Children are sponges when it comes to learning. Most of us have been ambushed by a child’s onslaught of “whys” after what we believed clearly answered their initial question. Around the age of two, a child develops an intense need to understand the world surrounding them. In our eagerness to silence their insatiable curiosity, sometimes we give them farfetched or absurd answers hopefully satisfying their momentary interest.
In some ways, we admire their innocence. They have not yet experienced enough traumatic circumstances to develop cynical or skeptical outlooks. Their simple appreciation is enviable, and we adults often quash our own curiosity at the expense of silencing our creative thought processes.
When raising children, it’s vital to keep in mind they also learn through observation and unspoken communication. Through their eagerness to learn and willingness to emulate us, we can show them how to be kind and gentle, or we can demonstrate anger and cruelty. Most importantly is how we embody the meaning of love.
Love covers a wide array of emotions and actions. It is both given and received. We can love historical figures, inanimate objects, ideologies, and just about anything our minds can conjure. If that weren’t enough, we experience love with our fellow humans in countless ways. But if we are unaware that our pathway to love began in an unhealthful manner, we might be oblivious to how horribly it influences our ability to form relationships.
While adults often believe they are wise enough to avoid love’s pitfalls, many do not realize they are stuck on a perilous path hindering or all-out impeding their ability to form healthy relationships. This is an oft-repeated scenario easily observed in others but more easily rejected when it’s staring us directly in the mirror.
No matter how hard we try, dismissing or avoiding our inability to create positive relationships will never change nor will it heal us from past abusive ones. And we will never be able to redirect our path if we are not brave and vulnerable enough to admit we have a problem.
For some reason, it seems childish to believe we are incapable of establishing good relationships. That’s only an issue teenagers and young lovers face; it’s embarrassing to think that as an adult, we are not smart enough to overcome this adolescent dilemma. Next, excuses justify our poor relationships, and most of those directly implicate or blame the other person for “their issues.” The reality, though, is more likely we’ve been on the wrong path far too long. So much so that it now feels like the right direction.
Many of our beliefs and observations about the world start forming before we begin to speak. Our understanding of love is based upon our first relationships, and our parents or caregivers are primarily shaping those values. Sometimes, the signals a child receives can confuse them about how love appears and works.
A mother may spank a baby’s bottom a bit too aggressively then apologize and say I love you with the purest intentions and oodles of affection. But if this scenario is repeated often and under different circumstances, the confusing signals may distort the child’s understanding of what comprises love. It may send a signal that in order for there to be love, some form of reprimand or even abuse must accompany it.
As the child begins to develop friendships, this same reasoning may come into play and negatively impact their interaction with others. They may be attracted to those who show aggressive traits, or they may encourage it by being disruptive or abusive themselves.
Although this might be an exaggerated example, it is meant to underscore the importance of our first perceptions of how love works. And since our personalities differ, others in a similar situation may learn to react harshly and violently to those who show them the same behavior. If our path inevitably began with a skewed version of how love works, eventually that path feels normal, and we may not want to travel on anything more comfortable.
Once we are stuck on this path, it may require the assistance of an experienced and compassionate counselor. There’s no need to be embarrassed to ask for or want help. There is a different path that leads to healing from these past injuries and reshaping and sharpening our relationship-building capabilities.
It is empowering when we uncover our faults and weaknesses. It is how we grow and become healthier emotionally. Our personal growth will never happen by changing others. Our mindset should be one of reflection and honest self-awareness, leading us on a path of transformation that will positively impact us and all our relationships.