You may remember the Dr. Seuss book, Are You My Mama. A baby bird hatches and cannot find it’s mama, so it asks a dog to help. He is happy to do so, and they go around the farm and ask the cow, horse and others finally finding the baby birdie's mama.
Our relationships are often stunted by this same problem. We all have early hurts that have helped us develop protective modes that encircle our hearts like a mote. As it turns out it may not even be hurt that we have had personally. Scientists have now found trauma in the DNA that has been passed down generationally, even to the fourth generation. It looks something like this: you may have a habit of not letting yourself be loved because your great grandfather had to push down his feelings of fear, despair, and anger while serving in World War II! As a result, we tend to ask those closest to us, “Are you my mama?” or "Are you going to take care of this old pain?" Only most of the time we can't articulate it and it comes is expressed through lashing out in anger or shrinking away in isolation.
If we knew what we don't know then we'd be able to express more healthfully and stop hurting ourselves and others. In order to keep growing we have to find our blind spots and do things a little differently, asking for what you really want in a better way.
Try this little test. Find the three feelings from the top half of the Feeling Wheel that you experience (Feeling Wheel 4.0) and write them down. Now give yourself a minute to feel what those three feelings are like for you. We call this mixing your “coldstone” feelings, because there are not 31 flavors of feelings there are millions, and they are made up from our feeling habits. The feelings in the hub of the Feeling Wheel representing modes that we get “triggered” into by the other feelings.
When you have a good feel for what your three feelings are like for you, stop and remember when you first felt those feelings. Give this a minute to absorb...
Who was there? What was happening? You don’t need to know exactly what was said or done, it is the feelings that matter. And because you have felt them before you have built defenses for these feelings. Those closest to you cannot help but touch those feelings, and when you ask them to take care of them, or protect yourself in subtle and complex ways, you end up getting the same results you have always gotten. Oftentimes finding relationships ending badly not understanding why.
These are outdated modes of operation. We all have them, and by ourselves we may never even know they exist like they do.
We have worked with thousands of clients, and most of them were self-sabotaging their potential for finding, building and healing love. Over and over again.
What it takes, the thing that works every single time, is forgiveness. (Notice the center of the wheel.) Just probably not the way you have been doing it. And of course it is not just forgiving, it is learning how to have boundaries and communicating well. And perhaps most importantly, reminding yourself that you have chosen to forgive.
And forgiving yourself and finding that you are worthy is the best thing anyone could do for themselves and their partner.
For me, when Marla came to visit two months into our relationship I took her to Griffith Park Observatory overlooking Los Angeles. I turned toward her, and seeing the light of the city in her eyes I saw clearly that she loved me. I mean really loved me. I felt totally loved and adored by her.
What do you think I said? First it felt like a long time…. We kissed. I looked back at her and started to stammer a little….“I, I, I'm not ready for a relationship.”
She stepped back and stomped her foot. “Why did I fly all the way from Arizona to see you?” I was dumbstruck. If it had not been 1987 I am sure she would have flown home that night. As it was we were committed to have her stay at my house for a week. We ended up really falling in love, and while this was a warning sign of future trouble, it was the best thing that had ever happened to both of us. The skills and forgiveness that led to me being able to receive her love without freaking out came later.
Now, back to the trauma in your DNA. You may be struggling with issues that are a hundred years old! What the what? But fear not, you do not have to let these old modes keep you from happiness. The solution is a simple, consistent process we have been doing for over twenty years. Singles find lasting relationships, and couples heal and grow more intimate than ever even if there is serious hurt, or even a separation. It starts with the exercise above. Finding, building and healing love is just a matter of consistent practice of a few minutes a day with the right tools.
This Valentine's Day has come. It will be gone fast, and I dare you to love more than ever! Use the opportunity this holiday presents to have a better conversation, even if it is with yourself, about how much love you can tolerate. And know that you can love and be loved better than ever! All it takes is to be willing to change your old modes and open your heart to the possibility of being loved for who you are, not just what you do.
Take advantage of our Valentine's Special:
Jami Keller is Cofounder of Passion Provokers, and author of Silhouette of a Man: From Fear to Power and Coauthor of How Men Make Women Crazy and Visa Versa: Ending the Madness with his wife and coaching partner and wife of 28 years, Marla