We all find ourselves looking for love. From the time that we are born, we seek connection with others whether it be spouses, friends or family. What is it that we are really seeking?
We want to be seen
One of the most meaningful things anyone can ever say to us is “I see you.” This is love. Love means seeing that person in your life and appreciating them for who they are. It means appreciating their strengths, tolerating their weaknesses, sharing their joys and sorrows. It means accepting the person in their entirety for all the things that makes them who they are. Sometimes when we break up, it can feel quite rejecting. “I thought they knew me. I thought they loved me.” It can feel like your very essence has been rejected.
We want to be heard
We all have a need to feel heard. We don’t need everyone we know to listen to us, but we need those we love and cherish to hear us and understand the meaning in our words. We all need those we love to hear what we say and validate that our words are not silly.
Child: I am afraid of the monsters under the bed.
Parent: Don’t be ridiculous. Go to sleep.
Partner 1: You don’t spend time with me.
Partner 2: I see you all the time.
In both cases, the person will not feel like their words were heard or validated. They will feel rebuffed and unloved. Instead, there are loving phrases that will help:
I hear that you must be …
I understand that you feel …
We want to be valued
Each of us has a need to feel like we “matter” to someone. As mammals, if we were not valued and part of the herd, we were prey. Basic survival mode explains why we get anxious or sad when we don’t feel part of a group. It is basic biology. But in modern day, what do we really mean when we want to be valued? We want:
Attention: Someone to care enough to prioritize us so that they make time for us in their lives.
Respect: We want to be treated with respect. When I am respected, I feel valued by that person.
Trust: When someone shares their stories, their stuff, and their life with you, you feel trusted and it makes you feel important and essential to that person. In romantic relationships, when you get nude with the other person, it is the ultimate trust. You are revealing yourself to that person. You are trusting them to accept you as you are.
First, we must love ourselves
Sometimes we all want love so badly that we resort to unhealthy ways to get this need met. Before we can expect others to see us, hear us and value us, we must learn to see, hear and value ourselves. We must love ourselves. Finding love starts with becoming someone that can love. It starts with us.
When working with new patients, I often have them begin journaling using CaseKeepers. By reading their thoughts, feelings and emotions between sessions, I can quickly learn how they feel about themselves. As it turns out, many people that are feeling lonely or unloved, don’t love themselves. They would never talk to their best friend with the harsh words and judgement that they write about themselves. I ask them, “How would you like to feel?” Through cognitive shaping, I teach them to talk to themselves with love and respect. I encourage them to tell themselves things that make them feel how they would like to feel. Over time, they learn to trust in themselves and love themselves. And when we love ourselves, others see that and start to love us as well. And when we love ourselves and have relationships end, we can still feel seen, heard and loved. We don’t overly attach or obsess about others. We KNOW that we matter!
Read a previous blog for more information on cognitive shaping, “Doing CBT Backwards: Using Journaling to Change Thinking.”