The places where we typically run into trouble and suffer in life are the places where our stories have gone awry, where things have gone badly and where we have chosen inappropriate responses or just avoided the powerful emotions and effects attending such events. Some of our most affecting experiences have occurred when we were too young, too immature or too distracted to comprehend the full import of what was happening. So we are left with distortions in our story about how life actually works, and significantly, we still may carry painfully charged emotions that were not fully experienced. These distorted elements of our story severely limit our range of choices and behaviour. The still emotionally-charged memories and associated fantasies from different periods of our lives can inhibit us and become barriers to the life we want to or were meant to live.
Love, the great mystery
Love, the great mystery of love––romantic love, interpersonal intimacy with family, friends, and lovers, passion and sexuality, eros, affection, acceptance, human kindness and compassion, agape, the miraculousness and the magic of love, love in its 10,000 ways––is a calling of the soul. Love is a province of life in which we all participate in various shades. We have come into life in need of love, in a dependent state. From the very first breath, we have a need to be cherished, valued and cared for; only later do we learn how to give that love to others. If someone hadn’t loved us an awful lot during our first years we would never have made it into life, but when we are young we are like sponges and we don’t have filters or discernment; so we often experience love in distorted ways and draw conclusions about such experiences that may or may not be true. The emotional atmosphere in our family, where love and affection abide in varying degrees, has strongly determined the path of love in our adult lives.
Nevertheless, we all emerge from our origins with a longing to be loved and be met in mutuality. As adults we experience a healthy instinctual drive toward coupling, a compelling desire to share affection, pleasure and intimacy and to connect and be understood by others. Just like the mirroring our mothers gave us, we long for the mirror of the other and the give and take of loving relationship. As we grow, the mirroring of all those we have contact with helps us develop a sense of self, and that development continues throughout life. Yet love and relationship difficulties are the leading reasons that people seek out psychotherapeutic help. Of course, that makes perfect sense. Our important love relationships are where we have the most at stake, where we are most vulnerable and closest to our truest stories, where we will encounter essential problems and suffer wounds, and where we often find ourselves most troubled and wounded deeply. C.G. Jung, the eminent Swiss psychologist, said that “The love problem is part of mankind’s heavy toll of suffering, and nobody should be ashamed of having to pay his or her tribute.”
But the wounds of love are not what you would necessarily think. Love wounds are not restricted to broken-hearted adults suffering from love gone wrong. There are the traumas big and small, starting with birth, that preoccupy us and remain essential woundings to heart and soul. Alienation, neglect, abandonment, betrayals and the myriad of heartaches are prominent in the hidden landscape of love. When we are vulnerable, the survival instinct is very active, even to the point of dissociating from unpleasant experiences.
Our capacity to deny-and-protect-in-order-to-survive has left many of us with unresolved heart pain and self-deceits from all portions of our lives. The wounds of love can hijack our stories with false beliefs that take us off course from healthy heart and soul connection with others. These invisible wounds are often grown over with scars, psychological armour and defences that constrict our aliveness and our willingness to fully risk ourselves, heart-and-soul, to the promises of love. The dilemma is that love requires us to be present and vulnerable; otherwise we are just going through the motions. The original intent of that word ‘vulnerable’, its definition and roots in our language, means ‘willing to be wounded’. We must find our way back to being vulnerable.
Healing the love wounds
Love remains a mystery, and so too, healing is a mystery. But we do know how to create the conditions in which healing can occur. Certainly, beginning with psychoanalysis, psychotherapy has tried its hand at healing the wounds of love with reasonable success, but the theories and methodology have produced inconsistent results, often yielding palliative measures of understanding and emotional release, but not always getting to the simple restorative element of healing. To heal your love wounds requires a tenderness and forgiveness, but most of all, a desire to feel better. Psychological or psycho-spiritual healing implies integration. The word origins of healing mean just that, ‘to be made whole again’. If we are wounded in love we are disconnected from the part of our story where it is safe to risk being open and vulnerable. We need to edit our story to restore our longing. Our invisible, interior wounds can be self-imposed impediments, storylines that impede love. According to the Sufi master Rumi, our task in healing the love wounds, “is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”
The ancient Greeks observed a proverb widely in regard to healing: “The god that wounds heals.” To heal, we must return to the source of our wounds. If we have been wounded in the province of love, then the healing must come through love. This makes intuitive sense. Over the years I have come to respect that healing, like love, is a mystery. Though we can create the conditions for healing to occur, we cannot understand what actually happens. This is true of a broken bone and a broken heart. What happens is a mystery. I have learned how to create conditions of deep empathy and safety in which one can retrieve the memories, emotions and associations of a wounding. In a safe set and setting, we can give reality to the wounds through witnessing and validating. This seems to be the transformative requirement with love wounds: they must be seen, felt and accepted. Some wounds are deep traumas and require skilful hands to midwife the healing. When Freud called his psychoanalysis a “cure through love”, he understood the principle that acceptance facilitates healing.
If you are ready to let love come more fully into your life, there are some things you can do immediately. The psyche is very suggestible and cooperative in such circumstances and it will yield its secrets if you are sincere. You can start by paying attention to your dreams: you can engage your dreams for self-knowledge and inner guidance. Dreams educate us about the inner workings of the psyche, how the soul speaks to us every night through our dreaming in the symbolic language of images and stories. Your core concerns will appear in your dreams, and if you are making relationship and love important in your life then the psyche will definitely chime in with useful information.
For dream recall, keep a journal or tape recorder by your bed, it will serve as a strong suggestion that you want to remember your dreams. Record your dreams immediately upon waking. Try not to move your body when you first wake up, lie still and notice where you have been. Ask, “What was I just dreaming?” Reach for your journal instead of reaching for your cell phone or thinking about the day’s concerns. Once you have brought your dreams across the threshold of wakefulness and recorded them in the present tense, then re-enter the dream by re-reading it and allow yourself to have feeling responses to the dream narrative. This is the first line of interpretation, connecting to the feelings in the dream and to the feelings the dream arouses in you. Carry the images and the storyline of the dream around with you for a few days; something will come of it. You might also try drawing or painting the central image in the dream, the one most charged for you. In the act of depicting the dream you will find an opportunity to develop your feeling responses and your understanding of the dreaming. What you are dreaming is what you need to pay attention to now. In your dreams you can find inner guidance to find your way back to love.
From my therapeutic work with love wounds, I have found it invaluable to help my clients develop their capacity to be active witnesses in their interactions with others. I teach some basic skills to create a bystander awareness, what they call ‘witness consciousness’ in Taoism. I would encourage you to use reflection, meditation, and self-observation to see how it goes between you and others. I also employ some easy-to-learn framework, like the language of C.G. Jung’s psychological types, or the Enneagram types, as a tool to observe my loving nature in the relational field with others, and to strengthen confidence for the vexing complexities of new situations and people.
Adding new language to your story-telling gives you the power to understand and feel your way through the intricacies of loving, to avoid bad bets and repetitive tragic stories, and to tell yourself into the right story, without the barriers.
Jeremiah Abrams is a Jungian therapist and author based in the San Francisco. A popular teacher, Jeremiah is considered a leading expert on the human shadow. His books include the best-selling Meeting the Shadow: The Hidden Power of the Dark Side of Human Nature; The Shadow in America; and Reclaiming the Inner Child. His 3-CD audio program, The Dreamtime Journey: The Path of Direct Experience is a shamanic journey in a box.
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