For most of us, our first experience of being loved occurred in our home. As children, we took such things for granted or we didn’t recognize it when someone was expressing their love for us. For those who received an abundant supply, being loved may have been just an ordinary every day experience. But those early experiences of how we experienced being loved have a profound influence on us. Often loving someone is reduced to whether or not the words “I love you” have been spoken, but as we all know, “love” is just a four-letter word. People suffer a great deal of pain when they are feeling that they can’t get the love that they want. And often, a person may feel the love in their heart, but for some reason, it doesn’t land in the heart of the other and there is an emotional disconnect. As a result, some relationships grow distant or become filled with anger and even break. The reality is that love is a very complex, variable, and unique emotional state. It is an essential experience that promotes a sense of well-being, optimism, and empathy for others. In other words, we all need to receive love and to give love.
And yet it is often an elusive difficult emotion to define, understand and actually deliver. How often do we hear, “If you really loved me, you would…” or, “I’m doing this because I love you”? So given the complexity of the subject, we begin here with some simple basic Daruma Psychology instructions that could help you to get a better understanding of how to give and receive love. And keep in mind, if you don’t succeed at first, keep trying: seven times down, eight times up! Since our first experience of being loved was likely in our first love relationship. It is thought that how we actually experienced being loved by our parents/caregivers early on, actually sets down a neural pathway that associates certain actions, words, sensation with feeling loved. For example, when I was a kid, I would wait at the door for my father to come home from work. Routinely he would smile at me from a distance and when he got to the door, he would pat me on the head and say, “ii ko,” good child. And though sometimes he would reward my welcome with a big soft pretzel stick stuck in his coat pocket, it was the pat on the head that meant so much to me. It may sound simplistic, but when I have a bad day, nothing comforts me more than a soft pat on the head from my husband! Being able to communicate all the ways you and your loved one actually experience feeling loved is one of the most important conversations you can have with your partner, child, spouse, parent or friend. You may find that it often goes back to the time when you were a kid. It could be as simple as the words, but for most Nikkei, the words just don’t cut the mustard. I’ve had people surprise themselves with what they come up with: being tucked in at night, having a sandwich made for them, the words “good job,” homemade apple pie, a love note, shoulders massaged, or a warm bowl of ochazuke. It’s actually endless the different ways a person can feel loved. It’s not just one-size-fits-all, but rather a unique set of sounds, sensations, images, tastes and smells, depending on what early experiences were stored in the memory bank associated with core feelings of safety and nurturing. We often assume that we know how our loved one feels loved, and make the mistake that what makes us feel loved is what will make the other feel loved. Oops! Seven times down, eight times up. So to make sure that your efforts to communicate the love you feel actually lands in the heart of your loved one, ask the question: How do you feel loved by me? And make sure they ask you the same question. The answer to this question is a precious gift. One you can deliver with intention, one that will surely land on its mark. Many years ago, my young son was in the next room playing with his Star Wars guys while I was giving this exact same lecture to a couple’s group. When we were leaving, he said, “Mom, do you know how I feel loved?” I was stunned to realize that I had never asked him that question but he went on, “I feel loved when you hold my hand when we cross the street, even though I’m a big boy.” He’s now much taller than me, almost 40 years old, but whenever I can, I reach for his hand when we cross the street.
Satsuki Ina, Ph.D. is a licensed marriage and family therapist practicing in Sacramento and Berkeley with specialization in intergenerational trauma. www.satsukiinatherapy.com. She is also a filmmaker (“Children of the Camps” and “From a Silk Cocoon: A Japanese American Renunciation Story”). The views expressed in the preceding column are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.