a conscious choice to risk vulnerability and allow ourselves to be seen by another person while knowing that we are not always going to be accepted as we are. The choice to experience mutual love is worth the risk and effort, but it will never happen if we do not first believe we are lovable and actively love ourselves. Being love-able means that I am able to be loved, able to make a conscious choice about who I want to love, and accept love when it is offered.