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Learning to Accept Love After Experiencing Trauma

Young Asian couple standing on a garden wall near a river. She is in front of him with her arms spread as if to fly. He has his hands on her hips to balance her.Love is one of the most elemental of emotions [1]. It is a building block of some of our deepest relationships [2] and a component in many of our happiest days. Yet the ability to freely give and receive love is a fragile skill, which traumatic experiences can all too easily dent or damage.

Learning how to be loved is a vital part of your healing. Here are a few things to think about as you regain your ability to accept someone’s care, concern, and nurturing.

Part of learning how to be loved again is learning how to interact with people who express kindness, care, concern, nurture, and attention. Because you have experienced a traumatic [3] experience, you have learned that people are capable of great cruelty. To avoid experiencing cruelty again, a part of your mind may have decided to ensure that you will never be hurt again. One of the ways that your mind tries to protect you from future cruelty is to assume that people are dangerous. This assumption in turn results in you leaning towards mistrust, avoiding vulnerability, and shying away from emotional intimacy.

One way to practice opening yourself up to love is to practice opening yourself up to trust [6], vulnerability, and intimacy. But you have to make sure that you are practicing this with a safe person: someone who will not be cruel, let alone abusive, to you.

First, assess the level of vulnerability you open yourself up to if you take in the token of love.

Once you assess the level of vulnerability, take a moment and decide if this is a level of vulnerability you are safe with. If the vulnerability exceeds your level of healing, claim your right to do what is wisest for you, and back off or decline the token of love.

Consider the giver’s genuineness and accuracy. Is this someone with whom you have enough history to know their usual level of genuineness and accuracy? If you’re not sure, consider only accepting an expression of love that is low on your level of vulnerability. If you do have enough history with this person, then let their history of genuineness and accuracy help you decide whether to take in the expression of care, concern, or love. Someone who has proven to be genuine, truthful, and accurate is most likely extending an expression of love that is worthy of trust.

Consider whether there could be an ulterior motive. How would the giver of this token of love benefit from you accepting it? Could this benefit be damaging to you? When accepting an expression of love that makes you beholden or indebted to someone, think long and hard whether there could be an ulterior motive on the behalf of the giver.

If the expression of care is within your range of vulnerability, and is from a genuine and accurate person who does not have a damaging ulterior motive, then take in the love. Practice taking a deep breath while reminding yourself that you are actively healing one of the most fundamental of skills. Recognize that this is a moment in which you are being cared for, loved, and nurtured. Try not to miss these moments of kindness and care.

If you can believe the giver’s statements of friendship, respect, or love, then rejoice in the fact that someone believes these positive things about you. If believing these messages of love is out of your reach right now, then simply practice listening. Avoid disagreeing and don’t rebut the person’s opinions of you. Give voice to your gratitude, and express your thankfulness for this token of love.

If you are working on your healing with a therapist, try using that relationship to practice accepting care. I hope you have experienced your therapist to be the kind of genuine, accurate person with whom it will be safe to practice accepting love. Those questions about how you are, how your week was, and so on, are not just the standard questions of therapy: they are also tiny moments when therapeutic care and concern are being expressed. If nothing else, practice listening to these statements of care without disagreeing. I encourage you to take in the warmth of your therapist.