Love is, first, an Inside Job
Two weeks pass and Julie feels confident she has absorbed the definition of romantic love and its implications.
“What appealed to me,” she said, again in Dr. Braun’s office, “were the words ‘mutual appreciation and acceptance.’ Applying it to Joe and me would mean that Joe would recognize my value, my judgment, my significance.
I feel good about that because I deserve appreciation as his partner. And I deserve to have the love and respect I show him extended in return,” she said with conviction.
Dr. Braun smiled, “Yes, Julie. You’re on the right track. Love is a reciprocal process.”
“What’s wrong?” Dr. Braun reached for tissues from the box on the table. Handing them to Julie, she said, “Something we’ve just said is troubling you. What is it?”
“I don’t know. The strangest feeling just washed over me. I felt dizzy, disoriented like I felt that night when Joe walked out. That night when something frightened me inside.”
“Something like an anxiety attack?” asks Dr. Braun. “Did you develop feelings of doubt concerning what you deserve from your relationship with Joe? Are you doubting your self-worth? Do you fear his rejection?”
Staring at the picture on the wall, Julie tapped the arm of the chair, her mind racing in conflicting directions. “Of course not! She raised her voice. “I feel good about myself. I’m a professional competent woman.
It’s just that men don’t readily make commitments today. You can’t rush them. Joe’s very busy you know. Maybe he gives me all he can. Maybe I should be more understanding. More tolerant. You know, I have put on a few pounds, maybe if . . .”
“Do you realize what’s taking place here? Do you? Initially, you felt so confident and voiced your right to be loved and appreciated. Suddenly, whether you believe it or not, you questioned your worth. You said ‘Am I worthy enough? Am I attractive enough? Do I deserve his time? Am I as important as his other activities? What right do I have to ask more from him? Isn’t his career more important than mine?’
You’re putting him on a pedestal and convicting yourself to lie at his feet, willing to take whatever scraps of time and attention he offers. Is that what you want?
“How can you expect Joe to appreciate you if you don’t appreciate yourself? You are second-guessing your values, your judgment, your significance. If you second guess yourself, how can you expect he would do any less?”
“Are you suggesting that I am somehow my own worst enemy?”
“Julie, let’s talk first love and then you answer that question yourself.
“First love is self-love. Without the love of self-first, one cannot confidently give and receive love. Only when we realize who we are, and accept ourselves, can we understand how to integrate the love of someone else into the rest of our existence.”
“Oh, no. Don’t tell me this will be a lecture on the value of self-esteem.” Julie shook her head agitated. “I’ve read the self-help books and some of them are helpful, but I thought these sessions would be different. Don’t take offense, but I don’t need this. Besides we’re in the here and now. Right now. And I want to deal with the essence of today. Not looking back twenty or thirty years ago to my childhood.”
Leaning forward, looking straight into Julie’s eyes, Dr. Braun said, “OK. Let’s talk reality here and now. The reality of Julie Shannon. Who are you deep inside? What makes you tick? What are your goals, strengths, talents, perspectives, ideas, likes and dislikes? What would you need in your life to balance out your weaknesses and promote personal growth?
“Here,” she handed Julie a notebook. “As a first step, I’d like you to take this and develop a self-profile.”
Julie looked at it and placed it on the table. She stood extending her hand and said, “It was nice meeting you but I think this was a mistake,” she turned and headed toward the door.
“What are you afraid of, Julie? Dr. Braun called out. “Self-exposure frightens because the vast majority of people feel inadequate, unworthy, unimportant. They would rather become dependent, exploited, dominated or subservient than rely on their own worth. Is that true in your case?”
Julie spun around. “Are you implying I’m weak?”
“No, Julie. “She walked over and touched her shoulder. “Please sit back down. We’re two intelligent adults seeking answers. The only way we find answers is to question ourselves and not fear the answers. Remember I told you we start with the basics. Now take a deep breath and relax.” Julie settled down as Dr. Braun continued.
“I mentioned self-love is the first love of all because often lack of self-acceptance causes desperation. This desire for love at any cost can blind one into settling for so little in return. Desperate people latch on to someone, sometimes anyone, whom they feel will make them happy.
They do this because they fear self-direction. They fear the responsibility of relying on themselves alone. That’s self-deception. Because finally, we are all alone anyway. Each one of us is alone.”
“No one wants to be alone,” Julie said, her voice rising. “I mean there comes a point when we all want to find that someone special–not become little old ladies, alone, sitting in rocking chairs with nothing in life but bingo and the ‘The Price is Right.’ That image frightens me.”
“Nonetheless,” Dr. Braun continued, “whether we are a couple, we are all alone. Each one of us is alone. You see, before being a couple, before marriage, each person was a lone individual. And even after becoming a couple, you remain a lone individual. You can run, but you can’t hide from this reality.
“When you emerged from the womb, attachment to your mother was severed by the cut of the umbilical cord. You entered the world alone, no longer attached to another human being. You are separate and distinct. Separate and alone.
“You are separate because life’s subsequent experiences and exposures molded your uniqueness. You are unlike any other living being in the universe. Your perspectives, your sensitivities, your contributions, your talents are all exclusive. There will never be another you.
“You are alone in the sense that no one can think for you. No one can feel for you. No one can live for you. And no one can give meaning to your life but you. No one! That fact may terrify but it is the reality.”
Julie cocked her head, eyes squinting.
“Julie, I can see by your facial expressions that this thought of aloneness troubles you. Let’s talk truth here. Look deep inside and ask yourself this question: “Am I holding onto an unhealthy relationship with Joe just to have a man? Because you fear being alone?”
Julie shuddered and bit on her lower lip.
“Sometimes,” Dr. Braun continued, “this fear causes otherwise secure women desperately to grab hold of a man as if waiting for rescue by him. Not necessarily for financial support, but for the love we all desire. Now that I have someone, they reason, everything will be all right. I am loved. And then they will do everything possible to hold on.
Sadly, if the balance of love isn’t right, the woman craves seeking his approval, demanding constant attention. And settling for so little in return. When that is the case, the relationship heads for failure because her level of self-esteem is too low.”
“Wait,” said Julie. “I’m telling you, I don’t suffer from low self-esteem. I have the utmost confidence in my talents and abilities. “
“I’m not referring to you per se, but try to understand what I am saying in the context of your reaction today. Often, women feel confident about their jobs or careers, but when interacting with the opposite sex, they are not so sure.
Love can be complex and sometimes when people become emotionally involved, they can lose their bearing. All reason flies out the window, especially when in danger of losing the object of their affection.
They can end up doing something or saying something they wish they hadn’t, even making fools of themselves in their own opinion. All that turmoil and stress can adversely affect their level of self-esteem.
Our level of self-esteem affects every aspect of our life. It affects whom we choose to fall in love with and it affects our behavior in the relationship—for better or for worse. Those with low levels of self-esteem drain life from the other and sabotage love because of their lack of self-confidence and internal insecurities. The partner picks up on insecurity, and in time, the relationship collapses. Without an even balance of self-esteem between both, love cannot survive.
A person with high levels of self-esteem accepts that no matter how much love and caring exists between two people, each is responsible for themselves. The mature person is not waiting for a savior and does not place unnecessary, unhealthy burdens of dependence on her lover. She is confident in her own ability, worth, mind, and judgment. She remembers she is the prized partner.
Pausing now, Dr. Braun leaned back in her chair and gestured broadly. Her serious tone gave way to her signature upbeat tempo and radiant smile.
“Aloneness is positive because it enables you to become confident and self-reliant. Aloneness entails self-responsibility, relying on your own inner resources for happiness rather than looking for someone else to make you happy. Happiness, some say, is an ‘inside’ job. When you accept this responsibility for yourself, you build self-esteem.”
“When individuals in a relationship accept their own aloneness, wonderful positive adventures into intimacy blossom. Because she accepts her aloneness—that allows her to respect his aloneness. She appreciates his need to be alone sometimes. To be occupied sometimes. To be preoccupied elsewhere sometimes.”
“She does not become obsessed with the fear of losing him. She allows him ‘space’. And this ‘space’ generates an atmosphere in which love thrives. Allow space and love grows. Smother space and love dies.”
“So, the first step is to recognize your aloneness. The second step is to learn to love this unique individual you have just discovered—YOU! As you love yourself, your level of self-esteem rises. And your chances of finding love increase tenfold.”
“Ohhhh, tenfold?” Julie mocked. “You promise me a tenfold increased chance at love?” I’m going to hold you to that!” They laughed.
“Seriously Julie,” Dr. Braun picked up the notebook and handed it to her. “Work on these two profiles. First, develop a profile that describes you. We will then use it later in the selection process to identify the man most likely to offer you the love and commitment you desire. Completion of these two profiles is key to the Selection Process.”
“Why not?” Julie said, accepting the notebook.
“Take your time to complete it. Give it some serious thought. Let’s meet again a month from now to discuss the importance of the ‘Selection Process’.
They embraced and, as Julie reached the door, Dr. Braun asked, “How do you feel about group sessions? On the last Thursday of every month, a group of four or five meet for lunch at the Olive Garden on Howe Road, the one on the north side, up near Chapel Hill Mall. The topic for discussion asks ‘Should Opposites Marry?’ Interested?”