By Lloyd J. Thomas, Ph.D.
Sometimes love hurts. Sometimes we become “addicted to love.”
Sometimes we confuse love with pain or attachment. When any of these
misperceptions occur, we miss out on experiencing the most positive
force in our lives…real love.
Learning to love without being addicted to it, is major challenge
for the very young child. Many studies have been conducted on the
importance of the infant’s deep biological need for a primary
caretaker, usually the mother. Psychologists know that how your
mother addressed this need had a major impact on your ability, as an
adult, to establish healthy and loving relationships. It also likely
determined how well you function without such relationships.
Howard Halpern, author of the book, “How To Break Your Addiction To
A Person” indicates that if you are a victim of what he calls
“attachment hunger,” your primary adult relationship will be based on
illusions “in the form of the wish, the fantasy, and the attempt to
recapture the strength, security, and bliss of fusing with another
person.” If we build our loving relationships on this unmet need for
attachment, we will become hurt, addicted, and miss out on being
When a mother does not care for, cuddle and nurture a child enough,
the need for attachment (necessary for early survival) is never met.
When you grow up in a family in which this need remains unsatisfied,
you live in a state of unresolved dependency on others. In her book,
“From Love That Hurts To Love That’s Real,” Sylvia Peterson writes of
this dependency saying: “Your dependency stems partially from the fact
that your basic need for love, trust, warmth, communication, and
intimacy was not fulfilled in your dysfunctional family of origin and
partly because the intricate developmental task of separation and
individuation from mother, father, and family did not take place in a
So how do we rectify our unfilled dependency needs and their
unhealthy consequences affecting our adult relationships? At some
point in our maturation, we need to shift our focus to how well we are
loving rather than whether or not we are loved.
In one of my favorite children’s’ books, “The Velveteen Rabbit,”
Margery Williams writes: “The Rabbit sighed. He thought it would be a
long time before this magic called `real’ happened to him. He longed
to become Real, to know what it felt like; and yet the idea of growing
shaggy and losing his eyes and whiskers was rather sad. He wished
that he could become it without these uncomfortable things happening
Rabbit has to go through some pretty painful, often frightening
experiences, to become “real.” People often need to do the same.
Becoming a genuine, healthy, autonomous grown-up often requires you
learn lessons from painful and fearsome experiences. If these lessons
are not learned, you will generate more hurtful and anxiety-ridden
relationships, until you learn them.
And the primary lesson to be learned in becoming real is: You alone
are capable of creating your own happiness and fulfillment. When you
realize this lesson, fear diminishes, self-confidence grows, peace of
mind develops and real love begins to evolve.
When you are primarily concerned about your skill at loving, you
gradually become the real person you were meant to be. Being a lover
of life in all its aspects reflects our genuine human nature. Become
a “real” lover of yourself, others and Life, and you become genuinely
human. Self-love is not selfish. It is the primary psychological
task of all responsible adults. Loving others if a gift you give
freely in your relationships. It is not motivated by your own need to
be attached, to be cared for or to be loved. It is based upon your
desire to participate fully in relationship to others.
When we outgrow (heal up) from our need to be attached to another,
we begin the process of becoming the real individualized person. We
recognize life as a gift we did not ask for. Being alive as a human,
is the most wonderful experience any creature can have. Having
language, self-awareness, a complex human body, a mind, a loving heart
and soul, are all potentially the most delightful and powerful
characteristics anyone can have. When you acknowledge these
characteristics within yourself, through whatever it takes, you become
a “real” human being.
Dr. Thomas is a licensed psychologist, author, speaker, and life
coach. He serves on the faculty of the International University of
Professional Studies. He recently co-authored (with Patrick Williams)
the book: “Total Life Coaching: 50+ Life Lessons, Skills and
Techniques for Enhancing Your Practice…and Your Life!” (W.W. Norton
2005) It is available at your local bookstore or on Amazon.com.
If you found the above column useful, feel free to share it with
To subscribe yourself to Practical Life Coaching, click on the
following line (or copy and paste the address below into your web
Upon subscribing, you will receive Practical Life Coaching