People who know the value of real love prize it highly, guard it carefully, and don’t take it for granted. Those who are lucky enough to have it in their lives get support, understanding, comfort, pleasure and joy from it–and are even physically healthier.
If you have never had love, or only had it in bits and pieces, or had it and lost it, you know you are missing something. You might think there is nothing you can do about it–but there is.
The bonds of love are fragile and strong at the same time; easy to bruise, but tough to break. If your experience of intimacy has been lacking or very painful, hear this: most everyone has the potential to learn, or re-learn – even you.
It is always surprising when I encounter people who seem to have survived a difficult past with little damage to their emotional capacity; it is as if their souls have escaped what their bodies and minds endured. If you are one of those, consider yourself lucky.
For many people, however, intimacy is something to be wished-for and feared at the same time. A tug-of-war between the loneliness of solitude and the discomfort of closeness is common. If that’s where you find yourself, you know it’s a difficult bind to be in.
The first step toward opening to emotional intimacy is recognizing that there is a problem to be solved; the next step is reaching out for help to solve it. Just as most medical health problems require some form of intervention from an outside source – like a doctor – help is required to facilitate the healing of emotional problems as well.
If you are at the point now where you are ready to reach out, the place to go for help is to therapy. Many people read self-help books and think that is all they need; I disagree. Self- help books are very useful to explain your problems to you in a way that is clear and understandable; they can also steer you in the right direction. However, there is no substitute for the kind of unique experience you will have if you work with another person.
Fears, stereotypes, and a lack of real information still make many people hesitate to seek therapy, when in fact it could be of great benefit to them. This information gap is what prompted me to write the book, SOMEONE TO TALK TO; Understanding How Therapy Heals.
In the book, I explain what actually takes place in therapy, almost like a private window into the experience itself. My purpose is to help people feel comfortable enough with the process ahead of time, to be able to make the first contact.
If you are ready to talk to a therapist, but don’t know who to trust, I’d like to suggest that choosing a therapist should be intuitive. It is important for you to find a person you feel comfortable with, and who has experience with the type of problems you have. Don’t be afraid to shop around. It’s better to meet several different therapists and choose one, than to stay with someone who isn’t right for you.
Learning to love, whether for the first time, or after a long retreat, will involve making changes in three areas: your feelings, your thoughts, and your actions. All of these will be addressed in therapy.
Receiving love will not necessarily be easy for you at first. Just as vulnerability and openness is needed in order to express genuine feelings, vulnerability is also required to be able to let in the expressions of others.
People withdraw from intimacy to protect themselves from the danger of being hurt, or exploited, or left–because they don’t know any other way to protect themselves. But withdrawal is an example of “throwing the baby out with the bath water.” In other words, when you withdraw you don’t get hurt, exploited, or left–but you don’t get loved either.
Once you have learned how to navigate the emotional terrain of love, the benefit of having love in your life will be well worth the risk.