So many people who were traumatized as children are haunted by a harsh, empty, loveless feeling – the sense that something HUGE is missing from their lives. A woman said to me “I know you’ll think I’m crazy for holding on to this big HOPE that love is going to save me.”
I don’t think that’s crazy at all. I believe the longing to love and be loved is natural and good. People who hope to find their one great love may have had this wish blocked by traumatic experiences, but the hope is deserved and real, and offers a clue about what you are meant to have in life.
One of the harshest effects of early trauma is the injury to our ability to connect with other people — a chronic feeling that love can’t get IN — or a scared reaction when love does show up, or a set of defenses that block love from ever showing up at all.
Normally there’s a lot to distract us from this longing – platitudes, shopping, vacation plans, work goals, dating apps, weed, meds, money — these don’t set us free from the longing. I get hundreds of letters each month, and most of them are (in one form or another) are about the same thing — instinctive knowledge that we are incomplete in a tragic way because we haven’t fully experienced love.
Just in case you’re still beating yourself up and calling yourself crazy for hoping for love one day, take heart!
I know I’m always saying how critical it is to face reality and to not get stuck in blame and fantasy that completely gives away the control of your own happiness. But real love is not a fantasy. The fact that you long for it needs to be listened to. The emptiness you feel is trying to tell you something.
Facing the emptiness takes courage. Let the tears come if they want to come. Let the awareness come too, of all you’ve had to suppress to cope with loneliness. Ask yourself not just where the loneliness comes from, but why it’s happening now. What would it take to free yourself to change and heal, so that you could, in increasing ways, open yourself to love.
With Childhood PTSD, it’s so common to feel (especially after an experience of loss) like you’re on the outside of love. Like other people are in this world of goodness but you’re stuck outside the gates, like orphans.
But, remember, you can’t be exiled from your own experience.
Alone is always we start, but your healing from all the false ideas that trauma taught you can bring you forward, into being “in love,” by which I mean feeling it, sharing it, knowing it, having the highest experience of it that people can have, at least a little bit in your life.
It’s that full experience of love that everyone is longing for. It’s not really a thing you “do” or you “get”, it’s a state of consciousness that you enter. This is why it feels like a walled city when you’re on the outside of it. Trauma or no trauma, it can be hard to “come in” from that cold place. But love is where we want to live, and it’s worth fighting for.
The emptiness can feel like too much to bear, and you may want to escape or control it somehow. But what if you just let it happen? With all the dignity within yourself, and the safety of knowing you are truly meant to be loved, what if you just faced how it feels right now, while you don’t have it? What if you faced this space in you where childhood trauma stole your natural ability, your instinctive knowledge of how to love, and though you’ve created a lot of good in your life it drove you toward the sorrows and regrets that are now haunting you?
I have good news: There’s still time. Set your sights on what you know you want. This is what I always say to the people who write to me. I want to shine a light on a few myths that need to be set straight, so that even as we take practical, commons sense steps to heal our lives, we aim not at being just commendable or appropriate, but at being fulfilled, and at reaching the place we’re longing for, that we were born to find.
1. Real love is not a transaction, and can’t be negotiated or demanded of anyone.
What you didn’t receive as a child is gone and can’t be replaced by humans. But real love is still here and what shows up in your life is a gift to you from something far more powerful than yourself. The reason this longing for love won’t go away is because you’re made for it, and the reason it is so liberating when it happens is because for once you don’t have to force something to happen. It just… arrives one day, as naturally as hunger or sleep. It’s a transition, a maturation, something like puberty; It takes over and you change, whether you want to or not, but in this case it’s not coming only from the body.
We don’t seem to be able to choose whether love begins. We can choose a lot of things, including many forms of love like duty and service and being part of a family, and taking care of others, and those can go a long way toward healing that emptiness. But that larger love that’s signaling itself through the emptiness you feel, is not something you can make happen. Instead, it makes things happen through you, good things (even though it can make things messy) that ultimately benefit you and the other person, and perhaps everyone.
You can still screw it up. You can distort it and try to turn it back into some kind of negotiation, or get obsessed on it, or destroy it even, because everything good in life can be abused. And if you have Childhood PTSD you’ve already absorbed way more than your share of that. But you can’t take real love out of existence, so long as it’s flowing through you.
It may be inconvenient or terrifying but when it’s happening, even if you’re sensitive and sometimes your trauma makes you overreact, all you can do is your best. Try to be honorable. Don’t be a jerk. Don’t act like an entitled little kid, or like an emotional blackmailer.
You can only do your best, even when you don’t know where it’s going, even if it usually turns out that you don’t get what you want. You’ve been conscripted into the greatest project of all time, to bring more love in the world, and there is no greater good.
2. Don’t set your aim at what you think you’ll likely have to settle for. Set your aim for what you want.
Just because everything in your life so far was a disappointment, doesn’t mean you can protect your heart by setting your sights low. If you’re going to struggle with love, struggle for what you really want. You want the real thing! The REAL thing.
When I ask people what they really want, and they say “a life-partner,” or they say, “a long-term relationship,” or they talk about getting their needs met… I feel sad. You get to want love to turn out the way you want it to turn out!
What you want is The One. You’ll have plenty of chances later to lose them, or to never find them, or to settle for number two, or three or four. There are no guarantees here but I’m telling you, get it clear, what you really want and wear it with pride. Don’t act cool about it. Don’t crapfit; (you know that word, if not, I have a whole video about it).
You got so good at fitting yourself to crap when you’re a kid that you can’t stop — you take a crappy person or situation and in your mind, make it OK, “I can make this work.”
Don’t make it work. Don’t try to hedge your bets and pretend you’re OK with “Whatever” or you’re gonna get Whatever. You’ve been getting Whatever all your life. Is there empty space inside you? Yes? It’s made of whatever.
The only version of you that anyone’s going to fall in real love with is the REAL you. If your Childhood PTSD is mucking that up with a lot defenses and fear and anger and “grabbiness,” then healing your trauma is very likely going help.
3. Don’t let anybody tell you that the idea of perfect love is crazy.
Love is the the most real thing there is; it’s how we are shown spiritual reality, an experience of seeing through God’s eyes if only for a little bit, so that we can, just once at least, feel the oneness with all things. That is the place where our souls live right now, all the time, even though we almost never feel it.
Trauma can tear us out of knowing this, but it can’t actually take it away. You are part of it, and through your love of another person, if you can keep healing and open to it, you can experience it; your oneness.
Maybe you’ve experienced this before. It’s not a trick played by chemistry. It’s your awakening. It’s an intense spiritual experience for anyone, and if you have that trauma in your past, your attachment issues can kick in and you’ll want to grab hold of the fear and unfortunately this can take you out of it.
It doesn’t always work out like you’d hoped, but it expands you and raises you up into who you really are.
I get letters from people — “but you don’t realize… I’m almost 40,,, I’m 51… I’m 67… I’m 75…”
Here’s what I learned from my friend Gladys, who found her great love at age 80, just a few years before she died: There’s still time, and for all you know, the greatest love you could possibly know may still lie ahead for you, especially if you keep healing from what happened in the past.
That longing you feel when you’re lonely, especially now, has a message for you. That it’s real, and it’s pointing the way toward home.
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