rn5Finding The One who really cares

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.

This Post Has 14 Comments
  1. Kim, so nice to hear from you again. Moving is a lot of work. What I am identifying with here is that healing is a long and slow process. Yes !! If you are expecting quick fixes in reversing the damage of the codependent/narcissist dance think again. I started on the Kim and Steve path in 2011. There were two separations and an affair and Internet stuff during that time. There was a lot of testing and me learning how to walk skillfully in a new way took some time. Many layers of my own codependant behaviors needed to be exposed and dealt with. Kim’s methods worked for me. I am happy to say we are still married after 38 years and enjoying life together. It was a lot harder and took longer than I ever imagined it would. Was it worth it? Yes!!

    1. I too have been on the same journey with very similar situations as yours. It is helpful to know that a healthy relationship is achievable. Complications for me are three adult children who have been emotionally injured along the way and exhibit signs of narcissism to varying degrees. Trying to change course in a sea of narcissism has been an extremely hard fete, but I am determined to make that happen and looking forward to a future of healthy family connections. I have been married for 36 years and we are all growing up together. Thanks for sharing your situation.

  2. Learning how to express your feelings openly so you don’t turn on negative thoughts from your partner.

  3. it is awesome how much “romanticism” surrounds us culturally, and permeates not only the entertainment industry, but much commercialism as well,… “love and sex” sells,… it also disappoints at that superficial, immature and self-indulgent level,… but, with or without the disappointments, we become unwitting addicts psychologically, and then “it’s off to the races”!,… given another aspect of the difficulties inherent in “romanticism”, when our naive “dreams” almost inevitably break down, the sad side for some is pain that leads to cynicism ~ which we can see developing in the culture as well,… yes, we do need to find a better way & a way “out of this mess”!

  4. This was very informative to me. It makes sense. It’s me. I just played this same immature behavior recently. I’m just glad I didn’t act out completely on my thinking and feelings. I’m going to do the tutorial now. Thank you kim for showing me a better way and one that really works.

  5. This is a great article! I have all the misguided thoughts. I always thought I needed to love him more so he will open up to me. I get so hurt when he shuns me or makes me feel like I’m a bother. He always thinks I have ulterior motives when I don’t. He acts so guilty all the time…it is driving me crazy! I am working on snipping it with scissors!! I am going through your workbooks and books, and learning soooo much, but then, when it is time to practice them with my husband I fail miserably. I will keep striving to implement new thought process and strategies. Thanks so much for all you do.

  6. Hi Kim and Steve, I’ve been a member on here for a while and I have several of your resources and am a member too. The problem I have is my husband doesn’t always act like a typical narcisstic person. Most times, he’s kind, giving and eager to please. But sometimes, he throws me off guard totally by berating me, yelling about things I thought he was okay with and bringing up issues unrelated to what he claims he’s mad about. We’ve been off and on going to our pastor for counseling but he is out of town quite a bit, so that prevents us from going regularly. We’ve had issues off and on our almost 19 years of marriage and I keep praying things will turn around but once I think everything is fine, he starts acting nasty by calling me names, yelling and acts like all of our problems are my fault. I’ve tried some of your advice and it helped somewhat but I admit, some of the measures are very drastic. For instance, my husband has a top security clearance got his job and I feel like if I get the police involved, his job will find out and he could lose his clearance and ultimately his job. He got a DUI two years ago and was up front about it and they told him as long as he followed the program by the book, he would keep his clearance. He did and was successful but I don’t want to see him get in severe trouble

    1. HI Karen, This is a problem we have faced too. I am not in a top security job, but my conviction for common assault has prevented me from many activities that otherwise I would have liked to have been involved in. For instance, I am not able to work with children, at all. So when my kids were in Little Athletics and other sports, I was not able to be involved in any way. I was not able to volunteer to help with a local community event that we had sponsored. I am not able to gain a tourist visa to visit the United States. I cannot attain a Liquor license in the state of NSW, even though that is my work background.
      So, there are major interruptions that have happened because of my own choices.
      It wasn’t Kim’s fault, the law is the law, and consequences are consequences.
      Steve

  7. thanks hopefully this will heelp im not sure if this description fits but i am cdrtinly co dependent and we cannot have a conversation it usually turns into an argument

  8. I have gained so much knowledge from your emails & the programs which I have purchased over time.
    As the Australian dollar is so low – I find that your USA banking is a little too expensive for me to subscribe to your newsletters.

  9. Another great insight! I have been following your advice for about five years now and my life has changed so much. I have been reading many of the other resources that you have suggested
    and have even signed up for emails with Dump your Baggage. I have looked into what it means to be emotionally neglected as a child and have made a lot of changes in my life. I always come back to your sight because it is so straight forward and down to earth. I do enjoy very much the improvements that you and Steve are making and I feel as if I have grown with you. Thank you for being there!

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