To the degree that old unhealed wounds and unmet needs are carried into adulthood, we will see our partner as having the power, even the responsibility to rescue us from this pain by providing us finally, with the quality of love that we never received. What we desire from this person is love that is healing, affirming, all encompassing, unconditionally accepting and empowering, in short, salvation. Not only is this expectation unrealistic, it’s unattainable. Still, the desire for love is so compelling that it frequently blinds us to this truth.
Letting go of the desire to be rescued.
When we feel ourselves to be lacking wholeness, we often seek out others to fill our emptiness. We have a kind of internal radar that tells us when we encounter someone who seems to possess the capacity to restore us to wholeness. Such a person embodies character traits that are similar to those of one or both of our parents.
These similarities reawaken old longings that we had buried in our unconscious mind, protecting us from the pain of these memories. While we may have forgotten the details of these experiences, our unconscious mind still reacts to similar types of people with feelings of both desire and fear. What makes this person attractive to us is that we see them as someone whose way of loving feels familiar.
Such a person often inflames the desire for redemptive love, the kind of love that can heal our hearts and souls. At first, being with them removes feelings of unworthiness, doubt, and anxiety. It is the love that will take away our feeling of being inadequate or shameful. “Finally,” we tell ourselves, “this person will love me in the way I really want to be loved, and their love will remove all suffering from my life.”
This is the redemptive longing, the hope of being saved from the pain that is inherent in life. All too often, relationships that begin with dreams of divine bliss deteriorate into the hell of frustration, bitterness, and unfulfilled longing. The person whom we had hoped would keep us from suffering becomes the source of excruciating emotional pain.
From infatuation to disillusionment.
How someone whom we see as a gift from heaven in one moment can later seem to be a curse sent from hell is one of the great mysteries. Yet as we come to understand more about the real nature of what draws partners together and what these unions bring forth from us, the mystery disappears.
“Ordinary suffering” is tolerable and often productive. This pain can lead to deeper levels of trust, understanding, and intimacy as long as we are able to deal with it appropriately. When we ignore it, like a neglected wound, it can deteriorate into a life-threatening condition.
Our disillusioned hopes bring anxiety that triggers “survival responses” We may find ourselves locked in a battle of wills fighting for our emotional lives, defensiveness and control inflaming a stronger, more heated counter-reaction. Unless we neutralize its source, we will be condemned to continually replay this pattern with this and/or other partners.
Getting to the roots of the issues.
Looking for wholeness and security through another is like seeking relief of a toothache from a painkiller. There's nothing wrong with doing it and it will temporarily remove your pain. It is not an effective long-term solution, since it doesn't get to the source of the problem.
The tendency to compromise ourselves in order to gain love is widespread, and is the source of much of the distress. Like an addict who needs ever-increasing amounts of drugs to "do the job", our growing dependence upon others inevitably leads to increased suffering.
By coming to terms with fears, longings, and unspoken grief can we address the issue at its core? By honestly facing ourselves, our ability to re-member (literally, to put back together again) our essential selves and claim all of the parts that comprise the fullness of our being. This requires a willingness to accept all that we are, not simply those qualities of which we feel proud, but those aspects of ourselves that are not so pleasing, about which we feel shame.
Longing for freedom.
To do so is to express our authenticity and integrity. This doesn’t mean that we need to reveal our deepest darkest secrets to the world, but that we honestly acknowledge these and other truths to ourselves. In so doing, those aspects of our personality that we have tried to conceal gradually move from the dark of the shadow into the light of recognition. This process of illumination both to ourselves as well as to others is the essence of the work that over time will set us free.
Linda Bloom L.C.S.W. has served as psychotherapist and seminar leader practicing relationship counseling almost forty years. Check out her OMTimes Bio.
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