Today I’ll share a personal love story with you. Not like one you might expect, where a boy meets a girl (or a boy), but rather some lessons I’ve learned from my own story with love.
Phone calls with my mum typically end like this:
Me: “I love you mum, bye.”
Mum: “OK, bye Jess.”
You see, I know my mum loves me, but let’s just say she shows it in a very different way to how I do.
In an often-typical British fashion, my family thinks that saying how you really feel is rude. As a teenager I was habitually called “too emotional” — for trying to share something I was excited or worried about. I also seemed to need more hugs than everyone else, and wanted to have deep meaningful conversations at home all the time. Not understanding why I seemed to be so different from my mum and brother; I thought there must be something wrong with me.
But then, someone gave me a book that changed everything.
I’m going to share some tools I’ve used to understand love better, and attract the kind of relationships I’ve always wanted into my life.
Through the ages, “love” has been notoriously hard to define, and may well feel different for each one of us — we’ll never know. For me, it’s a feeling of deep connection and compassion for someone else, something or even ourselves.
Firstly I’ll share two theories I’ve learned and applied about giving and receiving love in relationships with other people; and secondly I’ll talk about the more elusive concept of loving ourselves.
So, first off: two simple tools that transformed my relationships with other people are love languages, and attachment theory. In case you haven’t heard of them, I will give you a brief summary.
Step 1: Know your “love language”
Gary Chapman’s book “The Five Love Languages” proposes that each of us prefer to give and receive love and affection in one (or two) of five different ways. The five “love languages” are: physical touch; words of affirmation (such as giving compliments, or saying “I love you”); spending quality time together; giving gifts or doing acts of service (for example, giving someone a lift or making them tea). We all have a personal list — from most to least rewarding — of which of the five we care about the most.
When I applied this to my own family, I realised I most appreciate affection through physical touch (I’m a big hugger) and words of affirmation (like saying “I love you”); whereas, for example, my mum most often showed me her love and affection with acts of service (like putting food on the table for us) or giving me presents. I realised that all the time as a child that I thought my mum didn’t love me enough, she was actually just showing it in different ways to what I personally perceived love to be.
This theory can apply to any relationship we have, with our friends, family or partner. After this discovery, I personally sought out a partner who naturally gravitates towards the same love languages that I do.
Summary #1: Knowing your own top love language and that of those close to you can help you love them in their preferred way, and also see the ways they are trying to love you already, that are likely going right over your head (and heart) right now. It can also help you seek out relationships that give you love in the way you prefer it.
Step 2: Learn about attachment styles
The second realisation I had about love in relationships came from reading the popular attachment theory book “Attached” by Amir Levine. I learned that half of us are mostly “securely” attached in our relationships with others, and the other half are non-securely attached —roughly split down the middle as either “anxiously” or “ avoidantly” attached.
In relationships, “anxious” people tend to worry that no-one will ever love them enough, or them will be abandoned and can end up becoming clingy. “Avoidant” people tend to keep an emotional distance in relationships because their deep fear is of being overwhelmed by love. “Secure” people are comfortable with closeness of a relationship. On reading this theory, I realised that I had been slightly anxiously attached growing up.
If left unchecked, our attachment styles from our childhood can transfer over to our romantic relationships later in life. Anxious and avoidant people often subconsciously seek each other out — reaffirming their unbalanced beliefs that they will ultimately be abandoned or overwhelmed by their partner respectively. The good news is that, if we want to, over time we can change our own attachment style. “Secure” people can even influence an anxious partner to act and feel more secure themselves in their relationship. Since learning about attachment theory, I’ve worked towards becoming more securely, or comfortably attached to those I love instead.
Summary #2: Learning about attachment styles can help you understand why people have a hard time getting close to people in relationships. It can also help you make a more informed choice about who you bond with, and understand your previous or existing connections.
Step 3: Strenghten your self-love muscle
Finally, I used to hear people talking about “self-love”and wonder what they meant. Because we’re often far more loving and accepting to those around us than we are to ourselves, I find the easiest way to build self love is to think of yourself as if you are your own beloved best friend.
Our mind’s “self-talk” is often far harsher than how we would speak to anyone else. For example, if you make a mistake, say you accidentally drop something, notice if you think “Ugh, you idiot!” (or worse!). Would you say that to your best friend, or instead feel compassion for their blunder? I started noticing and stopping my own negative self-talk in its tracks and even counteracting it with positive thinking — like telling myself “I love you” or noting three things that I’m grateful for about myself before I went to bed.
Another way to love ourselves better is to notice how the people and situations around us make us feel, and then act on these realisations. Knowing what genuinely makes us feel happy and fulfilled, and getting more of that good stuff, is one of the best gifts we can give ourselves. Advising yourself, like you would a best friend, on the kind of people you want around you — whether that’s kind, inspiring, positive, open-hearted etc — and setting clear boundaries with those who you know are not so good for you, can be one of the most important life upgrades you make.
Strengthening our self-love also helps us go into relationships with our “love tanks” full rather than empty, so we can love someone else from a place of abundance rather than of simply needing love.
Visualising yourself as a child and promising him or her that you will protect and love her like you always wanted from your parents; or asking your “inner child” what her or she needs when you are feeling down or antsy, can also make a massive difference to what you put up with in life (or not) and how loved you feel. We all have a “child-like” part of us that wants to feel safe and also have fun, make sure you are giving that to yourself with how you live your daily life also.
Summary #3: You can also give yourself the love you always wanted, by building your self-love muscle. What’s more, this will help you go into relationships with a stronger foundation, able to give love from a healthier place rather than one of needing or accepting love “scraps” yourself.
Growing up I felt pretty disconnected, which made me seek out a better understanding of love — what and how it was. I ended up accepting my relationship with my family, feeling truly loved, and attracting the kind of relationships that I always wanted. Learning more about loving other people and ourselves can be truly life-changing.
What’s more, it helped me find my purpose. As Oprah Winfrey puts it:
”Turn your wounds into wisdom”. — Oprah Winfrey
So, I’m dedicated to sharing what I learn to help other people feel more connected to themselves and each other during my lifetime.
Jessica Warren is co-founder of Mind: Unlocked — a mental well-being business that provides practical tools, courses and workshops to help people cope with the stress of everyday modern life. She has been featured as a wellness speaker on BBC Radio and at conferences like Wanderlust and Eurekafest; and writes for Thrive Global, Economia Magazine, and the StartUp and P.S. I Love You publications on Medium. Previously in her career, Jessica trained as a Chartered Accountant and worked in corporate finance, before a significant life change made her decide to dedicate her time to exploring and sharing how to live more fulfilling lives we love.