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By Mariana Weisler

There is a belief that when we are babies, we are perfect. In that tumultuous state of coming alive, our meaning is to just be present and grow in body, mind, and spirit; we are in a place of total, illogical acceptance, which is actually the instinct of self-love.

But many of us transform from those perfect babies into creatures of lovelessness, which (like everything else) we had to learn. This kind of learning can only come from a person who — like us — learned to unlove as a child. Some may be taught by our mothers who can’t love, some by being physically or emotionally abused. Whichever way it happens, we swallow down and accept the deep despair of not being truly loved by others, nor ourselves. As unloved children we become traumatized and confused by love, and therefore aren’t able to love others the way we mean to.

So we must have compassion for the confused, broken-hearted child, as well as forgiveness for the flailing adult. The first step is acknowledgement, by listening to all the symptoms of reenacting the pattern of unloving both inside our hearts, and in our outer lives. Then we can come to consciousness, acceptance, and finally enlightenment. In that space we will finally relearn how to love.

1. Loneliness is your comfort zone.

In unloving yourself, you lose touch with what deep love feels like.You may have caring friends, a supportive family, or an attentive boyfriend, but you can never really feel that encompassing warmth. The response, then, is feeling ultimately detached from those people who love you and utterly alone. This loneliness, however, is not scary to you, and sometimes not even sad. It gives you power, then comfort. It gives you a false sense of control, which allows you to protect from the real despair in this feeling of separateness.

2. You’ve always had a hard time making and keeping honest relationships.

When you can’t love yourself, you need other people to do it for you. This dynamic often plays out within friendships. You can’t settle for casual amiability, hoping it will grow into something meaningful. When you make a friend, you need it to be because the other person sees something inside you truly deserving of love. And even when you do find this rare relationship, it is extremely delicate. You cannot bear the pain of being rejected, so either you cling too hard, or you subconsciously find a reason to end it.

3. You are highly defensive of your flaws.

Being reminded of them can feel so threatening, that you think it could vanquish you. There is no shrugging it off or taking in the criticism. This is because without self-love and acceptance, when someone else condemns something in you that you also condemn (or even worse, that you enjoy), it destroys your precarious status quo. It seems to reinforce your unspoken feeling of being unlovable, and it spirals you down into the loveless pits of your psyche.

4. You are obsessive about your strengths.

The shadow of the former. Since who you are is not worthy of love, what you are must make up for it. As an actor, you must be the most talented; a nurse, the most compassionate; a teacher, the most brilliant. It is not about ambition or atonement or arrogance (which may be the story you made up in your head). It’s you unconsciously striving to prove to yourself that you are worthy of love and affection. When you dole out medals for how “good” you are in your head, you aren’t really loving yourself. You are promoting the perpetual hamster wheel of “earning” love you don’t already feel you have.

5. You are the ultimate self-sabotager.

And the worst part is, you have no idea. You are constantly locked in the dualism of needing love and denying it. Take a look at your life, and question your career and relationships. Investigate whether they are tools to get you the love you can’t give yourself, or if they are genuine expressions of your passions. If they are the former, you are trapped in the cycle of your childhood, and you need the sabotage to reenact the pattern  (trying to earn love, not finding it or it not being enough, self-loathing, and then trying to re-earn it again).

6. Relationships are really, really hard.

“Love yourself first” is the go-to sentiment nowadays, which means that if you don’t love yourself you can’t really love someone else. This doesn’t mean that you can’t try, or even that you can’t make it work most of the time. It means it’s easy to project the lovelessness inside you onto your partner, alleviating a little of your own pain. You harp on their flaws, on their imperfections to love. But true love means forgiving them. Of course, you have a hard time doing this for them, because you can’t do for yourself. On the flip side, any sentiments of non-forgiveness from your partner can rattle you to the point of depression, because someone you care about voicing what’s in your own heart is catastrophic.

7. You may be in an abusive relationship, and you’re the abuser – even if it doesn’t seem that way on the surface.

Carl Jung said, “Generally it is the tortured who turn into torturers.” If you were taught to unlove, you can’t help but teach it too. It’s what you know. If you learned it through physical or verbal abuse, or apathy, or by watching your parent unlove herself, you will replay this pattern unconsciously. You also can’t step away from an abusive partner, because not only are you desperate for whatever scraps of love you can get, but it may even play into the dysfunction of unloving you must perpetuate.

8. You’ve never really believed anyone has ever loved you.

This is key. This is the difference between someone hurting from love and someone who cannot love. Someone with wounds may feel several of these symptoms, but still know deep down he is loved. Someone who has unloved is dubious of anyone who claims to love him, either in the present or the past. Someone loving you without a “reason” is something too strange and unbelievable to accept.

Image: Nathan Congleton 

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