Updated: Feb 2
The heroine in my upcoming #NewRelease for #2023, The King’s Mistress, has trouble identifying love. While her abusive upbringing is very much backgrounded, her memories cast a shadow over the earlier parts of her story.
As anyone who’s survived abuse knows, trauma lingers in the most insidious ways. The urge to flee, or hide, to turn away from aid and kindness and every good feeling is very much rooted in trauma, and fairly usual for Survivors. Even in this supposedly ‘enlightened age’ of post-Freudian therapies and mental health advocacy, dealing with lingering dark thoughts about your life, yourself, and your own heart’s pain presents a challenge. I’m sure this was the case in Regency England as well.
Mental health advocates and life coaches repeat this platitude endlessly. They also declare that no one can love you ‘well’ (i.e, healthily and completely) until you first love yourself. It’s possible this sage advice only sounds trite because it’s been overused and (dare I say it?) over-sold.
This doesn’t make it less true – but here’s another truth that isn’t as sexy: loving yourself is harder to do, when you’re not at all sure what love looks like. This is the case for many Survivors who learn pain comes before any kind of love.
The Opposite of Love:
We’re all taught not to hunger for external validation (some of the latest ‘teachings’ on this come loaded with social media irony), but the truth of humanity is that life gives life. No one comes into this world alone: we’re all born, so there was at least a mother present in that moment. There’s an innate need for an acknowledgement of our value from other human beings. If we’re fortunate, that validation is not only rapid and long-lasting, but positive. Sadly, this isn’t always the case.
It’s Not You…
Just because other people are there when you’re born, doesn’t mean they want to be. It doesn’t mean they can cope with the situation, and it doesn’t mean they’re offering love. It may mean the opposite. In my opinion, the opposite of love isn’t hate; it’s indifference. (If you’ve ever loved someone who ghosted you, you might relate…)
This isn’t an indictment of you (How can it be? You were just a child who arrived into a bad situation.) It is, rather, an indication of the limitations of the parents – but how often is it presented this way? By the time you grow into an awareness that it might not be you, the idea that it is, already lives in your mind and heart.
Unlearning this isn’t easy, and self-love is so much harder for those who’ve experienced this lack of love early on. It requires breaking your early conditioning, and this is painful. Love is harder for Survivors. Not all struggle makes the end-game sweeter. That said, if you can unlearn this dreadful lesson, if you can come to know it is false and wrong, you open yourself to knowing more love than you ever thought possible. It’s wonderful, and it’s worth it. So are you.