We all want love, and we want our romantic relationships to work, but that alone is no guarantee they will. The unpleasant reality is that more often than not, we are our own biggest problem. We may have deep rooted fears that cause us to sabotage our relationships, push our partners away, and keep love at bay. Further, we may not even know we are doing this.
Until, perhaps, we hear ourselves say it out loud.
Acknowledging our unhealthy patterns out loud is not only the cornerstone of what is now known as Voice Therapy, it is, for Tamsen and Robert Firestone, the authors of Daring To Love: Move Beyond Fear of Intimacy, Embrace Vulnerability, and Create Lasting Connection, the way to learn to love.
The authors point out, “Part of the problem is that we don’t recognize love as a skill that can be learned and developed. We often treat it as if it were an instinct or an innate ability.”
We may have inherited an attachment pattern that deems caring about others unsafe. We may have learned to fear rejection and not trust those who say they love us. And we may have adopted defenses to avoid emotional pain.
But because these things are largely unconscious, we often don’t identify the ways in which we are pushing love away. The authors write, “We try to make sense of our rejecting or hostile behavior by attributing it to circumstances or blaming it on others, particularly our loved ones.”
One example the authors give is the neglected child who learned to turn inward and be self-sufficient, not asking for anything from anyone else. “This defense leaves you feeling cynical and distrustful of people and assuming that they will ignore or disregard you,” write the authors.
Part of this protective process is that we also develop negative views of ourselves, internalizing the negative attitudes or feelings directed toward us, and we form a critical inner voice.
The authors write, “It isn’t even necessary to convey negative or critical words directly to a child — children pick up on parents’ and other caregivers’ underlying anger and hostility, and they integrate these feeling in the form of attacks by the inner critical voice.”
When filtering our experiences, the inner critical voice presents us with an inaccurate picture of ourselves and the world around us, diminishing our sense of identity and encouraging us to turn away from our true motives and desires. The first step in healing the critical inner voice is to identify the critical thoughts we have about ourselves.
“How can you become aware of what your critical inner voice is telling you? Think first about the ways in which you criticize yourself,” write the authors. They believe that verbalizing the critical inner voice — and shifting from “I” statements to “you” statements — helps us become more conscious of them.
“As negative thoughts come to you, and as you verbalize them in the form of “you” statements, you may have a strong reaction because you’ll be feeling your critical inner voice’s hostility toward you, your partner, and your relationship,” write the authors.
By reflecting on the source of these inner critical attacks, we come to see them as reflections of the negative and hostile experiences we have endured and internalized. When we trace our critical inner voice to sources in our childhood, we develop a sense of compassion for ourselves and the ability to confront these negative attacks and make a plan to counter them.
“The process of confronting your critical inner voice also sheds light on your own point of view, and on what has meaning for you; it offers insight into who you are,” write the authors. By practicing behaviors that confront our inner critical voice, we can begin to rewire our brains.
“Voice Therapy enables you to identify the actions that will successfully rewire your brain. For one thing, when you can pinpoint a destructive behavior that is instigated by your critical inner voice, you gain clarity about which behavior you need to stop in order to weaken those old connections in the brain between your critical inner voice and the destructive behavior,” write the authors.
And when we recognize the ways in which we may withhold in a relationship — being habitually late, procrastinating, disregarding the concerns of others, or simply not being congenial — we can also begin to see how we avoid feeling vulnerable.
Being deeply loved can arouse many feelings — sadness that stems from past pain, appreciation for the preciousness of life, fear of being disregarded or consumed by another person, guilt about experiencing love, and fear of loss. But by learning to treat love not as a state but an action that can be practiced daily, we find the courage to love and love fully.
Packed with numerous helpful journal exercises, real-life examples, and a practical step-by-step approach to overcoming our defenses against love, Daring To Love is a useful resource for anyone looking to improve their romantic relationships or help others improve theirs.
Daring To Love: Move Beyond Fear of Intimacy, Embrace Vulnerability, and Create Lasting Connection
New Harbinger Publications, May 2018
Softcover, 208 Pages