Extracts from Welwood's 'Perfect Love, Imperfect Relationships'

Here are some extracts from 'Perfect Love, Imperfect Relationships' by John Welwood, which I found an extraordinarily helpful read:

'Yet this (the maternal bond) also gives rise to one of the most fundamental of all human illusions: that the source of happiness and well-being lies outside us, in other people's acceptance, approval or caring. As a child, this was indeed the case, since we were at first so entirely dependent on others for our very life. Under ideal circumstances, the parents' love would gradually become internalised, allowing us to feel our own inner connection to love. But the less experience we have of being loved as we are, the less we feel at home in our own heart. And this leaves us looking to others for the most essential connection of all - with the native sense of rightness and joy that arises only out of being rooted in ourselves.'

'As the child develops into a separate person, the early blissful moments of oneness with the mother fade away. We are no longer this amazing little being who dropped in from outer space. Instead, for our parents, we become "their child", an object of their hopes and fears. Their acceptance and support become conditional on our meeting their expectations. And this undermines our trust: in ourselves, that we are acceptable just as we are; in others, that they can see and value us for who we are; and in love itself, that it is reliably there for us.'

'Even if at the deepest level our parents did love us unconditionally, it was impossible for them to express this consistently, given their human limitations. This was not their fault. It doesn't mean they were bad parents or bad people. Like everyone, they had their share of fears, worries, cares, and burdens, as well as their own wounding around love. Like all of us, they were imperfect vessels for perfect love.'

'What keeps the wound from healing is not knowing that we are lovely and lovable just as we are, while imagining that other people hold the key to this.'

'This disconnection from love most often grows out of not feeling fully embraced or accepted in our family of origin - whether through neglect, lack of attunement, or outright abuse. Not feeling securely held in the arms of love, we fall into the grip of fear. Inadequate love and nurturance directly impact the child's sensitive nervous system, resulting in a certain degree of shock or trauma that will affect us for the rest of our life.'

'Sometimes the wounding or separation from love happens in more subtle ways. Some parents seem loving enough, yet they covertly or unconsciously dispense their love in controlling or manipulative ways. Or they may not be attuned to the child as someone different from them, a separate being in his or her (sic) own right. Such children may feel loved for certain attributes - but not for who they really are. In their need to please their parents and fit in, they come to regard love as something outside themselves, which they have to earn by living up to certain standards.'

'Children naturally try to protect themselves from the pain of inadequate love as best they can. They learn to separate and distance themselves from what causes them pain by contracting or shutting down. (YES!) The technical term for this is dissociation.'

'Dissociation is our mind's way of saying no to and turning away from our pain, our sensitivity, our need for love, our grief and anger about not getting enough of it, and from the body as well, where these feelings reside. This is one of the most basic and effective of all the defensive strategies in the child's repertoire...'

'Love and the wound of the heart always seem to go hand in hand, like light and shadow'. No matter how powerfully we fall in love with someone, we rarely soar above our fear and distrust for very long. Indeed, the more brightly another person lights us up, the more this activates the shadow of our wounding and brings it to the fore. As soon as conflict, misunderstanding and disappointment arise, a certain insecurity wells up from the dark recesses of the mind, whispering "See, you're not really loved after all."

'... As a result of having to push my mother away because she could not let me be me, I had separated myself from love and remained on guard against it throughout the early decades of my life.

Consequently, I had learned to develop my intellect, at least in part, as a way of dissociating from the pain of this disconnection from love. Yet much deeper than any need to... accomplish... there was an undeniable longing that was humbling when I faced it in its unvarnished simplicity: At the root of everything I did, I had to admit, what I most wanted was to love and be loved.'

(Working on this stuff) 'You will discover that your wounding is not a fault or defect but rather a guiding compass that can lead to greater connectedness. And this will allow you to live more creatively with the tension between love's inherent perfection and relationship's inevitable imperfection.' [Yes that apostrophe is in the right place.]

'Winnicott stressed the importance of allowing infants to rest in their own "unstructured being", without constant intrusion. When parents fail to provide this spaciousness, children feel smothered or controlled. Then they become overly oriented towards pleasing the parents and fitting into the parents' designs, thus losing touch with their own sense of being.

... Of course, if this spaciousness is not balanced by good contact, that too becomes problematic, for then the child feels abandoned.'

'Absolute love is not something that we have to - or that we even can - concoct or fabricate. It is what comes through us naturally when we fully open up - to another person, to ourselves, or to life. In relation to another it manifests as selfless caring. In relation to ourselves it shows up as inner confidence and self-acceptance that warms us from within. And in relation to life, it manifests as a sense of well-being, appreciation and joie de vivre.'

'... Notice how feeling loved allows you to connect with something rich and powerful in yourself. When someone shows you love, it's not that this person is handing something over to you. What really happens is that a window opens inside you, allowing great love to enter and touch you. Another's openness inspires the window of your heart to open, and then love becomes available, as your own inner experience. This is what turns you on - this sense of expansive warmth illuminating you from within. Feeling this, you then naturally resonate with the person who is loving you, as you are both sharing in the same experience.'

Sorry for shouting here but: 'NO ONE ELSE CAN EVER PROVIDE THE CONNECTION THAT FINALLY PUTS THE SOUL AT EASE. We find that connection when the window of the soul opens, allowing us to bask in the warmth and openness that is our deepest nature. When we look to others for this ground, we wind up trying to control and manipulate them into being there for us in a way that allows us to settle into ourselves. Yet this very focus on trying to get something from them prevents us from resting in our own ground, leaving us outwardly dependent and inwardly disconnected.'

'Imaging others to be the source of love condemns us to wander lost in the desert of hurt, abandonment, and betrayal, where human relationships appear to be hopelessly tragic and flawed.'

'... Thus the repressed sense of the frustrating or neglectful parent eventually blossoms (strange choice of word!) into a more generalised sense of the bad other - the other who cannot love you as you are, who threatens to hurt or betray you and therefore cannot be trusted. In this way, the bad other takes up permanent residence in the shadows of the mind.'

'These explosions of rage and blame happen when the bad-other image and its painful associations suddenly emerge into consciousness and become projected on the one (sic) we love.

Suddenly we see those we care about as the living embodiment of everyone who has ever hurt or rejected us.... He or she (sic) then reacts to us in turn with defensiveness or aggression, which further justifies our bad-other story. And the conflict escalates from there.'

'Often we unconsciously compress or constrict painful feelings as a way of trying to keep them away or make them smaller and less inconsequential. Allowing is a form of decompression or unstuffing: letting the energy of the feelings be as large as it is, without either identifying with it ("this pain is me, it means something about who I am") or rejecting it ("this pain isn't me, it shouldn't be there".'

(Compared with tribal cultures) 'In our culture the nuclear family is on its own. And the culture itself provides little wisdom, help, or guidance in raising children in a healthy way. So all the weight was on your parents to give you what you needed, and it was too much for them, give the other burdens they were carrying. No wonder their love seemed so inconsistent and unreliable, and no wonder you came to distrust love.'

'On top of everything else, your parents had their own legacy of not knowing they were loved, which made it hard for them to love themselves. When parents don't love themselves, they inevitably wind up USING THEIR CHILDREN TO SHORE UP THEIR SHAKY SELF-ESTEEM. (Oops, caps key must've got stuck there.) It requires a high degree of maturity to let loved ones be the unique, separate people that they are, with their own different needs, perspectives, and feelings. So, to the extent that your parents were not fully evolved themselves, they couldn't let you be who you were and simply love you for that.'

'There is no way to free yourself from the mood of unlove and the mood of grievance (terms used throughout the book) as long as you take it personally when others treat you badly. Taking it personally means imagining that it indicates something about who you are. As long as you take it personally when others don't see or appreciate you, you keep yourself imprisoned in the mind of the aggrieved child.'

'They (other people, including your parents) were compulsively driven to act as they did by their own unexamined wounds; therefore they did not know what they were doing and had little control over it.

...Not taking it personally when someone hurts us is a profound practice of compassion, for ourselves first of all.'

'Despite all the ways in which your parents failed to love you perfectly, you are only as healthy as you are today because of the ways they did care for you... If they hadn't shown you any kindness at all, you would not be well enough to be sitting here reading this book. You might be in an institution somewhere or be a serial killer. So if you are relatively sane at all, this means that you most likely had what Winnicott calls "good enough" parents. If you find this hard to accept, you probably have more work to do unpacking and making friends with the hurt and anger you are carrying from the past.'

'... If you have a hard time spending time alone, undistracted by work, phone calls, television, computers, or other forms of busyness that pull your attention away from yourself, this also suggests that you may not like being with yourself all that much.'

'If you could peer into the thoughts in most people's minds, you would find most of them revolving around a single preoccupation: "Am I OK or not?" This is what fuels the fixation "she loves me, she loves me not". If she loves me, then maybe I am a good self after all - someone successful, attractive, likeable, strong - and I can feel good about myself. But if she loves me not, then I am thrown into the hell of seeing myself as the bad self - someone inadequate, unattractive, unsuccessful, unlovable and weak, And then I hate and reject myself.'

'The journey from self-hatred to self-love involves learning to meet, accept, and open to the being that you are. This begins with letting yourself have your experience. Genuine self-love is not possible as long as you are resisting, avoiding, judging, or trying to manipulate and control what you experience....

... Letting ourselves have our experience can be quite challenging, since nobody ever taught us to how to relate honestly and directly to what we were feeling (YES). Instead, the conventional wisdom in our culture is: If you're depressed or anxious, take a pill, go work out at the gym, or turn on the television - because the only solution to bad feelings is to get away from them.' (Or drink alcohol, or lash out at someone...)

(As a child) 'Our sadness was bigger than we were because we didn't have the knowledge or capacity to process intense feelings. So our only choice was to SHUT DOWN OUR NERVOUS SYSTEM IN THE FACE OF OUR PAIN. The problem is that we still try to run away from our feelings, even though as an adult WE NOW HAVE THE CAPACITY TO DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT.'

'The habit of comparing ourselves to others or trying to be like them is one of the greatest obstacles to self-love.'

(When you let yourself feel your desire/longing) 'Sometimes there is a sweet sadness that comes with the longing as well. This is a soul sadness that grows out of recognising how long we have felt separate and disconnected. It is a moisturising sadness (!) that softens the defensive shell around the heart, a purifying sadness that clears the ground for new life to spring up. It is an experience of grievance melting down into grief.'

‘Nothing stretches our capacity to embody great love like learning to accept others in all of their differences and limitations, especially when these trigger our emotional hot spots. There is nothing like a relationship to show us where we are frozen and shut down, where we have trouble making contact, where we are most afraid and where we refuse to accept what is. Nothing else so quickly brings our core wound to the surface, exposing all the ways we still feel unloved or unlovable. Human relationships provide the ultimate litmus test of how healed, or whole, or spiritually mature we really are.’