My mother was in town recently to celebrate an early Thanksgiving. We had a lovely time and it filled my heart to see the way she delights in my boys and affirms our out-of-the-box parenting choices. Being of like-mind and similar temperament, she and my older son have always had a special connection, but something seemed to cross over to a new level this trip. As he shared his passion for technology and she reveled in the workings of his mind, I could see my son opening his heart to her fully. He taught her how to make a Bucky Ball cube, showed her his Perplexus 3D marble maze, and listened together to Jack and Annie traveling to Italy to apprentice under Leonardo da Vinci for a day in a Magic Treehouse audiobook. Grandma scratched his back as they lounged on the couch together and he relaxed completely into their bond. It was beautiful to watch.
The day before she had to leave he started to ask, "Why does Grandma have to leave? Grandma, can't you stay a little longer?" We explained all of the understandable reasons why she had to leave, none of which mean anything to the heart of a young boy. I could see him battling with his conflicting desires to fold himself into her comforting embrace and alienate her with his hyper antics. He's been struggling with the concept of keeping his heart open even though he knows people can hurt him and possibly leave him. He's been able to articulate his fears and doubts about loving in ways that have truly astonished me lately. So it wasn't a complete surprise when, a few hours before my mom had to leave, he said to me, "Mommy, I'm scared to love Grandma because I'm scared she's going to die."
If I could crystallize my work with clients who are scared to take the next step in their relationships, it would be this sentence: "I'm scared to love because I'm scared I'm going to lose him/her." Of course, the fear doesn't present as the fear of loss; that would be much too vulnerable for the fear-based self to admit. The fear presents as any or all of the following statements:
• I don't really love him/her.
• I've never loved him/her.
• I don't love him/her in the right way (i.e. I love him as a friend but not as a marriage partner)
• I'm not attracted enough.
• I'm settling.
• I'm only with him/her because I'm scared to be alone.
• Love shouldn't have to be this hard. If I was with the right person, I would just know.
Are there times when these statements are accurate and coming from a truthful place inside? Yes. But for the vast majority of my clients and e-course members, there's plenty of love, connection, shared values, honesty, and goodness to sustain a lifetime of a great marriage. The only problem is that fear, once it rears its forceful head, shuts down the heart and eclipses any knowledge of the truth. Fear's entire mission in life is to keep you safe from the risks of loving. Fear will go to great lengths and concoct elaborate stories about why you need to leave your partner. After all, didn't you always imagine that you would marry someone with a great sense of humor, who's taller than you, and is socially at ease? How is it that your partner doesn't always laugh at your jokes, is shorter than you, and is awkward around others? And so the fear-self spins you into a tizzy of anxiety that can take months, if not years, to unravel. And at the very core of it is the fear of loss, the fear that just when you open your heart to loving this person completely, something tragic will occur that will take him away.
Does it hurt to lose someone you love? I don't think there is any greater pain. When you lose a loved one, your heart breaks into a million pieces. You scream and wail and curl up in a ball of heartbreak. And then, if you've loved well and grieved to completion, your heart grows back together again stronger than before. If you trust that you can attend to your big and painful feelings, you can take the risk of loving.
As my mom and I sat with my son at the breakfast table, we said to him, "You know, no one wants to lose someone they love. But when you protect yourself and don't open your heart to love someone completely, how do you think you would feel when that person dies?" "Not good," he responded. "So it's a funny thing, but the more you love, the more you'll grieve if you lose that person, but the more fully you'll be able to say goodbye and love again."
"It's why we're here, sweetheart," my mom said.
"We're here to give and receive love. There's really nothing else that matters."
And in her simple wisdom, she's right. Nothing else matters -- not the job, the house, the city, the car, the clothes -- if we don't take the risk and learn to open our hearts to love.
Sheryl Paul, M.A., has counseled thousands of people worldwide through her private practice, her bestselling books, her e-courses and her website. She has appeared several times on "The Oprah Winfrey Show", as well as on "Good Morning America" and other top media shows and publications around the globe. To sign up for her free 78-page eBook, "Conscious Transitions: The 7 Most Common (and Traumatic) Life Changes", visit her website at http://conscious-transitions.com. And if you're suffering from relationship anxiety - whether dating, engaged, or married - give yourself the gift of the Conscious Weddings E-Course: From Anxiety to Serenity.