Too Damaged to Love Again?
Added: Wed. Feb 18, 2009 12:19pm
Posted in: Relationships
By Linda Riley, LMFT and Certified Sex Therapist
The stories I hear daily are often filled with trauma and pain starting in early child-hood and continuing through- out life. How does trauma and early childhood pain affect ones capacity to love? Is it possible to be so emotionally damaged that it leaves one with an impaired ability to love?
There seems to be an increase in the number of people in our culture who exhibit narcissistic personality traits. There may be a difference between narcissistic personality traits and full fledged narcissistic personality disorder, but it is getting harder to diagnose and distinguish. When I was a graduate student narcissistic personality disorder was commonly believed to be present in only about 1 % of the population. The other day I ran across a recent statistical analysis that suggested we are now looking at 1 in 25 people with narcissistic personality disorders.
The narcissistic traits I most commonly see in clinical practice are:
1. the lack of empathy towards partners
2. manipulation and exploitation of partners
3. a sense of entitlement which results in unrealistic expectations of partners
4. Inability to recognize and take responsibility for unhealthy behaviors and choices, which means projecting all the blame on partners
5. A diminished ability to love.
LACK OF EMPATHY STARTS EARLY
I recently attended a conference on Cyber- bullying where the child Psychiatrist stated that the real problem from her point of view was the lack of empathy in children and teens. They appear to lack the ability to feel what the kids that they are bullying are feeling. The field of Infant Mental Health has demonstrated through brain scans of infants that empathy is something that first develops from the infant-mother bond. If for various reasons there are problems with this bonding process, attachment disorders develop. How do we teach empathy if it wasn’t learned or developed in infancy? In our culture today many children are raised in day care centers or left with a variety of child care providers which are not there long enough for any significant attachment to occur. To love another one must first experience being loved. In the past when kids were raised with lots of extended family around to pick up the slack; aunts, uncles and grandparents, there was more likelihood that a child would experience a secure attachment with a primary caretaker. The problem is that if this doesn’t occur the child will have difficulty attaching or bonding to their significant other as well as to their children. Consequently, this is passed on from one generation to the next.
THE KEY TO CONNECTION
At the very core of connection is ones ability to empathize. Good marriages and healthy families are all about connection. The inability to empathize with others also results in a lack of an integrated sense of self. If one doesn’t have a solid sense of who they are they tend not to develop a sense of self-awareness and may feel they are either all bad or all good. Many things can disrupt this bonding process. A mother who is depressed or emotionally not available herself raises a child that can’t connect well emotionally either. If an infant or child is exposed to high levels of fear and stress, like many abused or neglected children, than this can possibly predispose a child to a latter need for recreational drugs or produce an aggressive or self-destructive child. The skills necessary for achieving an intimate relationship are both the ability to be self-aware enough to be in touch with your own feelings and than be able to relate to the feelings and experiences of the intimate partner. Lacking these skills leaves one with a diminished ability to both give love and receive it.
MICROWAVE LOVE LACKS REAL INTIMACY
We live in a fast paced culture and the result is we want everything to come as a quick delivery. Love takes time to develop; it is not a process that can be accelerated. Loving someone deeply requires taking the time to truly know them. But we think we can fast forward the process and begin with sex rather than communication. Like Frank Sinatra advises, in his song “Lets Take It Nice and Easy” we need to slow down and “take all the steps along the way”.
Do we hurry through love, relationships, sex, and life in general because we are too wounded to be willing to take the risk of loving someone deeply or have we just lost the ability to love because we have become too narcissistic and self-centered? Hurrying through life keeps us busy and doesn’t give us time for the necessary solitude we need to be healthy and whole. In other words it keeps us from fully feeling our feelings of loneliness and emptiness.
GIVING UP ON LOVE BEFORE IT EVEN BEGINS
The other day I was talking to a male client who has had a serious of unsuccessful relationships and he actually used the word “DONE” when he was describing how he felt just before ending a relationship. Just simply “I was done” like when you are done with something and you throw it away because it is no longer useful to you. It just struck me as strangely sad that he was referring to women that had loved him. As a therapist that specializes in relationships; I frequently witness how diminished people’s capacity to love is these days. Everyone claims they want someone to love, yet so many mindlessly walk away from love. They just move on to the next relationship or should I say “victim”? What are they looking for I wonder? Why can’t they see the value of the person they are with or the relationship they are in? Why aren’t they willing to stick around and make the effort to create something beautiful and lasting? What happened to “real” love and “real” commitment?
LOSING YOUR HEART- ONE FAILED RELATIONSHIP AFTER ANOTHER
As I watch so many people take partners for granted and under-value a relationship that should be meaningful; I realize that they lose a piece of their heart with every breakup, but they don’t seem to understand this. How many pieces of our heart can we lose and still retain the ability to deeply and fully love. Every time we experience a failed relationship we get scarred even if we don’t recognize it. These wounds make it more difficult to be vulnerable and risk intimacy the next time.
We are all drawn to great love stories but we often are too fearful to write our own. Real love takes the courage to open up your heart; it is always a risk, but a risk well worth taking.
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About the author- Linda Riley is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Certified Sex Therapist, woman's support group leader, divorce recovery expert, and guest lectures for medical staffs around the country. She is a radio and television guest, with over 25 years of experience in marital conflict and intimate communication between the sexes.
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