Am I capable of love?

My life is full of love. I feel it surge within my heart. I can enjoy love when it’s given to me and feel the satisfaction of giving it away. But it wasn’t always this way. I used to wonder and ask myself, “am I capable of love?”

For many years I didn’t really know the feeling of love. I lived in a toxic environment that thwarted it. Almost daily, my ailing spirit thrashed about in a swirling sea of negativity and criticism targeted at me. I couldn’t see clearly anymore. Brainwashed. That was me, and I had no idea how I’d ended up there.

For many years, over and over again, I suffered harsh scoldings about having no love inside me. This often fell upon me within the context of countless public humiliations. “Andy, your heart has no love.” “It’s empty.” “You love nobody.” “Your heart is icy cold.” “It’s a rock; nothing can penetrate it.” “You have no friends.” “Love has no place within you.” “You have no idea what it means to love somebody.”

Systematically torn apart, I hung on, utterly destroyed. Suicidal. When you’re told something about yourself, often enough, strong enough, long enough, you inevitably end up believing it. And then the lie devours you. Your life is never the same again.

So, I confusedly lived in despair. Self-worth? Self-dignity? What was all that? Meaning had little place in my life. I focused on achieving things, while buring my existential love problem. Many times I asked myself: am I capable of love? I could never answer it. I launched a deeply personal, secret research to understand love. Love became a written theory, but where was the feeling that so many seemed to enjoy.?

Receiving love is the road map of learning how to love.

Fast forward. I’m so happy with my life! I feel loved and love loving. Over ten years now. The question has been answered. Of course, I can love. Am I capable of love? It seems like such a silly question now.

So, what would I say to somebody who asks this question? Well, I shouldn’t presume you have the same problem I had. Nonetheless, I’ll simply share a few things I’ve learned and how I changed. Perhaps, you’ll find a useful idea or two.

I didn’t think my way out of my problem. I have a good brain, but dazzling, resourceful thinking wasn’t my primary way forward. My enduring change began with the gift of love received. It began with somebody loving me. Sorry. It wasn’t something I did for myself. I wasn’t a hero. I just received love. Alakazam! Kaboom! Shazam! My world changed. It wasn’t overnight, but love gradually flooded into my soul full force.

I discovered that learning about love doesn’t produce love. Knowledge may point you in the right direction, but love has to approach you, touch you, enter you to transform you. It comes from outside of you and its contagious. Receiving love is the key, the road map to discovering how to love.

Can I experience the feeling of love?

Let’s back up a bit and clarify the primary term. Love can be defined in different ways. It can be considered either as an act or a feeling. Both viewpoints are valid. Yet, even though different definitions may be dissected and analyzed separately, in the real world both the act and feeling of love are meant to be experienced together.

On the one hand, love is a moral act. As such, it flows from an intellectual consideration of what may be something good for another person. Once that good is discovered, the will engages and a choice is made. Then, something good is given to another person. We call this an act of love.

This kind of love has practically endless expressions. I may give flowers. I may give my time, encouragement, food, knowledge, shelter, kindness, money, or an embrace. The repetition of many acts of love builds the good habit of love. Subsequently, we come to possess the good habit or virtue of love. It’s a stable tendency added to our human nature. That’s a nice place to be in life.

On the other hand, love is a pleasant emotional feeling. As such, it bursts forth inside of me when external or internal stimuli tickle me. The emotion of love is an interior affection, liking, passion, fondness for a person or object. I experience a beautiful sunset and I’m drawn to it. It provokes my affections. A beautiful woman gazes into my eyes, listens to me, touches me, kisses me, and my affections ignite. This is called love too, entirely distinct from the moral act.

Am I capable of love? Which love? Am I capable of the moral act? Am I capable of feeling affection?

As far as capacities go, moral acts require rationality. A six-month year old has no capacity for the moral act of love. But once rationality kicks in, the capacity for moral love naturally appears.

Distinctly set apart, the emotion of love is not an intellectual by product. Emotional love requires the reception of unconditional and mature love to flourish. Why? Because the emotions have to develop first before love can be experienced. Without receiving that love, the capacity for emotional love is crippled. In the worst cases, the capacity is totally arrested. Picture the man or woman who can love at the moral level, but suffers a vacuum of the affectionate feelings that should accompany his good acts.

Are my thoughts and emotions working together?

So, in my “pre-love” days I shriveled up from hardly any capacity for emotional love. Moral love was no problem. I could preform good acts for somebody else, just like anyone else. But it was the feeling of love that escaped me. I lived in a void of enjoyable affections. My acts of love were purely mechanical, without an internal emotional apparatus supporting them. The only short-lived satisfaction I experienced was the knowledge that I acted correctly. My duty of loving could be checked off a list. But where was the feeling?

In a normally developed human being integration occurs. What’s that? This is the happy unity of my intellect and emotions. Each operates as a “helping-friend” to the other. My thoughts spontaneously find the support of complementary internal feelings. My instinctively emerging emotions find the immediate support of matching thoughts. This integration lends a great deal of power to do what I should do and enjoy doing it. For instance: I see a beggar and have the thought of helping. My emotions make me feel empathy and giving becomes easier.

Now, imagine the power of human integration in a relationship. I can feel what I think. Wow, that’s big. It’s human strength. I wouldn’t have the problem of a division of powers inside of me, warring at each other. My emotions and intellect would walk forward, together. I’d choose to love and feel the ease and emotional support of my acts of love.

Have I received enough real love when I grew up?

A toxic, non-loving environment can certainly block the growth of love within me. So, I withdraw from such toxicity to grow. But that’s not enough. Blocking the reception of poison, yes, is essential. But nurturing the emotion of love is much more than that. Beauty, goodness, and unconditional love must break into the soul to radically transform it.

Here’s the monumental problem. I may have a bigger problem than a bad environment. I may lack an emotional foundational experience in life. In short, if I didn’t receive mature and unconditional love as a baby, toddler, and child, my emotional development may have been stunted. Google “emotional deprivation disorder” and “Conrad Baars” to further understand this.

But this is how it works. Not receiving enough unconditional love, my emotion of love basically freezes in an undeveloped state. Consequently, my other emotions over compensate to make up for the void. It’s a survival thing. And it has catastrophic consequences when adulthood hits. I become a capable adult in many ways, but stuck with a set of child emotions inside. Since I can’t feel love, I do things to make up for the lack. I become an overly assertive person or a workaholic, or a lost soul trying to be loved. I’ve certainly oversimplified, but that’s the story in a nut shell.

What can I do to feel love?

So, am I capable of love? Let’s try to ask what this question really probes. Am I capable of feeling love? Am I capable of feeling loved? As long as my brain is working, I can always love at the moral level. That’s no problem. The question then deals with the emotion of love. The true question is this: am I capable of enjoying the abiding feeling of love? Maybe not, at least yet.

With no sugar coating, I may need to back up in life and address a foundational need to receive quality, unconditional, mature love as a starting point. If I want to get further in my love life, I may need to stop running and start walking.

Not only did I live in a love-choking-environment, at a deeper level, I had this bigger problem too. My receiving-love-experience as a child was defective. My father’s love was distant and non-expressive. My mother’s love felt conditional, abbreviated, too intellectual. There were twelve child, so a certain amount of love-rationing had to take place.

I learned about “emotional deprivation disorder” and discovered myself. I couldn’t find or invest in the corresponding “affirmation therapy” recommended by Dr. Conrad Baars. But a loving person introduced me to a way of meditating directed at receiving God’s unconditional love. It’s a therapeutic kind of prayer. This way of prayer completely changed me.

To get a bigger picture, if you feel the need, I suggest learning more at howtoloveelementary.com.

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Andrew Lee Sullivan is the pioneer and foremost educator on Affirmation Meditation. He's a national, award-winning hospice counselor and grief recovery specialist. In 2007, as a Catholic priest and cult survivor, Sullivan became a Vatican whistle-blower. Today, Andrew is happily married and enjoys a second life under the Arizona sunshine with his wife and two young boys. His memoir is entitled: Vatican Intervention.

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2 Replies to “Am I capable of love?”

  1. Your site was awesome.
    I was married to someone who did not know how to love. Me or anyone in his life, thus our marriage ended.
    Over the years, I have found only 1 love that was reciprocated, and that love was lost. (Long Story).
    Sadly, I have not found love the way I want to be loved, so I pour my days into my career. Raising my 3 amazing daughters, now grown.
    Life is all about me.
    The story could go on, but I related to your site very much, and wish you much success with it.

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