Thursday, May 2, 2019


So I did the love languages quiz again, and the following are my scores. I know it's a very fluid thing, I took it six months ago and it was very different from how it is now. I like to take it every so often (like twice a year), so it is easier to love myself, and it is easier for other people to show their love for me. Love languages are valid, to me, it's why sometimes even when two people feel that they love each other and try to show it, the other partner doesn't seem to feel or sense it, if they don't have the same languages as their strongest. 

I also think it is why I make friends easily, or bond easily, because I register details about every individual, and I can roughly gauge what their dominant love languages are, and I show it to them in that form. You have to bear in mind, that the stronger a person's love language is, the easier it is for them to register or perceive love for themselves if you use that language, so even if it isn't necessarily your strongest love language, you can and should use those forms, if you want to show your love, and they will then do the same for you. To put it simply, if I speak English, Malay and Mandarin, but my dominant language is English, the best way I can understand anybody is if they speak to me in English. Simple, right?

These are the rough explanations of my top three love languages.

Acts of Service: Can helping with homework really be an expression of love? Absolutely! Anything you do to ease the burden of responsibilities weighing on an "Acts of Service" person will speak volumes. The words he or she most wants to hear: "Let me do that for you." Laziness, broken commitments, and making more work for them tell speakers of this language their feelings don't matter. When others serve you out of love (and not obligation), you feel truly valued and loved.

Quality Time: In Quality Time, nothing says "I love you" like full, undivided attention. Being there for this type of person is critical, but really being there — with the TV off, fork and knife down, and all chores and tasks on standby — makes you feel truly special and loved. Distractions, postponed activities, or the failure to listen can be especially hurtful. Whether it's spending uninterrupted time talking with someone else or doing activities together, you deepen your connection with others through sharing time.

Words of Affirmation: Actions don't always speak louder than words. If this is your love language, unsolicited compliments mean the world to you. Hearing the words, "I love you," is important — hearing the reasons behind that love sends your spirits skyward. Insults can leave you shattered and are not easily forgotten. You thrive on hearing kind and encouraging words that build you up.

Between taking the quiz for love languages and reading Hold Me Tight, I really do think love and being in a healthy relationship are a science that can be learned and practised. I have done too much emotional labor for many people who are reluctant to go to therapy, people who don't like to look at their own flaws in order to correct them, people who just don't open themselves up. These are people in my family, at work, or my friends. It's tiring for me, and the simplest way someone can show me they love me, is by making a relationship (whether it's platonic or otherwise) easier, and working on themselves first. Tell me how you feel loved and how you want to be loved. Read a book about relationships, to see the thousands of times love and relationships have been troubleshot, all the hits and misses, so we can learn from them together, both the good things and bad things. As long as the things you do allow yourself to grow, and allow us to grow together, then that's a great form of love I would cherish. Everyone can learn and benefit from therapy. One of the best celebrity examples I note are Beyoncé and Jay-Z. He cheated on her multiple times, and after she came out with Lemonade to name and shame him, he finally saw a therapist. He's said in interviews that while growing up, he learned in his own personal black community and black culture that there was a certain way men had to act, and they could never talk about their feelings, so while he subverted his feelings, he kept cheating and doing things he wasn't proud of. He managed to look at his mistakes in therapy and slowly unlearn such unhealthy and abusive behaviors. I don't know why this story stuck with me, I just think you can't move on and receive better things if you refuse to look at your own problematic mindsets. Nobody said it would be easy, but we're all trying to own up to and resolve our own shit, and we can all do it together.

Anyways, here is another snippet of Hold Me Tight:
We are naturally reluctant to confront our vulnerabilities. We live in a society that says we’re supposed to be strong, to be invulnerable. Our inclination is to ignore or deny our frailty. Rather than face her sadness and longings, Carey holds on to her anger. “Otherwise I guess I’d turn into this weak, sniveling little needy person,” she observes. We fear, too, getting stuck in our own pain. Partners tell me, “If I let myself cry, maybe I won’t be able to stop. Suppose I lose control and cry forever?” Or, “If I let myself feel these things, I will only be even more hurt. The hurt will take over and be unbearable.”

We are perhaps even more reluctant to confess frailty to a lover. It will make us less attractive, we think. We recognize, too, that admitting vulnerability seems to put a powerful weapon in the hands of the person who can hurt us the most. Maybe our partner will take advantage of us. Our instinct is to protect ourselves.

When we are the loved one, we are sometimes loath to acknowledge signs of distress in a partner, even when the signals are obvious. We are unsure what to do or feel, especially if we have no template for how to respond effectively. Some of us have never seen secure bonding in action. Or we don’t want to acknowledge or get caught up in our lover’s or, by implication, our own vulnerability. It always fascinates me that when a child cries we prioritize this signal. We respond. Our children don’t threaten us, and we accept that they are vulnerable and need us. We see them in an attachment frame. But we have been taught not to see adults this way.

The truth is, we will never create a really strong, secure connection if we do not allow our lovers to know us fully or if our lovers are unwilling to know us. My client David, a high-powered executive, understands. He says, “Well, in my head, I guess I can see that always staying away from these big emotions, from my sadness and fears, kind of twists things. If I am hunkered down, avoiding every sign of upset from someone and listening for negative stuff so I can run, it does kind of limit how we connect.”

We want and need our lovers to respond to our hurt. But they can’t do that if we don’t show it. To love well requires courage — and trust. If you harbor real and substantial doubts about your lover’s good intentions, for example, if you physically fear your partner, then of course it is best not to confide. (You probably should find a therapist or even reconsider being in the relationship.)

When you’re ready to share your vulnerability, start slow. There’s no need to bare your soul. Often the way to begin is to talk about the act of sharing. “It’s hard for me to share this . . .” is a great opening. It is easier then to go on to reveal a little of what you are sensitive about. Once you feel comfortable, you can talk more openly about the sources of the hurt.

This should open the door to your lover reciprocating and revealing his or her raw spots and their origins. Such disclosures are often met with amazement. In my sessions with distressed couples, the first time one partner really owns and voices vulnerability, the other usually responds with shocked disbelief. The mate has only seen his or her lover’s surface emotional responses, the ones that cloak and hide the deeper vulnerabilities.

Of course, simply recognizing and revealing our vulnerabilities won’t make them disappear. They’ve become built-in alarms, signaling that our emotional connection with key loved ones is in danger, and they can’t be easily turned off. This probably reflects how important attachment is to us; data in a primary survival code aren’t removed without difficulty.

The key emotion here is fear, fear of the loss of connection. And our nervous system, as Joseph LeDoux at the Center for Neural Science at New York University points out, favors sustaining links between fear alarms and the amygdala, the part of the brain that maintains a record of emotional events. The entire system is designed to add on information, not to allow for easy removal. If we are to avoid danger, it’s better to err on the side of false positives than false negatives. These links can be weakened, however, as you’ll learn in the next chapter.

But even just talking about one’s deepest fears and longings with a partner lifts an enormous burden. I ask David, “Do you feel more hurt or scared when you let yourself connect with those difficult feelings and talk about this stuff?” He laughs. He looks surprised. “No,” he says, “funny that. Once I got that there was nothing wrong with me, that these feelings are wired in, it wasn’t so hard. In fact, it kind of helps to walk in there to that scary place and tie those feelings down. Once they make sense, it kind of takes the bite out of them.” As I look at him, he literally seems more balanced, more present in his own skin, than when he was busy dodging his fears and his lady’s “scary” messages. This reminds me of something my tango teacher, Francis, tells me, “When you are balanced on your feet, tuned in to yourself, then you can listen to me and move with me. Then we can move together.”

Vincent and James, a gay couple, found that out, too. Vincent moves away and goes silent when things get difficult with James. “What can I say?” Vincent tells me. “I don’t know how I feel. I don’t know what happens when he starts to go on about how our relationship isn’t that happy. James wants to ‘talk it out.’ How can I talk about what I don’t know? So I blank out, keep quiet, and let him talk. But he just gets more and more upset.” We know that when our safe haven with a lover is threatened we get overwhelmed by a helpless sadness, shame about feelings of inadequacy or failure, and desperate fears of rejection, loss, and abandonment. The basic music here is panic.

As we discussed earlier, our attachment alarm system gets switched on by a sense of deprivation: we cannot gain emotional access to our loved one and so are deprived of needed attention, care, and soothing — the soothing that Harry Harlow called “contact comfort.” The second switch is a sense of desertion. This sense may emerge from feeling emotionally abandoned (“There is no answer when I call, no response. I am in need and alone”) or rejected (“I feel unwanted or criticized. I am not valued. I never come first”). Our brain responds to deprivation and desertion with intimations of helplessness.

Vincent has not been able to grasp and voice these emotions and ask for James’s help in allaying them, so they have become reactive “hot” raw spots that signal instant peril and call up his protective distancing.

If Vincent goes through and unpacks the elements of his raw spot emotions, what happens? He begins to focus in on what happens for him just before the habitual “blank out” response that James dreads so much. What is the specific cue for this “blank out”? Once he slows down and thinks a little, Vincent is able to tell me, “It’s his face, I think. I see those brows come together. I see frustration, and I know I am a dead man. And if I tune in to how I feel in my body as I talk about this, I feel jittery, like there are butterflies in my stomach, like I’m failing a test in school. When I think about what meaning this has, it’s that we are doomed. It’s hopeless. Whatever it is that he wants, I obviously don’t have it.”

James says, “And all that adds up to feeling what exactly?” Vincent calmly tells him, “Well, anxious is a good word.” And I notice that his face relaxes here. Even when the news isn’t good, it feels good to be able to order your inner world. Then he continues, “So if the next question is how does this feeling move me, make me act, that is easy. I just do nothing. There is no way forward that won’t make things worse. I just stay really still and wait for James’s frustration to go away.”

So now Vincent can describe the raw spot that gets touched in him and how it sparks off his inability to respond to his partner. He feels sad, anxious, and hopeless and tries to stay still with the faint hope that the problem will go away. He tells me that his emotions are “unknown territory” for him, so it’s new for him to tune in to them. I compliment him on his courage and openness and I chat with him about the fact that his shut-down strategy works just fine in many situations. But in love relationships, it simply alarms his partner and writes the next part of the story with a negative slant. We talk about where this raw spot comes from. He remembers that he was very confident with James at the beginning of their love and was able to sometimes express his feelings. But through the years, they have grown apart. Their distance was exacerbated when James suffered a back injury that left him in such pain that he could not bear to be touched. Vincent then began to feel less confident and more and more wary of negative cues coming from James.

James responds to Vincent, “Well, until now I never saw your anxiety. Not for a minute. I just see someone who disappears on me, and then we go off into that demon thing. It’s frustrating to talk to a blank, you know.” But he is also able to tell Vincent that he is beginning to understand how it’s hard for Vincent to put his emotional world together when James gets so mad so fast. James is then able to talk about his own raw spot and how he feels that Vincent has “deserted” him for the excitement of his acting career. When Vincent tells his partner, “I may be a big shot on the set but I still get totally freaked out by your angry messages,” he is dealing with his vulnerability in a whole new way. He is more present, more accessible.

Generally in love, sharing even negative emotions, provided they don’t get out of hand, is more useful than emotional absence. Lack of response just fires up the primal panic of the other partner. As James tells Vincent, “I get so I just want to strike out at you to prove that you can’t just turn me off.” Vincent and James are now on the elevator going down into each other’s emotional world. Changing the level of the conversation clarifies our own emotional responses and sends clearer messages about attachment needs to our partner. Then we offer our lover the best chance to lovingly respond to us.

Let’s take some snapshots of James recognizing his raw spot and how Vincent helps him in the process. Vincent asks about the cue that triggers James’s frustration. James considers, then says, “I am just waiting for it to happen now. Watching for you to ‘forget’ about our plans to spend time together.” But then James gets sidetracked into all kinds of details about how this “habit” of Vincent’s started. So Vincent suggests that James try to focus more on how he knows when this is happening. What is the cue and James’s first take that something is wrong?

As James’s eyes close for a moment, I hear the emotional down elevator begin to ding. “It’s like Vincent looks distracted. He doesn’t focus on me at all,” James says, tearing up. If we quietly stay with our emotions, they often just develop, like a fuzzy image gradually getting clearer. James continues, “So I get this lump in my throat. I feel sad, I guess. My brain says, ‘There he goes again. Off to be by himself with his book. And here I am, by myself.’ We have this lovely life, lots of things. But I’m all by myself in it.”

Vincent, who in previous sessions reacted by talking about how much he had given James and how James should be more independent anyway, is now listening attentively. I validate James’s loneliness and his longing for loving contact with Vincent. James continues to listen to his feelings, reaching for the message in his emotions. His voice goes quiet now and he murmurs, “I guess, I decide then that Vincent doesn’t need me. He is always there but just out of reach.”

Now James’s voice is even softer, and he turns more toward Vincent. “If I don’t get mad, I feel a little shaky. I feel shaky and sad right now. And I don’t want to look at you. I am thinking that you must just be put off by this. Your work is your real love. I try to accept that, but all this fear and sadness just turns into bitterness.” He passes his hand over his face, and suddenly there is a defiant anger where just a moment before I saw sadness and vulnerability. “I don’t want to be here. Maybe we’d be happier apart.”

Oops! A flip into anger. It’s hard to stay with our more profound feelings. But Vincent is brilliant. He sees that James is struggling and helps him out. “So under the frustration, you are telling me that you are shaky and sad. You want to know that it is not all work with me. Okay. I’m not good at talking about needs. I’m just learning now. But I sure as hell do need you to stop with the ‘happier apart’ bit. I’d just as soon be miserable as hell with you, if that’s okay?” James collapses in laughter.

They are on their way. They are learning to deal with raw spots in a way that brings them close.

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