To Love is to Give [sonnet & commentary]

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A light went on inside this granite head.
A puzzle and conundrum’s now been cracked
which needed to be known before I’m dead.
This spark has liberated me, in fact.

It’s not so much that love I must obtain
(for music, art and nature, passion, give
me all the love that I could ever gain);
but that to give myself’s how I must live.

For me to take is useless to my need
(although with endless thanks I will receive
whatever precious loveness I’m decreed).
To give out love is life’s aim, I believe.

And so I see all love springs from my heart;
and if I cannot give, I’ll live apart.
A sonnet, by its limited nature (14 lines in 3 quatrains and a rhyming couplet with 10 syllables per line), has an economy of words which cannot describe everything but gives signals and pointers and highlights in concentrated form to send us down roads which we then have to pave in our own way, in the light of what the sonnet imparts. This particular sonnet describes an epiphanic moment when I realised with every fibre of my being how much we have been made for love (our hearts are fountains of love); but that SUCH A GIFT ONLY WORKS IN A HEALTHY MANNER IF WE ARE LOVE-GIVERS RATHER THAN LOVE-TAKERS (for love-givers will always be love-receivers without ever taking anything). Because this is a complex subject and an important one close to my heart, I’ve been moved to pen this little commentary to build on the hints of the sonnet.

Every single one of us begins life with the need to be loved. We are imbued with the need for the succour of the breast and the tenderheartedness of a mother’s love. That is all we are to start with — one huge physical and emotional need for solace and cherishment. If that need is repeatedly not properly met at that tender time when it is needed, then it will later be transformed into pathological substitute needs which are inappropriate to the situation. A few examples of those “pathological substitute needs” would be:

1. Needing to have constant confirmation about our physical appearance or talents; for instance, by continually putting “selfies” on social media to seek getting “likes” and flattering comments. These social media are directly tapping into the unconscious unmet infantile needs of mostpeople so that a platform is provided for folks to “big themselves up” and have their egos stroked. Such attention-seeking will very often have its roots in not receiving the love and care we needed as neonates or infants.

2. By being over-demanding of a partner, expecting him or her to only ever be with you constantly and becoming fretful or jealous if s/he is not available or does anything else apart from you — which often has its roots in early abandonment or rejection.

3. By being controlling or domineering as ways of trying to compensate for all the ways as a child when bad things happened to us which were outside our control because we were so little and powerless. The corollary of that is when one of the partners places him/herself completely under the control of another. (To some extent so-called “sexual bondage” activities fit into this category but are not so destructive because they are games which “play around” with the pathology as a theatre and are non-threatening if there is mutual consent. They could even bring the roots of the “bondage” into conscious knowledge, which is healthy).

4. By being competitive with, or envious of, a partner. This could have its roots in repeated belittlement by parents, teachers or siblings; or being continually unfavourably compared to siblings by the parents, or to other pupils by teachers. Many more examples could be given. This is merely scratching the surface.

So we can see that the manner in which our early needs to be loved and appreciated are handled by parents and other significant figures in our lives will have a lasting effect on our desires and relationships. This is all very basic child-rearing knowledge. Yet, most relationships and people today are operating almost wholly on the basis of unconscious acting-out of unmet early needs. This is why break-ups and disharmony are so widespread. We stagger from one relationship to the next without ever dealing, at source, with these dysfunctional emotional patterns, cutting them off altogether.

If our early needs are not met, then we will not evolve in a healthy way and our maturation process will be stunted. We will use other people to try and fulfil unmet early needs; but they can never be resolved that way. PURE LOVE CANNOT BE KINDLED AND KEPT AFLAME IN AN ATMOSPHERE OF DESPERATION AND UNCONSCIOUS GRASPINGNESS. If we are using a relationship in order to compensate for an unmet early need then that relationship will be unhealthy and will fail, in whatever way it may manifest itself. Your woman can never be the mummy you never had. Your boyfriend can never fill your father’s shoes. Your partner can never be the parent or teacher you always wanted — continually praising you and bolstering your self-esteem. Your husband may become the whipping boy for all the abuse you received from your Dad; but that will never deal with the issue in a healthy manner. So we have to move on completely from whatever inadequacies there were in our past and reset/renew ourselves. This takes diligence and courage. It means watching oneself carefully to catch oneself out behaving in a pathological rather than healthy manner. As soon as one sees through one’s maladjusted behaviour and resolves to be free of it, it will fade away like a shadow filled with shame at its impudence and impostorship. The person who has exposed and worked through his or her unmet needs from their formative years is then free to be an unfettered love-giver and enjoy a healthy life-affirming relationship free from stifling co-dependency. Doesn’t that sound wonderful!

Try to imagine a relationship where neither party is acting-out on the basis of unmet infantile needs — where each is passionately giving of him/herself to the other — where there is no unhealthy dependency or neurotic clinging but only mutually passionate love, healthy desire and erotic fulfilment in freedom — where each has an infinite amount of love to give the other from a heart streaming with compassion and empathy — where there is no jealousy, competitiveness or envy — where trust, harmony and mutual encouragement and edification are central principles of the relationship. I could go on. Can you imagine that? It’s almost impossible to do so because very few have any experience of it. Why should that be? It’s because, firstly, people want to cling onto their illusions and shadows at all costs, as self-exposure of inadequacy is very threatening. Secondly, it’s because so many would rather play the victim, garnering sympathy from others, rather than catapulting themselves out of that trap and becoming the free and fulfilled adults they are meant to be.

But what if it could be so? This is precisely why I have been off the “big relationship” grid for some years. All this does not come from some book I read but from my own experience in my heart and with others. There is no way I could accept being in a relationship where disharmony exists because of unfulfilled and unresolved infantile needs on either part. True love cannot wholly and consistently exist where there is fear or self-seeking and self-justification. This is why my last line in the sonnet says: “If I cannot give, I’ll live apart”. I would rather be alone for the rest of my days than become involved in a relationship with someone who is unconsciously acting out on the basis of unmet early needs and is unwilling to deal with this head-on. I would only want to be a free-giver alongside another free-giver so that a cycle of life is set up which makes anything disturbing it unacceptable and therefore open to be dealt with together, as one. (Of course, there are many other ways of being a love-giver — infinite ways actually, as we go about our work and daily interacting. But I’m primarily here referring to intimate partnerships).

This is not to say that in a relationship between two self-aware, emotionally-healthy people there will never be any discord. Elements may surface at a very deep level which need working through. This could continue throughout life. But in a relationship between two people who are primarily love-givers (rather than love-takers), this will be handled with grace and understanding, knowing that it will only be a temporary “blip” rather than a regularly recurring pattern. Each will help the other to overcome whatever elements may be causing disharmony. The love-giver will not tolerate disharmony but will always seek to pry it open and get to the truth. A relationship with a love-giver will always be an interesting ride because endless unquenchable love is in itself a powerful exposer of dysfunctional emotionality!

Just to be clear, I am not saying that it is always “pathological” to want to be loved, or that it is somehow wrong to want to be loved. It is a wonderful thing to be truly loved. Who could not want to bathe in the selfless love of another? It is a thing of great joy. But if my primary motivation in becoming involved with another is to *receive* love and “strokes” and validation, rather than to give it, then that motivation is pathological and unhealthy. Do you see the difference? If I want to be in a relationship to cover up my insecurity or loneliness then I am placing the other person in an impossible position. It is, in fact, an IMposition — placing an unloving burden on him or her. It is, if you will, the conduct of an emotional vampire, sucking the very life out of the other in the expectation that it will somehow give us life. So, no, it is not wrong to want to be loved or, rather, to be in a powerful fulcrum of love. There is a vast yearning in the human heart to be at one with another being. This is natural and productive when it is not dysfunctional or cluttered with dead-weight baggage. But TWO HUMAN BEINGS CAN NEVER HEALTHILY BE “AT ONE” IF EITHER ONE, OR BOTH PARTIES, ARE POWERED BY UNFULFILLED UNCONSCIOUS NEEDS.

Furthermore, even in a healthy relationship between two ardent love-givers, there will be times when one or the other has genuine needs for extra love from the other — for example, if one has had an exceptionally bad day, or if there has been a bereavement, or it is that time of the month when one just wants to crawl into someone’s arms and be cuddled in loving silence. That ability to show one’s vulnerability to the other is a vital part of a genuine relationship. Wanting to receive love genuinely, when it is not pathological, will bring out the very best in a partner who is a love-giver, who loves to give and especially in time of acute need. The love-giver always rises to an emergency of love-need.

So all this, and more, was what was at the heart of my sonnet, “To Love is to Give”, and what was at the centre of the epiphany which inspired it. Aiming to be a love-giver is part of what happens naturally when you’re on the pathway of inner discovery and self-awareness. There is no end to this pathway. However, it can be turbulent. There is always a new layer of the onion to peel away. It can sometimes lead you into dark nights of the soul (those temporary tunnels of testing which always lead to light if faced with courage and honesty). But it is all worth it because it constantly increases your lovelight, shaves away the dross and makes it impossible to compromise in all areas of life. Put simply, to love is to give.

© Alan Morrison, 2016

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