“We come here (literally) reaching for intimacy and love. But it seems soon after our arrival, we’re made to believe that they’re luxuries not necessities.” ~ Rashod Ollison
I used to be so ashamed of my loneliness and my insatiable hunger for love. I believed my emotional deprivation was an anathema to desirability. Contemptuous of my longings, I convinced myself that being aloof and self sufficient was what others valued, especially men. So I would pretend to not require tenderness, affection and adoration. I broadcasted that I was independent (which I was) and fine being alone (which I wasn’t).
It’s not surprising that pretending failed me time and time again. After all, we can’t be what we’re not, and denying oneself is both painful and disingenuous. It simply doesn’t work.
What did work was reframing my troublesome cravings as inherent life affirming needs.
Once I compassionately redefined my unmet needs as intrinsic desires that failed to be gratified by my mentally ill parents, I began to reclaim my right to honor what I was denied. This established a critical trajectory to healing core attachment injuries. It allowed me to love the wounded feral child who hid behind a veneer of shame based adult decorum. It allowed me to responsibly engage with that part of me that had acted out my rabid desperation with mind altering substances and reckless attempts to acquire intimacy.
The basic fulfillment of safety and connection is part of one’s birthright. It is as ancient as time itself. When essential needs for basic care, protection and bonding are denied by one’s caregivers, an ambient state of urgency ensues. Annihilation panic sets in. When this deprivation is coupled with chronic abuse, terror and helplessness take hold. Identity formation is stymied and a reliable sense of autonomy within connection is ruptured.
This traumatic attachment imprint left me broken and fearful of what I longed for the most.
From this place, safe and appropriate boundaries could not be established. As a result, patterns of intense, unstable relationships occurred in which dramas of rescue, injustice, and betrayal were repeatedly enacted. Hence, I was at further risk of repeated victimization in my adult life.
My intimate relationships were driven by a desperate longing for protection and love, and simultaneously fueled by fears of abandonment and exploitation.
This intractable pattern mortified me. I felt debased and humiliated. As a result I blamed myself. I also leveled absolutist scathing judgements on men. This self-defeating defensive posture promulgated bottomless shame and self loathing that further mobilized a false self designed to conceal my inner truth.
The truth was I was starving for love and I hated myself for needing that which I didn’t feel deserving of.
Humanist psychologist Abraham Maslow created a five stage model delineating a hierarchy of needs encompassing the physiological, needs for safety, love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualization. The fulfillment of each stage motivates the attainment of the next stage in the hierarchy. Not having my primal needs for shelter, food, financial security and a safe home environment met, made the gratification of love and belonging especially problematic.
Tragically, as I came to know, the unwanted, rejected and hated child became stunted. I felt doomed to despise myself. Breaking out of this trap necessitated my establishing my most essential needs and embarking on a recovery process that would help me to attain love and belonging, esteem and even self-actualization.
Moving out as a teenager, acquiring jobs, financial aid, bank loans and enrolling in college and eventually graduate school was a cake walk compared to satisfying my emotional and spiritual needs. I was required to first unlearn and dismantle that which hindered me from receiving.
Reparative relationships with clinicians, friends and a romantic partner who by sheer chance turned out to be a loving human being, encouraged me to challenge deeply held feelings of disdain towards my unrefined childlike longings for love, warmth, affection, and support. Processing the cringe-worthy humiliation of groveling for the most essential source of nourishment was grueling, but necessary. It eventually allowed me to own with conviction that what I viewed as a weakness was in fact a tremendous strength. I was never meant to be alone. None of us are. It is the essence of our humanity to love.
This journey brought me full circle to a place of peaceful co-existence with my strong needs for nurturance and dependency. By accepting I was born into a raw deal, I was able to accept that it was my responsibility to honor my needs as never before.
Paradoxically, acceptance of these needs grounded me in the the security of discernment and discrimination. Rather than be driven by urgency to fulfill these needs I am intelligently guarded about my vulnerability. Honoring what I loathed ultimately led me to fully receive that which I felt humiliated by and undeserving of. It allowed me to reclaim and celebrate the natural healthy impulse to love and be loved. That achievement began with having the courage to love myself just as I am.