LOVING VERSUS DESTRUCTIVE RELATIONSHIPS AND DISCERNING THE DIFFERENCE
by Lawrence Wilson, MD
© August 2012, The Center For Development
Love is a universal force that pervades human thought, human emotion and human life. However, much confusion arises about what love is and what it should look like. This article addresses these important matterss.
WHAT IS LOVE?
Some will say love is sex or romance. Others say it is patience and caring for others. Still others say it is actually a form of possessing another person or when one spoils one’s children. However, there is more to love than this.
An energetic definition. Love is, first of all, an energy that pervades all of space and time. Call it etheric, Source, universal energy, God, or something else. It gives life to all things, including to us. It also illuminates the sky, keeps the planets in their orbits and allows all that is. A Course In Miracles, an interesting book though a blasphemous one for some Christians, says that “God is love”. “Love allows all things, embraces all things and thereby transcends all things”. This is a rather fancy way of saying that love is everything and a force in the universe.
This is love in an energetic sense. However, in this article I want to focus on personal, human love rather than this rather esoteric or theoretical energetic concept of love. For much more detail on the perspective that “God Is Love”, read The Real Self on this website.
LOVE = CARING PLUS COMPETENCE
This was a formula given to me by the owner of a wonderful summer camp where I spent six summers as a camp counselor. I want to explain the meaning of this equation, so to speak. It basically means that to love someone requires at least two elements or factors. The first is caring.
Caring. Caring means that one has the other person’s interests at heart. It does not mean that you put that person’s interests before your own, necessarily, although it implies this to a degree. Caring for someone or something means you are willing to sacrifice a little selfishness, a little of your time and energy, and perhaps money, sex, or whatever to either please another or go out of your way for another in some way. When we care for our children, it means we are willing to forego some of our selfish indulgences so that we have more time, more energy, more money, more skills, perhaps, for our children. This is the meaning of caring.
Competence. By this, the camp director meant that one must also have knowledge or wisdom in order to love another properly. This is often the harder quality to develop. It means, for example, that loving your children does not mean giving them all the toys they want, or letting them stay up late at night, or allowing them to speak disrespectfully to you or to anyone. It means knowing when enough is enough, and it is time to be firm and direct with someone, even though you care deeply for him or her. It means knowing when to leave someone whom you love, truly, but who is behaving in a way that is dangerous or somehow incompatible with you. All this is what is meant by competence or knowledge.
COMBINING CARING AND COMPETENCE
Combining these two elements helps us to have a better idea what love should and does look like. Love is not just caring for others, and it is not just knowledge of another or wisdom. It must have this multidimensional and multifactorial aspect that one is caring, but also knowledgable and wise, so as to act in the best way possible in every moment of every day. This is how I would describe loving behavior.
WHAT DOES LOVE LOOK LIKE?
The answer is, it can look very different depending upon the circumstance. Just as with raising children, which is something many are familiar with, love can be tender and sweet. However, at other times, real love must be harsh and direct. This is sometimes called tough love. It is all love. If one cannot be harsh and direct, then one is not totally loving, because most of us need someone to be this way with us at times, when we step out of line, so to speak, or get off our path. So real love is not all about hugs and kisses, though this may occur, too.
I need to say this because the Hollywood version of love that is all over the television, radio and other media does not include tough love, and often is so superficial and lacking in wisdom that it is little more than sentimentality, sex, silly romance and the like. In other cases it is even worse, meaning that love just means possessing another person, as you would love a dog or a glass of beer. This is not love, but attachment. The difference is worth exploring.
ATTACHMENT VERSUS LOVE
Love, as stated above, is about radiating a certain energy to another that combines caring and competence or knowledge. Attachment is when you view another person as somehow attached to you, so that when the other does something you don’t like, you react badly, as though you did something wrong.
Sometimes one feels attached to another through family ties. This is the most common form of “love” that is not really love. It is merely family attachment. Another common form of attachment is sexual in nature between men and women. One really believes that one is incomplete without one’s sexual partner. This way one is “attached” to form a whole person. If this person disappoints you, or worse, leaves you, then you feel lost, broken apart or depressed because part of you has gone away. These are symptoms of attachment.
WHAT IS HEALING THROUGH LOVE?
Love can heal bodies and minds. This is well known and there are many examples of it in the bible, and in all of literature. How does this work? Basically, when someone loves you truly, it reminds you how you are to treat and care for yourself. That is how it works in simplistic terms.
It is possible that the physical caring of the other person – bringing you food, making your bed, and so on – is the healing factor. However, often it is not about these physical acts. It is more about the feelings that being cared for generate within the person being loved. Suddenly the person feels loved, we say, which means one feels truly cared for, looked after, respected, honored and appreciated.
Unfortunately, some people are so used to being “honored” and “appreciated” in the wrong ways that when another really loves and honors one, the person does not interpret it correctly. For example, let us say you are ill and need to sleep. Your loving parent or partner might say, “You know, you should go to bed right away”. Instead of realizing this is evidence of deep love, the person may say or at least think, “Why don’t you leave me alone and mind your own business?”
This example is important because it is the cause of the breakup of so many relationships today. One person may truly love the other, but the other misinterprets the love as control or bullying or nagging. This is truly sad, and very common. That is why I am pointing it out.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN DESTRUCTIVE BEHAVIOR AND LOVING BEHAVIOR THAT JUST LOOKS OR FEELS DESTRUCTIVE?
Sometimes another person is out to destroy you. Sometimes they act sweetly and do it through deception and seduction. Other times they are obviously trying to harm you. Love can do the same, so it can take some practice to see the difference, and none of us are perfect at discerning destructive requests versus loving ones.
A wise person attempts to always check carefully when apparently nagged or bullied. He or she must always ask, “Am I being told this to destroy or harm me, or does this person care for me enough to risk our friendship or relationship to tell me what I need?”
This is the crucial question that must always be asked whenever anyone asks you to do something in a relationship setting, or even a work setting or some other. It is a hard question for many people to ask, as they feel they are perfect and don’t need to be told what to do. They may think they already know, or it is not important.
Students need to ask this question as well, as some teachers are just nasty bullies, while others, who may seem harsh, actually love the students enough to make them do their homework, for example, or make them redo their paper better.
I am reminded of an army movie. The sergeant teaching the new recruits must remind them that following orders is important and their life may depend upon it. That is not idle bullying. It is training the men and women, perhaps, so they react instinctively in a way that might save their lives. But it can sure seem as though the sergeant is just bullying and nagging to “put down” the recruits.
Detecting the difference between nagging, bullying and loving, when it is aimed at you, is never an easy task. If you are lucky, you realize when spoken to that you needed to hear that, and it was a loving gesture. However, most of us cannot do this very often. Here are some ideas as to how to tell the difference:
1. When asked to do something, learn not to be defensive. In other words, don’t just react. In other words, don’t just come back and say “Mind your own business” or some such response. Learn to relax when nagged, so you can look into the matter more deeply.
2. When asked to do something, particularly in a relationship setting, do not exaggerate it in your mind. A common response to the wife asking the husband to take out the garbage or mow the lawn is “You are always telling me what to do”. This is an exaggeration that usually stops or harms communication and often ruins relationships. Words like always, never, and exaggerations of all kind have this effect upon communication.
3. When asked to do something, do not just do it out of resentment. In other words, think about the request and perhaps ask questions as to why, when, how much and so on. Some people react to loving, or nagging, by stuffing their feelings of hurt or resentment and just doing what they are told. This is dangerous. Sooner or later, it usually causes a rebellion, or causes depression and cancer eventually. This is well known in some medical circles.
4. When asked to do something, do not take anything personally. This is the hardest thing. It means, try to evaluate the request in non-personal terms. Think, for example, is this best for me and best, in general. If someone needs to take out the garbage, is it okay to do so, or is this person just using the garbage to make me do what he or she says. Try to figure this out in an impersonal way.
For example, taking out the garbage or cleaning the cat litter is necessary, and someone needs to do it, and if I am available I guess I can do it. Mom or dad work hard and are busy, so I guess it is good to go along. This is an example of how to think about a request impersonally.
5. When asked to do something, do it promptly, but not hurriedly. This is important as it has to do with your attitude. If you do it half-heartedly, angrily, resentfully, or sloppily, it means you have not thought about it carefully. If you catch yourself doing this, rethink the whole thing, start over and do it again. It is fine to do the dishes over again if you just thought you could get away with doing them sloppily. Even take the garbage out again, if needed, so your attitude is correct.
6. When asked to do something, say “Thank you for telling me that”. Even if you don’t intend to follow through with the request and do it, say thank you for telling me that. This is also about developing a good attitude and learning not to resent or be angry with others who ask you to do things. It will help you to think through the request, and what it means, and so inquire of yourself if it is coming from love or from nagging and bullying and controlling.
7. When asked to do something, instead of reacting, ask yourself “Does this make logical sense? This is not a foolproof way to assess if it is coming from a loving place, but it helps. If the request does not make sense, ask why. This may help to clarify it, or it may help you decide that the request is actually just destructive or selfish on the other person’s part in some way.
In other words, when asked to do something, try to use your logical mind to respond, rather than just have an emotional response of “Leave me alone”, or something else.
8. When asked to do something, try to assess if this request is part of a pattern. If it is, ask yourself if the pattern is more likely to be loving and caring for you, or destructive for you.
For example, if a young woman notices that her boyfriend or anyone just wants her to go to bed with him for sex, or just wants to do other things he likes to do that she does not care for, then such requests form a pattern, and most likely it is a destructive pattern for her.
If, however, you notice that a friend of yours always seems to look at you and asks that you go to bed earlier, or eat better, that, too, is a pattern. However, you must also realize that maybe it is a loving pattern, designed to remind you that you do not care for yourself well enough and need to change.
9. When asked to do something, look for someone to consult who really cares about you. This could be a parent, but often it needs to be someone else. It could be a friend who is older and of the same sex, but not necessarily. It could be a professional such as a doctor, pastor, or counselor, but not necessarily. Make this person your mentor in these matters to help you learn how to handle requests.
10. When asked to do something, go off by yourself. Get very quiet. Turn off the music or other distractions. Close your eyes and go within. Ask for guidance, for truth and for wisdom in deciding what to do. This is a wonderful exercise that may not work at first, but can offer amazing benefits over time, with repeated practice sessions.
11. When asked to do something, when possible, sleep on it. This means to wait before answering if you are not sure what to do. Give yourself time to ponder the idea, rather than feeling you must answer immediately. Your real friends will wait for you to decide. Beware of anyone who puts pressure on you for an immediate answer, as this is not loving. Most everything can wait for a day or two.
12. When asked to do something, immediately forgive the person if the request seems nasty, bizarre or hurtful in any way. Never hold on to grudges and resentments. They always hurt you the most.
13. Read the Ten Commandments of the bible often. Memorize the Ten Commandments. They are a good basic guide to responsible behavior. Do not do anything that contradicts them. To understand them better, read the article on this website called The Ten Commandments. Also read, Creed For Modern Living, both on this website.
14. When asked to do something and you are under age 18, do not ask your friends about it. They are not good guides in almost all situations. They simply lack experience. Even older friends in their twenties generally are not that wise. People are generally smarter after age 30 or so, though not necessarily.
15. When asked to do something, an interesting way to help evaluate the request is to sit quietly and move energy downward from the top of your head to your feet. This should feel good. Then consider the request and try to feel how it affects this downward flow of energy. If it upsets it, the idea is probably not a good one. This is not foolproof, but can help in some situations.
16. When asked to do something, realize that if you are not healthy you will not be able to evaluate the request as well as you can. This is why eating well, sleeping plenty, and making sure you drink plenty of water and take some nutritional supplements can be most helpful. Working on your health can help you make much better decisions in your life. You will be smarter, with a better memory and better ability to process information and understand it.
17. Realize that sometimes a parent or other person who wants to “control you”, or even bully you, to a degree, can be helping you and loving you. It could even save your life. This one is also hard to fathom, especially for young people who are just learning to “feel their power”, as some say. However, it is true. If mom or dad takes the car away, or says you may not go to a certain party, this is control. It may even feel like bullying. However, it can also be loving. Here is why.
A parent knows he or she cannot allow a little child to run into the highway or into the ocean waves. If it takes a little bullying or nagging to remind that child, this is loving. Sometimes, however, it is more subtle.
A father who wants his son or daughter to grow up strong knows that if he is too kind and sweet all the time, his child will not be prepared for the rigors of the workplace and the competitive marketplace. So he may set up tests, and he may bully and nag, at times, to toughen his child. This may seem cruel, but it is really loving. This is the idea of basic training in the army, for example. How can one prepare to be in a war if everything is sweet and gentle, when this is not the reality that one is preparing for?
These examples are important. All of us must face certain challenges. Those who love us must test us, challenge us, at times, toughen us, and push us out of our comfort zone if we are to succeed. Anyone who says this is not true is not centered and grounded.
This does not mean bullying or nagging to the point of causing a nervous breakdown in the person, or causing emotional trauma. This is where the competence and wisdom comes in. It means that one must sometimes challenge and push others whom one cares about to see where they are , how much they know, and what they can handle. This is only done to help them mature so they can handle more responsibility, for example, or more difficult situations in the future.
THE ULTIMATE END OF REAL LOVING
The ultimate goal of real loving, no matter what it looks like or feels like, is to force a person to move forward in his or her life. This is essential, and this is the real difference between loving another and just bullying or nagging for the sake of harming others - often done, by the way, in the name of “love”.
Real loving may look tough or even cruel, at times, but it is always carefully calculated to move a person forward in his or her spiritual development. It is always a “teaching moment” and nothing more.
Idle and destructive bullying and nagging lack that quality. Here it is just another ego butting up against yours to see who is stronger. Its goal is the opposite – to slow you down, or put you down. There is no love at all, in fact, in this common behavior. It is the opposite of a teaching moment because it is thoughtless. Too often it is said or done “in the name of love”. Sometimes the destroyer will say “Because you love me, do what I tell you”. This is not love, but manipulation.
Children, in particular, must struggle with this all the time. Learning the difference is the key, and not easy. However, by following the nine suggestion outlined above, you will be far more able to move through life and recognize real love when it comes to you, and also to know when to run away from destroyers who may whisper loving words in your ears but who do not truly love you. In other words, they are not combining compassion and wisdom in their dealings with you.