Our culture has encouraged so many dangerous ideas about love and emotional pain that romantic love has become somewhat of a jungle where a person can easily wind up lost. Today I hope I can help light a path for you ‘out of the woods’, that offers a clear understanding of the kind of love that heals and the kind of romantic fantasy that will always and inevitably lead to destruction and emotional pain.
“Romanticism in music and culture feed a longing within us to be recognised as unique and special in our suffering. It encourages us to pull away from the crowd and search for ‘that one special soul mate’ who will feel for us and understand (and heal) our emotional pain.”
This romantic fantasy is easily evoked if we have been emotionally neglected or abused as a child, because in this case our longing for love early on became mixed with a longing for sympathy and understanding and perhaps for protection as well. It is easy to come to believe that the love and compassion we missed out on earlier in life is the only thing that will ‘save’ us now. ‘In the name of love’ we begin to long for a soulmate, hero and saviour all rolled into one.
But as Craig Schuftan; academic, musicologist and radio show host discusses in an ABC interview here – the pursuit of this type of romantic love in art, (as in life) always ends in tragedy.
You Crave a Connection Based on Sympathy but at What Cost?
The idea that love will heal us is so deeply rooted in our culture that to look at this honestly I will need to ask you to suspend judgement for a moment and take some time to give the ideas I am sharing here a chance.
The ideas I want to share here are firmly based in science; this is a subject I have lived, studied, authored books on for many years.
The famous singer songwriter, Jeff Buckley, once said that, “Love heals all wounds and not just time alone.” Not long after, he was found dead at only 30 years of age.
You may say these two facts are unrelated. But I will argue that there is a direct link. Similar dangerous notions based on romanticism have been around for a long time . . .
When Richard Wagner the composer (1813 -1883) first conceived the idea of a couple dying together as an exalted kind of romantic love, he himself was shocked at the potential power (and perhaps evil) of his idea.
But of course the romanticists did not invent these notions of love being singular, unique and the one and only panacea; death from emotional despair (or an excess of love) exalted; and a person’s emotional life the centre of the whole world. Like all artists, they fed off the situations and emotions of real life. Yet Goethe himself, the father of the romantic movement and author of one of it’s best selling novels, “The Sorrows of Young Werther”, rewrote the ending later in his life (for fear of the negative impact it was having on readers) and denounced the Romantic movement itself as “everything that is sick”.
So what is this inherent sickness in romanticism all about?
I have come to the same conclusion as Craig Schuftan in his hour long interview that I linked to above (please watch if you are interested in further academic and musical references on this subject) which is that the emotionalism of romanticism is based on immature and infantile emotional states. Not dangerous because these states are evil, so much as they are dangerous because they are immature.
My suggestion is, that while we look to love to heal the infantile and immature emotional wounds we carry, we are looking for healing in the wrong place.
How many lovers call each other baby and revert to toddler talk when they are intimate? With immature emotionality being so heavily promoted in our culture, hopefully you might begin to see why.
Craig Schuftan’s conclusion is that having children and becoming a parent cures most of us of these immature fantasies by forcing us to learn to be less self centred, or in other words ‘grow up’, so let’s have a look at how that pans out . . .
Selfishness Can’t be Healed With Love Alone
What could it be that children do that help some people grow up emotionally when they become parents?
Could it be all the cuddles and unconditional love children give that help parents mature emotionally? Are kids good at caring about their parents emotional pain?
As most parents who have been through this will tell you, it was not love from their children that forced them to become less emotionally self centred. It was the fact their children pooped their pants, had tantrums when they didn’t get their way and yelled and screamed about the most selfish things imaginable that forced the change. It was not love but the gruelling 24 hour a day self centred behaviour of their children that helped them stop seeing emotionalism as romantic and start living a life less centred on themselves.
Having children is also a kind of bootcamp for getting over false pride and ego and seeing life as it is and not as you would have it be. It forces many of us to admit we haven’t got the answers and start learning and growing and looking for outside help.
While I agree that children can help us emotionally mature in this way, unfortunately there is a catch. The problem is that it takes time for these lessons to sink in and in that time our own immaturity can end up damaging our kids.
The second problem is that many parents when facing difficulty still don’t admit they need help and instead blame (and punish) their kids, or one partner walks away or gets a lighter load, missing out on the life training that raising kids can be when it gets tough.
You Can Feel it but You Can’t Fix It
The truth is that while you can certainly ‘catch’ another persons bad mood, or share their emotional pain (emotions are contagious and so this is easier than you might think), emotions are acutely personal signals that we cannot ‘process’ for anyone else. Feeling for someone will not heal that person’s pain from the past anymore than setting off alarms together would protect a friends car that has already been robbed.
Remembering emotional pain from the past is not necessary to heal it and attempting to ‘share’ someone’s past pain with them is only likely to reinforce that pain and turn you into someone who reminds that person of some of the worst times in their life.
Being what people call an ‘empath’ means you are good at feeling what someone else is feeling (first hand) but if you don’t understand those feelings are not your own, this will probably just confuse and frighten you.
One of the most important things adults who suffered as children missed out on was an emotionally mature adult to help them learn not to be so scared of negative emotions (they will pass!) and how to regulate and understand the important messages those negative emotions are there to give us.
You need to be calm and balanced to help another person deal with their negative emotions (and help them feel okay and safe that you are not going to force the issue or get overly emotional yourself) and so ‘feeling other people’s pain’ is not a good way to help someone else. Anymore than drowning would be helpful while attempting to save another person who was drowning.
For this reason people who pick up on other people’s emotions easily, really need to work on protecting themselves from this with better understanding. They need to learn to recognise the source of their emotions (is it mine or someone else’s?) and practice exercises to learn how to quickly let go of and protect themselves from emotions that are not their own.
Emotions involve powerful chemicals which work on our neurotransmitters and are in fact a kind of powerful medicine that can help us in dangerous or very significant events in our life. Like any medicine however these chemicals need to be understood and the situations that cause our bodies to produce them dealt with wisely, or we can get ourselves in all kinds of trouble, acting out and also self medicating if we don’t know how to read the signal or how to turn those signals off.
You got angry – but why? What triggered it? What was your limbic system trying to warn you about? What is the best way to manage this situation you are getting warnings about? And most urgently what is the best way to manage your anger and let your body know that you got the message and you are ready to take time out to work on a solution, and that now you need to turn that warning signal off?
These lessons are the basis of emotional intelligence training which most of us were never taught, and so instead of knowing how to ‘ride the horses of our emotions’, we either leave them wild and untamed and let them lead us into danger or we cobble the horses and do our best to keep them at bay.
Psychotherapy’s Long Shadow
Much of what was taught in psychology in the 1900’s has since been found to be unhelpful and even detrimental in healing trauma and emotional pain. Despite the many years it has been practiced, talk therapy for instance has been found to do little but entrench negative thought processes and complaints. It’s legacy unfortunately lives on however and when the panacea of love disappoints, many ‘romantics’ (as I described above) can end up feeling that their ‘selfish’ partner needs some kind of ‘sharing and caring’ therapy to set things straight.
One of the most insidious and destructive internal misunderstandings about love and relationships runs something like . . . “Let me close enough to love (and heal) your deepest emotional wounds and then you will feel an eternal debt of gratitude that will cause you to want to love and heal me.”
The word for this belief in psychology is codependence and it also involves feeling responsible for other people’s negative emotions, as well as believing you can fix them by getting involved in other people’s emotional pain.
The truth is, instead of being the answer to your emotional pain, this belief will actually make you unpleasant and even dangerous to have around.
Because if you live with someone who treats you differently in private than they do in public, or someone who makes fights every time you talk about money, as many codependents do, trying to access that person’s past emotional wounds is not going to unlock something in them that will help them feel for you.
Instead you need to start learning about dealing with your own emotions more maturely (which you can start on right away by joining our email list and starting on our free tutorial). You need to learn the kind of love that honours your own emotional health and helps your partner face their own developmental gaps if you really want to heal and help your partner heal. A long and slow process sure. But one that you can start on right now and that is certainly more effective than using ineffective means to try and heal someone, so they can then heal you.