Unconscious foundations of falling in love
Perhaps you are familiar with the idea that we are often romantically attracted to people who remind us of our parents or circumstances from our childhood. Or perhaps this is a completely new idea and difficult to accept?
Have you noticed how when you fall in love with a person, after some time, every passer-by who in some way reminds you of that person attracts your attention or evokes emotions? In my opinion, the same process happens when noticing potential intimate partners, except that we are unconsciously reminded of parents. Our minds spontaneously search for associations, and we unconsciously seek people with characteristics that we have learned to associate with love.
Deep, longing need for attention and approval is often wrongly perceived as love. Those emotional needs are usually combined with biological instincts – attraction based on physical looks, hormones and behavior we perceive as feminine or masculine. What will be attractive to you depends also of your experience with your parents. When we meet a person who matches most of those unconscious criteria, a strong feeling of attraction is created. It’s much more pleasant to perceive those feelings as genuine love for a “special one”, than to observe them in a calm, fully conscious way.
Still, we are not slaves to our biology and upbringing. We can resist our impulses and childish emotions – but that ability requires a strong foundation of self-esteem and self-support. If you are not able to give emotional support to yourself, your emotional needs might be too strong and overwhelm you.
Love or illusion?
When somebody shows interest in you, it’s also wise to make a calm assessment about how much of their interest is built on careful observation of your personality, and how much on childhood needs, biological aspects or simply the desire to seduce and be wanted. It’s not likely that feelings of romantic love and infatuation will ever be completely based on reality – but it is possible to start from a healthier place than people normally do.
When we are in love, it can very difficult to be totally honest with ourselves. People often bond to their partners with the same blind intensity and blind need as they did with their parents when they were babies and toddlers. This is most obvious when we have to decide whether to end a relationship which obviously does not fulfill our needs even though we still feel a romantic attraction. Whilst the relationship is stable, we usually believe that we are aware of our partners’ faults and that we respond to them in more or less mature manner. When a problem arises that could endanger the relationship, we can begin to search for ways to justify and minimize the significance of the problem, even if it means neglecting our boundaries. This is similar to children who have no clear boundaries and feel a need to justify their parents.
How do you tell if someone really loves you anyway? Just as when you try to evaluate someone’s honesty no matter what type of relationship you are in; don’t listen to their words, watch their behaviour instead! “Words are cheap” and saying nice things is easy, especially when you know what the other person wants to hear. Many people, however, when they are in love, cling to beautiful words they hear and feed their hope with them. Focus on the person’s tonality, not the words they use. Listen carefully to the undertones in the voice and the way that person speaks.
To make matters more complicated, perhaps the other person really believes he or she is sincere. People who abuse or intimidate their partner often actually believe that it is love and that it’s normal to behave in such a way. A person in love wishes to believe this and often only when they emerge from such a relationship and look back upon it, they can understand all the aspects of the behaviour of their partner which they failed to see before.
Imagine looking at a person with whom you are in love, or a potential partner, as if you were watching a TV program with the sound turned off: you see only movements, facial expressions and individual actions. What would these actions say to you if another person were involved rather than you? Maybe you would recognize a lack of respect and concern or simply immaturity and fear of intimacy? Perhaps this is not something that would cause you to end the relationship – as there is no point in searching for perfection in anyone – but your love might be blinding you to the fact that this hurts you and that the relationship could improve if both of you were aware of this and decided to work on it.
“As if my world fell apart!”
Break ups (especially when initiated by the other person or occurring because of outside circumstances) provoke very intense, deep and, in essence, childlike emotions. Sadness is a normal reaction to loss, but people often react with deeper and heavier sadness than would normally be considered a healthy reaction. At a conscious level, this intense pain arises out of a feeling of abandonment, often rejection on a personal level. Try to remember your feelings after a break up which you did not want or expect (if you initiated the breakup, which usually comes after a long period of preparation and decision-making, the feeling of abandonment is not as intense), and most likely you will remember emotions you would not wish to revive.
One of the main causes of this issue is that children naturally experience everything intensely (all first experiences are most intense), have a tendency toward generalization and black and white perception, as well as an experience of timelessness in which even short abandonment in early childhood may be experienced as something that will last forever. If the parents are also emotionally immature (which can be said for most parents to a certain extent) the child will more often feel directly or indirectly rejected or abandoned. Similar feelings emerge in all situations when we feel rejected, but the deepest and most painful feelings penetrate the consciousness only in situations when we end an exceptionally important emotional relationship.
Moreover, I believe that one of the causes of this is the way a child is raised in our society. In many ‘primitive’ societies children are reared by the entire community. A child has many sources of love, security and support and is less likely to feel physically and emotionally dependent on two people or even only one. In our society children are almost wholly dependent upon their parents and only to a certain extent on the help of their grandparents. Thus separation from parents can provoke particularly strong feelings of fear and abandonment. In adulthood this can lead to unhealthy bonding and codependency in an intimate relationship.
A more gentle and subtle pain, often present if we have already resolved the superficial feeling of abandonment, is a deeper feeling of separation from love. This is not the intense pain related to abandonment by a specific person, but rather a more subtle feeling that this is a world in which the deep and joyful love and closeness for which we long is not within our reach. Sometimes we can follow this to a feeling of separation from mother after birth, or even earlier in the prenatal period.
Use the chance
In moments of crisis, people want to do whatever is necessary to resolve heavy emotions – but once the emotions subside and return to the subconscious, it’s easy to forget their intensity and delude ourselves into thinking that it was not so bad or that we managed to resolve them spontaneously. However, until we fully resolve such emotions, we will continue to create and attract situations that will bring them out. For some people this may occur only a few times in their life; others might attract such situations much more often.
“Our greatest problems contain our greatest blessings” (Martyn Carruthers) – and once we resolve emotional dependency that stems from childhood separation experiences, we can return to our natural state of happiness and love that is not dependent on anyone outside of us.