A common byproduct of growing up in a toxic environment, is that you approach life with all these assumptions about people and relationships that are just flat out wrong.
As children we are constantly taking in data from our lives and using it to build schemas. These schemas are basically blueprints – step by step instructions on how to handle the various themes & situations we regularly come across. Our families tend to be the single biggest factor in shaping these schemas, because we are exposed to them the most while we are still developing our beliefs about the world.
Love and Respect. These are two highly important concepts that build the foundation for many of our schemas. Our personal understanding of these two words sets the tone for how we interact with every single person we come into contact with. And sure they seem simple at first glance. We all know what these words mean right? Wrong! Even though they are intricate aspects of the human experience, we each define them in our own unique manner.
Lets look at love. Here are some things I know about love from my study of psychology, philosophy, spirituality & metaphysics. The primary dialectic in life is love versus fear. Every second in life gives us an opportunity to choose love. Love is the highest energetic force. Love is not jealous or possessive – it is accepting and unconditional. True love is a universal force that we can all tap into. Those who reach enlightenment do so by embodying the oneness of love.
I believe love is the answer to all of the world’s problems. When we can collectively reach a place where the majority consistently choose love over fear, then I believe mother earth will begin to heal.
Did I come out of my childhood knowing or understanding any of those things? No. Let me share a glimpse into my pre-therapy schema for Love with you:
- Love is conditional and only reserved for those who have earned it by proving they are exceptional and performing beyond their peer group. Since it must be earned, it can be lost at any time if performance is not up to par.
- Love is about ownership and subservitude. Women are innately less than men due to actions of Eve in the first chapter of the Bible. Expect to belong to your husband and defer to him at all times even if he’s a complete fuck up.
- When people love you, it’s ok for them to hurt you in the name of care, motivation, or protection (ie: you’re going to hear this from the outside world its better you get it from me first)
- “You shouldn’t be eating that cake.” “If you would just exercise…” “Change your top it makes you look fat.” Thousands of jabs over the course of a lifetime destroyed my self-esteem – each and every one made in the name of love.
- And while I won’t get into the details here, I also personally know the whole gamut of beliefs around love that come from being a CSA survivor.
If you’re like me, you probably see yourself recreating the schemas of your childhood in every important relationship in your life, especially romantic ones!!! So how to you stop that cycle? You have to be willing to let go of your current understanding of love (because it’s toxic) and deliberately construct your own healthy blueprint.
Here’s 4 activities you can do to begin to re-map your love schema:
- Study love. You can choose to look at it from a religious, psychological, or philosophical standpoint. Find a viewpoint that you connect with and start bringing it into your life – via books, podcasts, youtube, documentaries, etc.. You know the basic understanding you grew up with is off. Find someone whose views you respect and begin to examine the differences between their thoughts, assumptions and schemas for love and your own.
- Meditate or journal your personal definition of love. You may need to start by listing all of the things you know love is not, but you want to make sure you do not just stay in that place. It is not enough to know what we want to avoid in life, we must know to some degree what we are looking for. For your complete definition think about sensations, emotions, thoughts, relationship dynamics, actions, beliefs & urges you associate with love.
- Practice mindfully saying to yourself “I choose love over fear” each time you make a compassion-based decision. Neural plasticity baby! Adding a deliberate thought with each love based action helps create those new love focused neural pathways twice as fast.
- Many people who have been truly violated by humans find it easier to love animals. Think of the love you have for your favorite furry companion and try showing that love in other areas of your life. Whenever Harlow gets into something he’s not supposed to, I remind myself that he’s just acting on instinct. It’s not an affront to me – it’s in his wiring as an animal. This allows me to let go of the frustrations of having a mess to clean up and not hold resentments towards him. When we practice giving everyone in our lives the same benefit of doubt, we are cultivating a life of love.
Have you struggled to let go of the love patterns of a toxic childhood? What has worked for you and what hasn’t? We’d love to hear about it in the comment section below. We’re all on this journey it’s great when we can connect on our commonalities and not feel so alone.
Sending out lots of love and light today!
P.S. If you’re looking for someone to work with on your journey of letting go of toxic childhood patterns, I’d love to chat. Check out info on my coaching services at http://www.jamieschmidtlpc.com and don’t hesitate to reach out!!
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