Recently while on my morning training run, I thought about mothers, child-rearing, and love. To begin, practically everyone has their own idea of love. A definition found in “A Dictionary of Psychology” defined Love as the following: a typical sentiment involving fondness for, or attachment to, an object, the idea of which is emotionally colored whenever it arises in the mind, and capable, as Shand has pointed out, out of evoking any one of the whole gamut of primary emotions, according to the situation in which the object is placed, or represented; often, and by psychoanalysts always, used in the sense of sex-love or even lust. According to Sullivan, love, in part, is associated with sexual union, genuine intimacy, and care for a member of the opposite sex, and in conjunction with a mutually powerful bodily satisfaction resulting in maturation of self-respect and appreciation of others. More than likely, it is safe to say that these definitions differ from your own. Further, these definition may or may not assist you in understanding that sentiment or feeling of being loved, or exhibiting loving behavior.
Some might argue that within the child development process, the person learns a lot about how someone loves as a result of modeling or imitation, by the behavior of the mother or caretakers. This suggests that we watch and learn how others express loving behaviors. Obviously, showing love is very different than from receiving and being loved. Some may have an easier time giving as opposed to receiving love.
Do not forget that our ego ideal is not just about the idea of removing blemishes, attempting to attain and striving for perfection. Although that’s important, it is not the only aim of the ego ideal. The task or desire is also about receiving affection and being loved. However, exhibiting love or loving behavior is more than likely impossible without the previous experience of being loved. In other words, if you haven’t been loved, what do you know about love; how can you love anything, including yourself? Being loved, or not being loved is a very important dynamic and the base or basis for all future loving or non-loving behaviors.
Let’s begin with the infant. As in the case of humans, the infant is totally and I mean totally dependent on the mother-caretaker. If left alone, the infant has no discernible language, and an absence of small or large motor skills. The infant is helpless. Someone or some object has to totally care for and meet the physical needs- receiving food, shelter, warmth etc. Being held, being fed, having one’s diaper changed, receiving warmth, etc. by the mother is defined as loving behaviors. What about irregular feeding, a breast that dries up, being in an unchanged diaper, yelling at or even spanking a crying infant? These behaviors are unlikely to be classified as loving behaviors. Infants cry, some caretakers vary in the amount of time before they attempt to comfort the irritable infant. Some caretaker’s likely rush to comfort and some likely allow the infant to cry too long. At this time, there is no formula as to what is optimal. Not only that, anxiety or tension begins early and some believe at birth. The message to the infant is mixed. He or she can’t talk, but can only cry. Sometimes there is early success and sometimes not as to when the baby’s needs are met. How does the infant make sense [Ease the tension system or anxiety] of behaviors that adults would call loving, compared to behaviors that adults call non- loving?
During childhood, the infant is no longer as helpless as it now has developed language, as well as the ability to locomote. The growing, developing child becomes more aware and develops strategies for meeting its needs. First, the mother or caretaker’s loving [Feeding, clothing, holding, kissing, tender language, smiling, etc.] behaviors are not unconditional. Mothers get angry, have rules governing behavior and experience many emotions themselves. even though a mother or mother figure, may provide feeding and clothing and even say I love you, the child has to compute these words and her behavior at times with an angry, yelling, and spanking – a mother who was definitely not smiling while disciplining the child. Immediately, or thereafter, the guilty mother may still say “I love you, but I don’t like your behavior.” I contend that those words and behavior are not consonant. In fact, there are mixed messages to say the least. How does anybody make sense out of I love you, but not when you break my rules. This is certainly conditional and doesn’t necessarily mean that I hate you when you don’t obey my rules. Certainly, however the look on the caretakers face tells a story. How and when did the child learn to say “I hate you?” Or what is the message when the mother says “just wait until your father gets home” or “walk behind me, I do not want anyone to know were related.” And more recently, I saw a father pinch his son and pull on his ear. How about this loving expression “I put food in your belly, clothes on your back and the bed to sleep on.” There are so many examples of parents demonstrating “unloving or harsh behaviors” even though they are also telling them that “I love you.”
Number years ago parents did not verbalize to their kids the barrage of “I love you’” which seems to be the mantra of today. Parents of years ago, but not have any trouble disciplining their kids. This suggests that there were more than likely less mixed verbal messages than today. And if this is true, then perhaps children of today are more confused about love and the ability to trust what is said to them. Once again being loved allows the individual to be able to exhibit loving behaviors. And, more importantly, love begins as an unconscious fantasy of being loved. This unconscious fantasy of love has to be mixed up like a bowl of spaghetti for many. Remember, yelling, screaming, belittling and spanking are not good for the child. To tell them that “I’m doing it for your own good” is hogwash. It’s important that words and behavior are not dissonant. Do the kids of today, exhibit more loving behaviors [Not simply saying the words] or are they more self-centered, angry, and engage and exhibit more individualistic escape like behaviors?
Further, the way we exhibit or express our “loving behaviors” is unconsciously or in some cases, conscious, but we want to receive love and approval from the other. Use a mirror to examine how you love so that will put you in touch with what you want from your partner. If you’re practicing a lot of negative expressions or behaviors and calling them love, this is unconsciously what you want to receive yourself. If you are not getting what you want from your partner, take a good look into that mirror.