The First Task of Life – to Be Loved
Love is the most compelling force for our species – not survival. Babies do not survive without love. Food, shelter and food are not enough. Children actively seek a love-bond with their caregivers and there is nothing more frightening to us as children than the possibility that we would not be loved or accepted by significant persons in our lives. We know we need it to survive and our sense of physical safety is intrinsically linked to our sense of emotional safety. These emotional drives shape most behaviors and are associated with our core fears of rejection, inadequacy or abandonment.
Built-in Safety – Early “Survival-Love Maps”
Born with a burning curiosity, we yearn to know everything there is to know about ourselves and about our world. Learning is one of our key attributes of human beings and a healthy brain is almost always in “learning mode”. We are wired to struggle, to learn, and to engage in processes that make us feel vulnerable, and yet, expand our capacity to grow.
Our first learning, however, was through mirroring our parents. Messages about what they needed from us, whom they thought we were, and what they thought the world was like, were etched in our brains and formed our first sense of self. If our parents were scared and insecure, upset or anxious, regardless whether their anxiety was directed at us or some other person or event, it activated our own survival response. We “knew”, without concepts, that there was danger. We learned to feel the same, thus forming a set of instructions or “rules” that can endure throughout life (Dr. Daniel Siegel). .
These early survival-love maps allowed us as children to subconsciously distort our responses to the environment to feel the level of emotional safety we needed. Subconsciously, we “decided” or “learned” certain rules that best ensured we would receive some measure of “good feelings.”
But by the time we reach adulthood, this map has outlived its usefulness to us. No longer the solution, it becomes part of the problem instead.
Unless we break free of our automatic responses to these early survival rules, we are destined to live an unfulfilled life. These love-maps can block the ability to form healthy intimacy and relationship bonds in adulthood.
Signs of an Ineffective Love-Map
- Do you have a hard time connecting inwardly to get to know yourself and others intimately?
- Are you dependent on others to love and value you – before you have learned to love and value yourself?
- Do you rely on sources outside of yourself to feel normal? For safety, strength and happiness?
- Is it hard to remain calm, confident, and centered when you feel stressed or triggered?
- Do you feel more vulnerable than you actually are?
- Do you find it difficult to identify what you are feeling? To know what you want?
- Do you often act as though other people’s needs are more important than your own?
Life is not about the destination; it’s about the process.
It has never been about getting our parents and others to unconditionally love us. Rather, it’s about the lessons, and what we learn about ourselves and life along the way. As an adult, who you want to put in charge of the power you have to make life-shaping choices? Will it be you as a conscious agent and choice maker of your life – or your subconscious survival-love map?
Here’s the good news. Human beings are resilient – the human brain has the capacity, known as neuroplasticity, to heal and change the limiting reactions created earlier to cope with life.
Part of the Work of Change could include:
- Begins with a life long commitment to choose to live authentically and honestly in relation to self and others.
- Involves understanding how our brain works, and the power of our thoughts and emotions in shaping behaviors.
- Requires courage to become more aware, present and reflective of our mind and body, our inner experience and of life around us.
- Involves a willingness to face our fears and transform them into courage.
Adapted from an article by: Athena Staik, Ph.D.
The First Task of Life? Survival and Our Quest to Be Loved | Neuroscience and Relationships.