Dr. Jordan explores some of the psychological factors involved in increasing the psychological receptivity to love as human emotion.
Increasing Your Psychological Receptivity to Love
Dr. Thomas Jordan
The best way to apply the ideas in this article is to practice those that are lacking in your life. Most of you are already prepared for love in some of the ways I will mention. The more ways you are prepared for love, the greater the chances of being receptive to love and being able to sustain love when and if it arrives.
To begin preparing for love in adulthood we must first accept that much of what we do in our love lives is learned. To our advantage, if something is learned it can be unlearned and something new relearned.
Many people learn that love is not tolerable or even comfortable as a feeling. They learn to substitute control for the state of mind required to be in love. Now as an adult it is necessary to unlearn these negative love-life lessons and relearn something more compatible with the development of love in our lives.
To be prepared for love in adulthood means learning and practicing a ‘love-life psychology’ that is receptive to a healthy love relationship. Your love-life psychology is your psychological pattern of thinking, feeling, and acting when looking for, committing to, and being in love.
Psychological Receptivity to Love
A healthy and prepared love-life psychology includes an understanding of the feeling of love as a life experience that contains the following characteristics: vulnerability, spontaneity, forgiveness, faith in your capacity to heal, diminished control, and a rational desire to give to others. My list may not be compatible with common views on what is required to manage a love life.
For example, most people believe that there should be far more strategy or control and far less vulnerable feelings when dealing with love. Taking charge and being in control are the proscriptions most commonly given to lovers these days. My concern is that this attitude and the actions it inspires are not preparing people for love as a very specific emotional experience.
One of the hallmarks of love as a human experience is the extent to which a person can feel vulnerable. Of course vulnerable to what is always the next question. A tolerance for the possibility of hurt feelings is certainly a prerequisite for lovers.
Even if you never get to value being vulnerable, when you begin to feel like you need someone the feeling of vulnerability is inevitable. Add this to the potential for disagreement between lovers and you have a pretty sensitive set of feelings.
Nevertheless, vulnerability is an experience that we certainly knew how to have when we were young. Closely related to the experience of love-life vulnerability are other important love-life experiences such as openness, tenderness, sensitivity, and empathy for others.
Allowing ourselves to be spontaneous also helps create receptivity to love. Spontaneity is freedom of thought, feeling, and action. Spontaneity in love is the freedom to be affected by the emotion of love. This is probably what most people mean when they say that love can make you ‘crazy.’ In this case, craziness is spontaneity at odds with conventional behavior.
In love, there is less concern with how other people perceive us. In love a person allows herself to respond to desire more directly with considerably less inhibition. Personality is not always hospitable to love as a motivation.
There is a considerable amount of conformity and control of inappropriate social conduct. Love seeks its guidance from the inside out of our experience, from our own whims, not usually in line with convention.
To be prepared for love is to be comfortable, or at least relatively so, with spontaneity. Put it this way, if you practice setting yourself free from whatever constraints or inhibitions you have in the meantime, you are emotionally preparing yourself for love later on.
Knowing when to let go of something no longer useful or healthy has its advantages in love. Letting go as a love-life skill is often described as a capacity to forgive or on a practical level to separate from a relationship that has expired. When a person lets go he is moving on from an attachment to something be it an idea, a hurt, or the physical relationship itself. In the latter case, too many people settle for an unloving relationship because letting go creates episodes of aloneness.
For people who are unfamiliar with the joys of keeping one’s own company, aloneness is experienced as loneliness and unhappiness. You practice letting go by learning to re-experience aloneness as being with yourself. When you finally realize that you are always in your own company, loneliness is recognized as the illusion it really is.
Related to let go as a love-life skill is the faith a person should have in her capacity to heal. More specifically, a faith in a capacity to heal love-life hurt. It would be naïve to expect that anyone could be in love and not get emotionally hurt from time to time. Since there are always two people in a love relationship differences are inevitable.
Differences mean disagreements, incompatible viewpoints, and differing personal feelings. Knowing that you can heal a love bruise in a relationship worth keeping is very important. Without this type of faith people usually don’t take the risks involved in love. They try instead to feel safe by mixing love with control.
The antithesis of love is not hated but control. In genuine hate, there are always elements of personal attachment and passion. In other words, when you hate somebody you have been hurt by them because there were love expectations there, realized or not. No other emotion has the power and intensity to fuel the passionate feeling of hate. Control is the true nemesis of love. When a person is afraid of love she controls her love life.
This means controlling the impact of personal feelings and the object of love if that is at all possible. When a person practices diminishing control in personal relationships he is psychologically preparing for a better love life. On a practical level this means not controlling feelings and expressions of love when they arise or the person you are trying to love in any way.
Of course, there are always good and rational reasons to desist and stay with what is proper, less visible, or safe. But for love’s sake, you have to learn how to take love-life chances and tolerate the risks involved when you diminish control in your love life.
Let’s not forget the experience of giving. First of all, if you are in a love relationship to get the love you have two strikes against you. Now, why on earth would I make such an unpopular statement? Because the best love has to offer comes when love is given not when it is sought after.
Many people are looking for love because they secretly crave the belated fulfillment of earlier love-life disappointments. The problem is new love can never make up for past love-life disappointment despite the hope many lovers feel. Old love-life disappointments require a grief experience.
They require recognition and tolerance for the fact that something has been lost. When we lose something of value that is irreplaceable the healthy way of coping with this misfortune is to experience the hurt and sadness, grieve the loss, and eventually move on to something else.
Nothing is so precious as to rival the value of an individual person. In love-life matters, if you don’t get the love you feel you need there are always personal resources inside of you to fill in the gap. Fortunately for many of us, this is something that is often realized in middle age. I say better late than never.
The other thing about giving worth mentioning is the fact that what is given may not be what is really needed by a recipient. Sometimes what we give makes the recipient ill or weak. Like when money is given to an addict with the intention of support but only strengthens the addiction through co-dependency. That is precisely why I refer to rational giving. To give rationally is to give with reason, to think about the true need of the recipient and the effects of what you are giving. Sometimes what is needed is commonly associated with not giving as when you say ‘no’ to something requested you know will promote illness. A ‘no’ can be as loving as a ‘yes’ in many instances.
What is given should promote the self-sufficiency of the recipient. Of course in some instances, the recipient may be you. In fact, practicing giving rationally to yourself would become the true source of giving to others.
You can think of giving to yourself as a form of self-care, where preparing for love includes learning how to take care of yourself. Said in another way, your capacity to rationally love another is always commensurate with the degree to which you take rational care of yourself.
Most people still believe in the reality of loneliness. This is nothing more than an incomplete understanding and practice in the area of personal self-care. Once you become practice self-care you realize that you can never be alone.
The aspect of your consciousness that can see yourself is never really shut off in conscious life. In other words, you are literally always in your own company. Whether or not we become fully conscious of this is the issue. When you know it and accept it you can cultivate it.
You can develop your capacity to oversee your own activities in life. Like having a benevolent supervisor looking after us. The deeper you go into this realization the more you see that the truer self is not what you are watching but the observing aspect of yourself.
Loneliness can only exist in situations where we negate the responsibility to take care of ourselves. Once this life-long responsibility is accepted you are free. That of course includes the freedom to love yourself and anyone else you choose.
This concludes our preparation for love as an emotional experience. We can now move on to preparation for love that involves broadly speaking improvements in self-esteem. Love-life self-esteem is made up of self-respect, a realization of individual uniqueness, and a dedication to being your true self.
To be respectful of oneself requires the self-care I mentioned earlier plus a willingness to protect and eventually love oneself.
Care, protection, and love toward one’s own individual self constitute healthy self-respect. When self-care is healthy you look after yourself as a benevolent and compassionate parent would a small child. The responsibility of doing this becomes a full-time job.
Even though other people may be helpful and supportive when needed, the job of self-care can never really be fully taken over by anyone else. The existence of this responsibility signals a level of emotional maturity and preparedness for love.
Self-protection is a common topic of discussion these days. The media usually represents self-protection as a physical requirement portrayed by people who when mistreated rise up to exercise justice and retribution.
The cinema for example entertains with stories of victims getting back at the bad guy. This of course is for the rest of us an inducement to keep the faith alive, that the good guys always triumph, and we should trust in that elusive feeling of personal safety we hear so much about.
In everyday life self-protection can exist in the form of doing what is right in situations of interpersonal abuse or mistreatment, in short, standing up against people who would mistreat you. Unfortunately for some, this is an arduous task they do not feel adequately prepared for. The mistreated often do not know where to simply draw the line that lets people in their lives know where the limits are.
When this is not done or done incorrectly there is always somebody willing to exploit this inadequacy. Self-esteem is feeling good enough about yourself to not let anyone mistreat you. When you know how to do this and trust it, your self-esteem is prepared for love.
Other aspects of love-life self-esteem involve recognizing personal uniqueness and the practice of being oneself. The recognition of personal uniqueness is a love-life skill worth developing in order to appreciate and grow depth in your love relationship.
Realizing that the person you are loving exists nowhere else in the world lends a feeling of uniqueness to a relationship. If we could place a value on human life that value would be determined by the uniqueness of your individuality.
When something is unique its value naturally increases. It can never be replaced once lost. The preciousness of love exists as a recognition that who you are loving exists nowhere else in the world and will never exist again.
The bittersweetness of this understanding can increase the appreciation of love if the inherent sadness of potential loss can be tolerated. To prepare for love in this way you remind yourself of the uniqueness of everyone you know as a daily practice.
Closely related to the recognition of uniqueness is the practice of being oneself. Let’s agree that there is only one of you despite what some people claim is the multiplicity of a single human being. When you divide people up like that with multiple personalities or selves all with a bona fide claim on the psyche you are talking about mental illness or are espousing a fragmented model of human nature.
Human beings have a single individuality present at the time of inception and throughout a lifetime. A person can alter this reality on a more superficial level through the dubious skill of misrepresentation.
They can try being someone else. They can even create false selves and try pawning them off as the real thing. This is entirely possible but not without considerable emotional expense.
More specifically, the cost is our ability to love and be loved. If you are not being yourself, you are not visible enough to give and receive love. What do I mean by visibility?
When you are being yourself, your true self, you feel centered and your integrity is intact. You also have a stronger sense of who you are. Much of this experience is natural and does not require effort. Falseness requires effort and lots of it.
You are sacrificing what comes naturally for something man-made, so to speak. Love is certainly one of those naturally occurring experiences. You don’t make love happen and you cannot control it. You can only lie to yourself and others about it.
As a false self, you are nowhere near the inside source of your love. For that reason, it does not emerge and you cannot give it to another. As a false self, you are nowhere near the source of another person’s love. For that reason, you cannot receive it when and if it is given.
To prepare for love, you must practice being yourself in your life and relationships. In most instances, only you will know whether you are true or false. In some instances, you can use the clues given to you by the reactions of others in your life.
Remember, being yourself in life and love has risks. However, with a little faith in your ability to endure it, you can begin to enjoy the benefits which greatly outweigh the resolvable hurts involved in being yourself.
So far we have discussed preparing for the experience of love and the individuality you must sustain while in love. The final preparation involves your interpersonal expectations of a love relationship. What do you expect from the people you love?
I will make a case that the only expectation that nurtures naturally occurring love is friendship. As a form of human relationship, friendship is the most compatible with love.
My critics might say everybody knows romance is the most compatible interpersonal expectation when love occurs. My counter is to point out that romance is not a relationship. Romance is whatever method lovers have at their disposal to secure the person being loved.
I get you for myself by wooing you through romance. At the beginning of love, relationship romance is particularly pronounced as it should be. If we are talking about a love relationship that endures over time we must talk about friendship.
What are the qualities in a friendship that promote the welfare and development of love? They are equality, freedom, and honesty. True friendship evolves into a relationship that is equal, free, and honest. Friendship promotes depth and endurance in a love relationship.
Unfortunately, many love relationships are not founded on friendship. Lovers commonly reserve romantics for each other and friendship for other people. In many instances, friendship is reserved for people who they are not sleeping with. Friendship may wane as sexual intimacy moves in.
In certain cases, friendship wanes between lovers because of marriage. Two people who enjoyed a sexually gratifying relationship founded on friendship now evolve into a more distant and circumscribed relationship because they exchanged marital vows and have to live the way they were taught in their families of origin.
To prepare for a meaningful and satisfying love relationship, begin practicing true friendship in your relationships with people. Let’s start with equality. What does it mean to be ‘equal’ in friendship with someone?
It means you have some humility and you assume the responsibility that is really your own. Equality in a love relationship means that you are willing to accept 50% of the responsibility for what goes on in the relationship with your partner.
Even if it looks like you or your partner deserves blame, the reality is a shared creation of the experience with that person. This does take some humility because it is tempting to play the blame game and point fingers.
Your capacity to solve problems as they arise in a love relationship will depend upon your willingness to humbly accept your rightful 50% without defensiveness. If this is not possible your ability to learn and grow in a love relationship will be stalled by excuses and arguments.
Practice the democracy of true friendship in your relationships as preparation for love.
What about freedom? Love grows and stays healthy in a relationship that is free. Let’s assume that the antithesis of freedom in love is interpersonal control. When you control your partner you are stifling the love that is possible in your relationship.
Why is love so compatible with freedom? Where there is freedom there is no resistance against external force. The energy that would be invested in defense is now allotted to expressing what is inside of you.
In a free relationship, you are free to express what you think and feel. Free to be yourself spontaneously without fear. When you love someone but are insecure about yourself you may try to control your partner thinking control will solve your security problem.
Sorry, control only creates more problems because of resistance and inevitable resentment. The only hope you have is to give everyone their freedom (including yourself) and see what happens.
If love is there it comes to you and comes out of you, no force of any kind is needed.. If there is no love, you get a chance to work on your insecurity while you prepare for your next chance at love. To help prepare for love, set everyone free in your life including yourself.
The final form of preparation for love is the introduction of honesty into our love lives. Honesty means you have made a commitment to telling the truth about your experience no matter what. No matter what part is the most important part. When a person commits to telling the truth she risks upsetting the recipient(s) of the information.
The upset that can occur has a dual purpose. It’s there to express the discomfort or pain of the listener when hearing the truth and is meant to communicate a threat that a similar response will reoccur if the truth is spoken again.
Now if the upset of your recipient is given the right amount of power (by you) it will succeed in dissuading you away from telling the truth again to that person. If not, you are on your way to an honest and love-filled life.
Why is love so compatible with honesty? When you are honest you inspire trust in your relationships with people. The truth is a rock, you can build on it. It’s reliable and real. There is no betrayal and deception involved.
People say what they mean and mean what they say. Love grows in a climate of honesty and truth. We are living in an age of strategy and manipulation. Interpersonal control appears far more interesting to people than the vulnerabilities of love.
A big part of this strategic lifestyle is dedicated to getting over, known formally as lying.
Lying takes two forms, omission and commission.
When a person lies by omission he is intentionally leaving out the necessary information. When lies occur by commission there is an intentional distortion of the information given. Either way, the truth is obscured and not available by design. Dishonesty always diminishes love.
Preparing for love by committing oneself to honesty is no easy task when you have been practicing deception and manipulation. Especially in love where the emotional stakes are high. A full commitment is required since you really can’t be honest selectively.
Consider the prospect of a partial pregnancy for example.
Certain things in life have to be a full commitment or they are bogus attempts to get over again. People who use so-called honesty to manipulate others are a good example of this limited functioning. As I indicated earlier the trouble is tolerating the reactions of others.
In a world where there is far more personal presentation than honest integrity, the judgment of others would have to be devalued. A commitment to the truth becomes more important than any one individual’s discomfort or dislike.
Truth is so integral to so many human experiences like love, health, and personal fulfillment that the choice to commit to it should be unquestionable. If love is your objective, honesty goes a long way as preparation. The openness alone will draw sincere people to you.
An honest relationship has far more energy and life than the deadened consequences of hiding yourself in a relationship. For a life of love you have to have love of life, so that is why they call it a love life. Be prepared for love. Tell yourself and your lover the truth no matter what.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dr. Thomas Jordan