We are all susceptible to some form of emotional abuse when in relationships.
Relationships glued together by emotional bonds can be said to serve as mirrors of the inner self. The process teaches us how lovable we are, and how much our love is being valued by the other.
Kids do not question the impression of themselves they are given by their parents. They cannot comprehend the deep reasons why their mothers and fathers are so stressed out, including having to deal with the shadows of their own difficult childhoods. Instead, when kids perceive themselves in a negative light because of their parents, they often blame themselves for being worthless.
Let’s say you internalized the perception of your body based on reflections from a funhouse mirror, which made your bottom part look gigantic. You would think that you had a lot of work ahead of you, which even an intense diet mixed with straining daily exercise sessions wouldn’t cover. As soon as you internalize that negative image, you could start distrusting even regular mirrors; it is a fact that many people who suffer from eating disorders see themselves as fat even though they barely have any meat on their bones. Even people who do not have eating disorders – but in their youth were always told that they were too skinny – are likely to see themselves as thin in adulthood, despite their mirror image proving that they are actually a little chubby.
Concerning looks, at least we have many other mirrors to compare to the unrealistic funhouse reflection, which gives us the opportunity to overcome an internalized negative image. However, there are no reflections of love except those we are given by our loved ones. If you judge your own lovability based on the reflections of a person who can’t love without hurt, you will get a false picture of yourself.
As the years go by, we slowly grow out of believing the image about ourselves projected by our loved ones, but it always remains active in some shape or form.
You would likely laugh at a stranger who said you had a strange chin, but if your partner says it you might immediately check yourself in the mirror. We are much more likely to believe things about ourselves if they are said to us by someone we hold dear. The natural assumption is that if your significant other is not quite happy with something, there must be something wrong with you – and you may turn to anger or resentment to shield yourself.
Many of us may accept the criticism reflected in the love mirror, even though we are aware that our loved ones could be distorting our image on purpose. We might disagree with what they say, but still, deep down we feel that there might actually be something wrong with us. The criticism given to us by the love mirror is why even the toughest and most successful among us are vulnerable to verbal abuse in their romantic relationships.
Thankfully, the love mirror also reflects positive things: if, when you were a kid, your parents taught you how kind and lovable you are, you will most likely have a positive and more realistic view of yourself in your romantic relationships. You will sometimes be made to feel a little down, but you will rarely feel unworthy of love. Even when you are overcome with a sense of disappointment, you will know that something can be done to improve your suffering. Moments of such sadness won’t last long because you will quickly be able to realign yourself and get to a state of feeling valuable again.
Why do we hurt our loved ones?
A child who is in distress or behaving badly can make a mother and father feel like they have failed at parenting. A rejecting or angry parent can make a child feel weak and unworthy of love. A demanding or hostile partner can make us feel undervalued and rejected.
As human beings, we use resentment and anger to teach our loved ones a lesson, and not so much for the things they’ve done as for our own painful reflections in the love mirror. We want to smash the mirror because we are not happy with what we see in it.
In order to sort this out, you must stop seeing emotional pain as a punishment handed to you by someone else. Instead, you need to start acting on it as an internal motivation to heal and improve yourself. In turn, this will lead to a deeper sense of self-compassion and will get you in touch with your deepest values, which will inspire mutual compassion with your partner. You can express love without hurt, but only if you use pain as a trigger for healing and improvement, instead of senseless punishment.
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