The Blog

What Love Isn't and What Love Is

Feb 27, 2023

When a disordered/narcissistic/abusive person says “I love you”, what he or she really means is “I want to suck the life out of you to feel better about myself." Of course, this isn't love. Love is artfully and creatively discovering what is best for another person. Love is "knowing" -- the kind of closeness that sees and accepts every single bit of another person. Love is holding space, stories and each other's person in honor and treasuring each part of them. Love is empathy and compassion. Love is almost unexplainable!

It is especially harmful when a child is confused about what love is and what love is not. When a child does not know love but only manipulation, that child grows up into an adult who believes that “to love is to control”. For some, it can be natural to "love" someone who is controlling. That is what we knew, right? That was comfortable and that is our "normal".

A friend of mine explained to me that, growing up, her mother would scream at her and belittle her but MADE SURE that they both always said, “I love you, dear” to each other every time they parted or hung up the phone. In the Disney movie “Tangled”, Rapunzel’s mother used her daughter on a regular basis to keep herself young, keeping Rapunzel isolated and afraid (the ultimate and literal "sucking the life out of her" illustration). After the emotional abuse was finished for the day, this dialogue was repeated:

“I love you, Rapunzel.”

“I love you more, Mother.”

“I love you most.”

Another woman recounts how her sister would buy her and her children expensive gifts whilst dominating all of them. This woman believed her sister loved her because of the gifts but experienced painful PAINFUL confusion over what love is because of the tirades and fits of rage she regularly experienced from her out-of-control-yet-controlling sister. Lundy Bancroft explains this phenomenon of the disordered heart well:

My (abuser) clients say to me, ‘No one else gets me upset like she does. I just go out of my head sometimes because I have such strong feelings for her. The things she does really hurt me, and nobody else can get under my skin like that.’ There are reasons not to accept the ‘love causes abuse’ excuse. First, many people reserve their best behavior and kindest treatment for their loved ones, including their partners. Should we accept the idea that these people feel love less strongly, or have less passion, than an abuser does? Nonsense. [Why Does He Do That? by Lundy Bancroft, pp 28-30]

This is a twisted, warped concept of love. It is usury wrapped in sugar. Or "dressed up" in spirituality. It is control with a crumb of goodness. It is the kiss of Judas . . . I am about to destroy you and I am doing it with a common display of affection. It can make your head spin.

Love is not control. Love gives ultimate freedom. Love and freedom are two strands of the same licorice, all twirled together in perfect goodness. Love does not give a bit while it hurts a lot. Love does not take, then take some more while offering a speck of hope. Love is extravagant and healing in its generosity. You know this and feel this in your body. You can trust your nervous system to feel peace, security and calm when you are loved -- NOT the chemical dependence of the up and down or back and forth or the volatile confusion when our heart-rates say, "I don't understand and it doesn't feel good, despite the words coming out of their mouth."

Beloved clients, love is exceptional and whole-heartedly healing. It is never dominating; never twisted. On the contrary, love is always offering freedom to the captives -- bringing us from disconnection to connection. Brokenness to wholeness. Shalom.

Love, Megan