There are moments in my life when a truth becomes so obvious to me that, even if I wanted to, it seems I can’t stop it from piercing my heart.
There are moments in my life when a truth becomes so obvious to me that, even if I wanted to, it seems I can’t stop it from cutting through all my layers of self-justifying attitudes and piercing my heart.
One of those moments came after years of puzzling over the difficulties that always seemed to emerge, sooner or later, in my closest relationships. Though I think everyone would say I was generally a good guy, I also knew that none of my relationships were as close as I wished they were, and I was not always an easy person to live with. Somehow tensions, resentments, walls or withdrawal always seemed to show up.
Enter the book Love Sense by Sue Johnson (which I highly recommend).
Renowned researcher and therapist, Dr. Johnson elaborates her book around the idea that “to be human is to need others, and this is no flaw or weakness.” Along with others she cites, she demonstrates that emotional dependence on others is among our very first instincts, and it persists “from cradle to grave.” This stopped me in my tracks. As I continued to read her book, she convinced me of other powerful one-liners: “emotional dependency is not immature or pathological; it is our greatest strength,” and “being dependent makes us more independent.” I suddenly realized that I had lived most of my life in opposition to a simple truth—people are meant to depend on each other—not only as a moral imperative or religious ideal, but as a fact of biology.
For someone reading this who has never lost sight of that truth or who rediscovered it much sooner in life than I did, you might think, “Well, duh,” and I don’t blame you. But for me, this was a complete reversal of a deeply held belief that adult dependence on others is unacceptable, a weakness to be completely done away with, even (maybe especially?) in family relationships. In my mind, independence was an absolute virtue, and those who relied too much on others needed to acquire it (which I was pretty good at pointing out at times). You can probably imagine how this ended up causing me problems.
It sounds sad to me now, but I lived most of my life aspiring to my misguided ideal of total independence. Then in a moment, that false belief and all the behaviors, emotions and attitudes that go with it flooded my memory, and I couldn’t deny that I had been fighting on the wrong side of truth. Where I thought I had been in the right, I was dead wrong.
I felt shame, guilt, and sadness as I reflected on how I had treated and judged certain people. I felt pain and anger, too, as I confronted the childhood experiences that had led me to develop that mindset in the first place. Realizing that I needed to fundamentally change the way I approached so many of my relationships was overwhelming. In this way, the truth hurt. But almost at the same time, I began to feel hope. I saw that embracing this truth would create chances to heal wounds in my relationships and within myself. I saw that it was a part of the joyful life I wanted to have. And so I decided to let it in, and let it do its work in me.
Now, the world is a different place. My marriage is different. My parenting is different. My other family relationships are different. My connection to God is different. I think differently about friendship. I still lack a lot of the skills I need to get it right, but I am coming along, and empty places inside me are filling up.
I think we all face moments like this, and when we do, we have a choice—we can embrace the truth we discover, submit to its cutting edge and the change it implies for us, and emerge the better for it; or we can dodge, defend, and scoff, so that we can stay the way we are.
Some truth comes in generations-old adages that seem to apply to everyone, some is published for examination in scientific journals or in religious texts, and some comes through insight or inspiration to a single individual. I have a sense that, in the end, we will see that none of these sources is ultimately in conflict with the others, but it takes courage to accept that the truth may first challenge us before it sets us free. I am grateful to have discovered that I am capable of that courage.
See what others think about the book Love Sense here.