The love we think we deserve

I recently read a book in which this quote featured, “We accept the love we think we deserve”. Relatively simple, absolutely profound. In these few words, so much of human nature is explained; in particular, the reason why people stick around in a situation that is bad for them.

Why does she stay with someone who beats her? Why does he stay with his alcoholic spouse? Why doesn’t he leave when everyone knows she is cheating on him? How can she stick around when he treats her so badly?

We’ve all asked these questions of someone in our lives. It seems so simple: What this person is doing is obviously wrong, right? So why doesn’t that person just leave?? We lose patience, in a way. We feel like, ‘Well if you aren’t going to do anything about it then it’s no use complaining to me or feeling sorry for yourself.’ We feel these things… But we don’t often voice them out loud, because something deep inside us tells us that we do in fact feel sorry for them. We allocate them a portion of the blame, yet feel somehow unjustified for doing so. Something inside us knows that maybe, just maybe, it’s a bit more complicated than simply leaving.

Why stay?
There are so many different ways for a relationship to turn toxic; physical abuse is something just about everyone is familiar with in one way or another. It’s terrible, horrible, soul-crushing stuff. As is emotional abuse. The latter is oft considered less severe than the former simply because it’s easier to see bruises than to see inner turmoil. However, both have far and deep-reaching consequences.

As children, we derive a sense of self-based on those around us; our parents, siblings, extended families, friends… What other people think of us, and how they treat us, determines how we see ourselves and thus how we behave. This pattern continues until we are adults. If someone treats us in a way that is incongruent with our sense of self, we balk. Unless it is done repeatedly, on and on, time and time again. Unless repetition shakes the very core of who we believe we are. Unless it looks like we may have been wrong about even thinking we were someone good, someone worthy of love, in the first place. Eventually, we start to believe we deserve this kind of treatment. We look inward for signs of our own inadequacy, outward for confirmation of it. We no longer question whether we deserve a certain treatment, but accept that we do, due to some inadequacy on our part, and stop balking. We become passive observers of our own lives, rather than active participants who are able to do something drastic, like leaves.

We accept it because someone has made us believe we deserve it.

Not everyone has experienced heartbreak or the spurning of affection that can lead to this brokenness, and not everyone who has will end up manifesting it in this way – in this settling for unhealthy relationships, pain, and hardship. We are all different. And of course, the perpetrators of the violence or abuse are manipulative and are able to sense this vulnerability in those they hurt and wield power over them. But simply because it has always been so doesn’t mean it always has to continue to be so. If you, or someone you know, is in an abusive relationship, seek help today. It’s never too late to start repairing the hurts in someone you love, and it’s never too late to learn to love yourself unconditionally too.

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