How to find abundance in love
February 20, 2012 3:01 PM   Subscribe

What do you do to feel that love is abundant in the world?

I grew up in a dysfunctional family where love was associated with abuse and then was in an abusive relationship for several years. I am in a new relationship and I'm finding that I'm extremely insecure that my love will go away. I think part of this insecurity is that I feel like love is a scarce quantity and I have to perform a certain way to keep it, hang onto it tightly, and generally be pretty unhealthy out of my desire for it.

I also feel afraid of being taken advantage of, and of letting other people use me because I am so desperate for love. Sometimes I feel in so much despair about being able to love and trust that I wonder if I will ever let anyone in.

I function really well on a superficial level, but getting close to people scares me a lot. I'm like a stray cat that needs to be lured closer and closer with saucers of milk before she will let anyone pet her.

I've been in relationships before, but I'm not very good with intimacy. I think a big part of this is feeling that love is something very scarce in the world. I want to see love with abundance, not scarcity.

The reality is that there is a lot of love in my life outside of this new relationship. I have a lot of wonderful friends. I have a new boyfriend who keeps telling me how much he loves me and shows me as often as he can. I have some family members who, despite their faults, have shown me love over the years. I find it easy to meet people and make new friends. I'm good at taking care of myself and enjoy my time alone. In other words, I think a lot of this love scarcity is in my head.

So, my questions:
- Did you grow up in a loving environment? How did this contribute to a feeling of abundance about love in your life? Are there lessons you can pass along to someone like me?

- How do you cultivate an attitude of openness to love and intimacy in your life? How do you let other people's love into your heart without being afraid of what you will do to get it or that it will go away?

- What else might help me in my quest to change my attitude about this?

(I'm not a pet person, and am not in a life situation where that would make sense as I travel a lot and live in a place that does not allow pets. Ditto for plants, unfortunately. Yes, I'm in therapy. Yes, I know that love is risky.)
posted by 3491again to Human Relations (25 answers total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
The best way to increase love in your life is to love others. Yes you might get hurt, but that is small potatoes compared to what you get back. It might be helpful to find some small community to work in, a church, community garden, book club whatever. Really show up for those people. Call them on their birthday, invite them over for dinner. Maybe start with a small, low stakes, safe group.
posted by shothotbot at 3:10 PM on February 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

Exactly as shothotbot says, you have to give love to get love. In that vein, I really love this comment by jimmyjimjim, previously. It's about feeling love in the aftermath of a break-up, but I think it's also generally applicable.
posted by stockpuppet at 3:13 PM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

How do you let other people's love into your heart without being afraid of what you will do to get it or that it will go away?

These are two different questions. The answer to "What you will do to get it?" is "show up." Other than making yourself available for romantic love, brushing your teeth and looking presentable, I can't imagine what else one would do; it's not a reward, for good behaviour or for anything else.

How you get over being afraid that it will go away is accepting that it always does. You will go through many relationships that are happy and filled with love until they are not and end; and if you're very lucky, you'll find one where it doesn't end until one of you dies, at which point that too goes away. The trick is to enjoy the ride every time.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:15 PM on February 20, 2012 [4 favorites]

The place to start perceiving love outside yourself in the world is to start inside - by loving yourself. Once you are sure that you love yourself, not blindly but with empathy and compassion for yourself as a human being, then your next hurdle is loving others. Don't limit yourself to just a few - as shothotbot suggests, develop connections and treat those you meet with compassion and love for them as other human beings.

Having trouble with the first bit? I think at some point most of us have. First, recognize you're flawed, and try to consciously treat yourself with love even if (when) you screw up. Forgive yourself. Take care of yourself, just as you would someone else you love who needs care. Also, it will sound simplistic, but repeating a simple phrase to yourself - something as simple as "I love myself. I'm good enough." can help you get through the rough parts.
posted by arnicae at 3:16 PM on February 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

Alright, here's how I go about it:

First I needed to learn that I could give and receive pleasant feelings and actions expecting nothing in return (for me it was a social anxiety thing).

I'm nice to everyone I meet. I smile at them and I really mean it. Sometimes this is hard but I do it anyway. I open the door for them or ask if I can help them carry something that's heavy or pick up a thing they dropped. Want to just do a nice thing for someone, say goodbye/you're welcome and never see them again. Be prepared for these moments. They will make your day, and you'll hopefully realize that just as you enjoy being nice to people and helping them with no expectations, that other people feel the same way. Kind of a "brotherhood of man" thing.

This helped me in so many ways that I can't really detail it. I'd just start with this.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 3:16 PM on February 20, 2012 [5 favorites]

I agree with the advice to go somewhere and be loving, but I want to also encourage you to go somewhere and receive love, too. Some of the most world enlarging experiences of my young life were with loving, unrelated adults (not the creepy kind): after growing up in a mostly not very healthy or loving house, getting free love was a bit of a revelation. If you experience other people just giving love away, like there's an endless supply of it, like sunshine, you start to believe it, I think. I don't know what your tolerance is for religious or woo, but I think those sorts of communities (when they are not crazy, manipulative cults) can be a great source of getting and giving love. Volunteering with a loving community would be perfect. And loving kindness meditation. That's really great, too.
posted by thylacinthine at 3:21 PM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah, a religious community can be great. Unitarian Universalism is the non-religious church/spiritual/community option.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 3:25 PM on February 20, 2012

Thanks everyone -- I feel pretty comfortable with the community and the people in my life. I get a lot of love from my friends and the communities I'm currently involved in. I guess my question was more about attitudinal changes I can make inside myself to recognize what I already have, not to add more community to my life.

Also, I feel pretty comfortable in my self-love. I know that I'll be all right. I'm just not confident that the love of others is here to stay.
posted by 3491again at 3:59 PM on February 20, 2012

There are no guarantees that the love of others is here to stay. All you can do is love with all of your heart, receive love the best you can, keep working on allowing others into your life, trusting as much as possible, and let the chips fall where they may.
posted by Fairchild at 4:08 PM on February 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

Read poetry, lots of it. There's immediacy and intimacy in language, and revelling in it makes you believe in it and want more.
posted by pickypicky at 4:30 PM on February 20, 2012

Also, I feel pretty comfortable in my self-love. I know that I'll be all right. I'm just not confident that the love of others is here to stay.

This is how I think of it. Love is an energy. And like energy it can neither be created or destroyed, only transformed. As everything is always in flux - the universe down to the microbe on your shoe - so is love.

Maybe the best way to think of it is to realise that NOTHING IS HERE TO STAY. Give up the desire to 'hold on' and just enjoy the day, the moment, the person, the feeling. Stay in the present not the future or the past. Meditation, poetry, music, physical activity can all help with this.
posted by Kerasia at 5:09 PM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

When I'm really deep into a "I will never be good enough and everyone hates me" anxiety attack I have found that no amount of validation from external sources of love ever really helps. Nor does working on self love, I find, because that tends to waver when I'm in the midst of an attack. What DOES work consistently for me is to seek out things that I love about my life that are permanent (or at least feel that way). In my case, this means walking around parts of my city that are beautiful, going camping in the redwoods (my most favorite environment ever), getting up at dawn to watch the sun rise, smelling the air after see the pattern.

There's something about the feeling of connectedness and joy nature gives me that makes me feel OK with being alone, even being unloved. Of course, I am NOT alone or unloved, not in the least, but feeling like I will be OK even if I were makes that fear so so much easier to bear.

So, when you are freaking out about losing someone's love, focus on things and experiences YOU love that you'll have no matter what. Anything to make the prospect of being alone something that isn't so frightening and depressing.
posted by JuliaIglesias at 5:12 PM on February 20, 2012 [5 favorites]

I did grow up in a loving environment, and I feel very lucky to have had that experience--I really feel like my very good sense of self-worth and self-love is a direct consequence of that. So I am impressed and happy for you that you've been able to create that loving attitude towards yourself despite the abuse in your life. Since you already have that part down, maybe you can start there? Spend some time thinking about and deeply feeling your love for yourself, really bathing in it and recognizing what a powerful and full thing it is. If you can feel abundant in your own love maybe you can nudge the feeling outward from there.

In my experience, that feeling of self-love can sometimes be a little hard-scrabble and survivor-y, like, "Even if everyone leaves and hates me at least I'll still have myself! Because I'm all I can count on!" It's better than nothing, but it doesn't feel very powerful or abundant that way. I notice that when, in contrast, I am experiencing my self-love as deep and rich, I also feel like I have a lot of warmth and love to offer to other people, warmth that grows out of my own love for myself. It gets kind of interchangeable--feeling loving towards myself or towards someone else is the same feeling. That makes me feel like love is everywhere, because I am putting it everywhere! Visualizing sending love to some specific other person helps with this feeling too.
posted by aka burlap at 5:13 PM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

What do you do to feel that love is abundant in the world?

I once heard a Qigong master say that when you're energy level is low, lie down and think of things like raging waterfalls, lush forests, flowers blooming, and anything in nature that you think of as vibrant, powerful, and full of life. He said the idea behind this is that you become subtly connected to these things and draw energy from them. You recharge. Whether or not you believe that's possible, it's a nice exercise that can be uplifting, even if only because you're meditating on nature.

I bring this up because after hearing about this exercise I was inspired to do meditations on love and gratitude using the same technique. Some nights, before I sleep, I will reflect on the many kind gestures people have shown me, both big and small. I'll also think about funny things, quirks and so-called faults that my loved ones have and how I adore them even more because of those things. I'll think of my own shortcomings and how I am loved in spite of them, or maybe also because of them.

When you take time to reflect on the love in your life it's hard to not feel grateful. I think it's so important to nurture that, because to me, gratitude allows you to experience the fullness of the love people have for you, and of the love that you have for them. It's so easy to forget how meaningful the smallest things are. Love can exist in sharing an orange, or in making a cup of tea. I actually find picturing little things like this to be the most powerful. Some of my most cherished memories in my life are of such ordinary moments.

One last thought...

I've heard that being grateful is the best way to overwhelm and oust fears, so some kind of exercise like this would be helpful when you're feeling afraid that love is scarce or going to go away.
posted by seriousmoonlight at 5:36 PM on February 20, 2012 [8 favorites]

Love is not a transaction. It is not a zero sum game. Love is. I can choose love, immeasurable and free, or I can count favors and tokens given and received and call that love while I am completely missing the air full of love all around me, there to walk into and to have completely free if only I raise my eyes from my abacus.

My experience of the discovery of love was simply the realization that I could choose to live in the light of love and it wouldn't make much difference if I was giving it or getting it. What mattered was choosing love. So I try to stand there, love the people I let into my life, enjoy the loving of them and their love of me as well as their love of others. I try to love the world, the life and the incredible beauty and power in it. I want to be adding more love to the stream of life; this is the way I try to live. Individuals come and go and sometimes return; there is romantic love for a time and it is wonderful; there are infants and children for a time and they are wonderful but the permanence, the fullness of love is something I choose to live out in my life. It is all around me whether I have a partner or not, a parent or not, a child or not.

This works for me and has ever since I discovered it. It makes it possible for me to be free of the crippling need for other people's approval and reassurance in order to function. This makes all the difference to my happiness.
posted by Anitanola at 6:00 PM on February 20, 2012 [7 favorites]

Several people have mentioned meditation. This version of the Buddhist meditation on loving-kindness has helped me. Paradoxically, by sending all sorts of love out to others through this process, you can feel like there's plenty for you as well.
posted by ceiba at 6:07 PM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Are you afraid that someone won't always love you, or that they will turn on you? Just because love sometimes fades doesn't mean that it turns ugly or hurtful. Sometimes people gently drift out of your life by mutual accord or circumstance - you have warm memories of their love and no bitterness. And often we love imperfectly and disappoint each other and hopefully learn from it.

Maybe it would help to now and then make a list the ways that people have shown you their love, or the things you love about them. I think that would help to shift you from your old story - "I'm not loved" - to a new story "I'm loved in many ways."
posted by bunderful at 8:14 PM on February 20, 2012

Answer to your questions - I did grow up in a dysfunctional environment where there was love but it was pretty unstable & my parents were hot/cold emotionally unavailable.

I'm in therapy, I meditate and I do 12-step.

I will third/fourth/fifth meditation, esp. Metta meditation aka Buddhist Loving-Kindness. I do pair it with another kind of meditation that is mindfulness of being.

Here's how it works for me. If I can tap into the well of compassion within myself, I can allow it to flow out into the world & have loving compassion for the people that irritate me / have wronged me / are crappy drivers etc. Throughout the day I'll sometimes use the Buddhist phrases (this is a mashup) "May all beings be happy, may all beings be free from misery, may all beings know real peace" to remind myself:

1.) That the world I'd like to live in is one where people are happy
2.) That hurt people hurt people
3.) That I myself have been hurt and experienced misery & that it is no fun
4.) May I be happy, may all of us be happy and may I, whenever I am able, generate love and compassion towards others even if they cannot reciprocate.

I attended a mediation retreat to learn the technique (link above).

I'll also note that my 12-step recovery program has been integral in helping me deal with baggage from abusive relationships and has absolutely helped me in realizing that I did not cause the other person's misery and that I am love-able exactly the way I am - and SO ARE YOU!!!!! And I'll get new agey and go so far as to say I've learned that not only am I love-able, but I am LOVE.
posted by HolyWood at 8:44 PM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

My environment growing up was not bad, but my mom is hyper-polite and my dad is very much a money man -- so I was raised to think of love or kindness as a social transaction (as Anitanola describes above) more than anything else. I thought that every nice thing someone does for me has to be "repaid" ASAP, meaning it was hard for me to accept a compliment without getting anxiety about what I can do for or say to the person who paid it to even things out.

But that's insincere. You don't really see the love in any gesture when you're thinking of kindness as a loan that's been given to you which you must stress over to repay to its full amount soon.

So, to correct the way I thought about receiving love, I thought about what's going on in my own brain when I act in a way that shows love to other people. The truth is, the only thing I want from them is to for them to accept my compliment and feel the wholeness of its truth, because I would not tell them I think ____ of theirs is wonderful if I didn't mean it. I would not help them pick up their dropped papers or carry the groceries in or cheer for them at events if I didn't want, more than anything else including a "thank you," to help and support them. Knowing what goes on in my head when I give someone a bit of kindness, then, I can logically believe kindnesses that are shown to me are given by others in sincerity and truth. I can also know that the only requirement of getting a compliment or being done a favor is to feel its truth as representation of the receiver's love. That's all you have to do.

When you start to just feel the kind things that people say about you and do for you and are able to stop thinking of those things as obligation or polite insincerity, you will find that you give that love back in a natural way. It's automatic, and it gets to the deeper you, beyond that wall of superficiality. (I had it too.) Being able to believe in the truth of love will have you smiling at everyone on the street. They will see a warmth in your eyes that's real, and I guarantee you that will make someone else's day too, so maybe they'll have a warmth in their eyes now, and it will spread on... Even just knowing the possibility of this happening makes me feel content.
posted by houndsoflove at 9:03 PM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you're looking for reading material, you might find some comfort in Makes Me Think. Some of it is sad/bittersweet, but most of it is real-world validation that there is a lot of love and goodness in the world.
posted by jbickers at 6:46 AM on February 21, 2012

I'd like to second thylacinthine's recommendation of Loving Kindness meditation. Sharon Salzberg has a great book about it.

I love this technique because, even though I have a strong knowledge that I love myself and others, loving kindness meditation is a concrete practice of loving myself and others. It's deepened my affection for myself so much.

It has a nice progression, as well. You start with yourself and move outward. You don't start by jumping into loving your "enemy", you get there with practice.

It was a revelation to me to think of love as a skill I could practice and improve. A frequent reinforcement of what I know through action. It's very simple, even though at times it can be difficult. Having a real method, rather than just vague enthusiastic attemps to love myself and the people around me, has been very helpful to me.
posted by f_panda at 8:33 AM on February 21, 2012

Oh! I just remembered this
wonderful interview with Alice Walker and Sharon Salzberg that I think is fitting.

From the interview:
Alice Walker: You know, what are hearts for? Hearts are there to be
broken, and I say that because that seems to be just part of what
happens with hearts. I mean, mine has been broken so many times that I
have lost count. But it just seems to be broken open more and more and
more, and it just gets bigger. I remember saying to my therapist, “You
know, my heart by now feels open like a suitcase. It feels like it has
just sort of dropped open, you know, like how a big suitcase just
falls open. It feels like that.”

Instead of that feeling of having a thorn through your heart, that
feeling Pema Chödrön talks about in tonglen meditation, you have a
sense of openness, as if the wind could blow through it. And that’s
the way I’m used to my heart feeling. The feeling of the heart being
so open that the wind blows through it. I think that is the way it’s
supposed to feel when you’re in balance. And when you get out of
balance, you feel like there’s no wind, there’s no breeze, there’s
just this rock and it has a big thing sticking through it. I don’t
know how you get from one feeling to the other, except through
meditation, often, but also activism, just seeing what needs to be
done in the world, or in our families, and just start doing it.
posted by f_panda at 8:38 AM on February 21, 2012

When we are children we NEED love. We need attention and security and to know there are responsive people who know how to navigate the world and who are acting in response to meeting our needs on a physical and emotional level.

Recognize the fear of the love disappearing is about a very real state in which a human can find themselves in a state of desperate need and alone and that no one will care or do anything about it.

To heal these feelings in myself, I practice doing everything I can to make sure that our society is prepared to meet the needs of people who are collapsing under needs they can not meet themselves. If you work to create a world where SHOULD you collapse, and SHOULD the shit hit the fan and everyone disappear and you have an injury or illness that leaves you unable to work-- you could trust this is a world that would respond to those needs and help you.

Knowing you value and are doing what you can to make that possible--- and sharing time with others who have this same value, helps you to feel more secure that when you meet individuals who love you in the moment it's really not as important whether THEIR specific love comes or goes because you are part of a society that would carry you in an emergency.

If underneath you know "but what if I collapsed under unbearable need, all these people would disappear!" then it never feels like the love is TRULY reliable. And that's the reality, individuals, even well intentioned, can not necessarily meet really big needs in others when everything is collapsing. Wanting stability, that kind of stability where if ANYTHING should happen someone would be there and do everything to make it better--- I think this is a valid human need that most people recieve varying amounts of (however universally imperfect) from their families. If as a society we assume many people are not getting these needs met in their families and make it a priority to be there for people (in ways that are well researched and informed and safe for everyone involved), we can change how many live with this feeling of instability.

Also working to understand what sort of biological, societal, economic, emotional, and disability oriented issues lead to the instability you faced as a child, and working to change how we outreach and support families in states of crisis can help you feel more secure that this is in fact a world that cares, and that wants to make reliability and stable support available for all people.

Those are just things that work for me and there are lot's of great ideas in this thread.
posted by xarnop at 9:04 AM on February 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

I struggle with assuming other people's love for me comes with conditions (sex, namely). The only way I've got around that is by fixing times this hasn't been the case into my mind. Like beacons. Then you have a higher standard to either hold people to, or use as a reason to make them leave your life.
posted by pickingupsticks at 2:45 PM on February 21, 2012

I live in an inner city neighborhood where there are quite a lot of troubled people and generally people are a bit wary of each others. I noticed last spring how much the general feeling of people loving and enjoying the world changes when I go to a recreational park close by. It is a forest with jogging paths and bicycle routes, cross country skiing and jogging at winter. People who go there are usually in good spot with their lives to have the energy for exercise and when they go together or with their dogs they seem happy. Seeing 10 happy people in a row is a change. Love and companionship feel like natural relations to have when enjoying the nature and the exercise, and being there with my SO also makes our relationship feel right.
posted by Free word order! at 2:42 AM on February 22, 2012

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