David Richo, Ph.D. author of How To Be An Adult In Relationships: The Five Keys to Mindful Loving talks with Commitment about how to enjoy mature, lasting relationships. He discusses how we can become capable of healthy love even if we didn't learn how to appropriately love during childhood. He writes: "Love unfolds best between two real people who greet one another with no phantoms from either’s past crouching in the room. Such present-moment love restores, repairs, and rebuilds the inner world of our psyche, perhaps long ago misshapen or damaged."
Commitment: What are the five keys to mindful loving?
David Richo, Ph.D.: They are the components of intimacy: attention, acceptance, appreciation, affection, and allowing the other to live in accord with her own deepest needs, values, and wishes rather than controlling her.
Commitment: How can we enjoy relationships that repair and restore our soul?
Dr. Richo: Love unfolds best between two real people who greet one another with no phantoms from either’s past crouching in the room. Such present-moment love restores, repairs, and rebuilds the inner world of our psyche, perhaps long ago misshapen or damaged.
Then, through a combination of our work on ourselves and the confirming love others give us, a coherent sense of ourselves and an esteem for ourselves can emerge, however slowly or shyly.
This increase in awareness and self-definition makes it possible to return love to others in the same confirming way. The beautiful paradox is that we receive and thereby learn to give. This is another example of the trustworthy economy of intimacy. We do not have to learn anything new, only renew. We do not have to give anything new, only give back.
Commitment: If a person walks around feeling unloved and
disconnected, how can they begin to find the connection and love they
need? What if a person always feels left out and an outcast, how can
they begin to feel connected and loved by the people around them, if
this isn't what they have ever felt?
Dr. Richo: We can only feel loved if we are loved and the best way to have that happen is to be loving in all that we do with everyone in our lives.
People may transfer the collective negative archetypal powers of the villain/shadow onto us. They may see us as miscreants to be punished, orphans to be abandoned, heretics to be excluded, ogres to be annihilated. As members of the human collective, we will automatically feel terror at any judgment of us that has such archetypal dimensions. That terror is a signal to be cautious and not foolhardy. At the same time, we act with love and not retaliation and gradually reconciliation may happen. It is a lifetime practice of non-violence. Our fidelity to that practice becomes more important that whether people like us.
Commitment: How do our childhood experiences impact our ability to love?
Dr. Richo: If in childhood our household was full of tension, especially if one or both parents were addicted or psychologically impaired, the cells of our bodies might still hold some of the original level of anxiety. We might notice two possible results. We cannot feel fully comfortable except in an adrenaline-driven relationship, job, or life-style.
Or we might be on red alert for danger and thus become so self-protective as to be closed off from others. These are examples of how transference burrows into our very cells though our minds report there is no danger now. Our minds know well but our bodies know better.
Commitment: What if we didn’t learn how to appropriately love during childhood, what can we do to become capable of healthy love?
Dr. Richo: We learn to love by practicing the five A's with everyone. All humans can love. No matter how we were hurt, our capacity to love remains. Our task is to show attention, acceptance, appreciation, affection, and allowing to others and love happens.
Commitment: How can love repair and repair an inadequate, painful past?
Dr. Richo: We may have been suspicious of the love offered to us by our controlling mother or the love we were told was there for us but was certainly not shown by our distant father.
In an adult relationship we may be with a partner who loves us without engulfing us, thus reversing our mother imago, the inner image and meaning we carry of her. This partner also acts lovingly but without declaring it, recasting our father imago. Now, paradoxically, two things happen. We let love in and we trust love whether or not it is spoken.
The dangerous love from mother and the doubted love from father are remembered but they become less impactful on us. We notice then that we feel less anger or fear as we let go of blame of our parents while still remaining aware of their accountability. This heals the memory, that is, works back in time.
Commitment: What is the neurotic ego? How and why is it driven by fear, and how can it steal our inherited right to healthy, happy relationships?
Dr. Richo: The neurotic ego is the face we are trying to save: F.A.C.E: fear, attachment, control, and entitlement. When we are upset we can practice ticking down our F.A.C.E. list to see if and how our ego has been provoked. We look at what upset us and ask ourselves:
• What am I afraid of?
• What am I attached to getting or proving?
• What am I trying to control?
• What do I think I am entitled to?
We meet the challenge to let go of ego with a practice of loving-kindness. We then ask:
How can my fear and defensiveness become love and openness?
How can my attachment turn into letting go?
How can I allow others to be who they are and let things unfold rather than try to control people and events?
How can I let go of my attitude of entitlement and instead responsibly stand up for my rights and let go without seeking reprisals if they cannot be secured? This is accepting the given that life can be unfair no matter how assertive we are. Our psychological commitment is to no capitulation; our spiritual commitment is to no retaliation.
Commitment: What spiritual work do we need to do in order to put ourselves in a situation where we are around loving people attuned to our needs?
Dr. Richo: Maintaining our boundaries is a reliable way for us to scale these tiers of others’ projections. Boundaries help us avoid being manipulated, blindsided, or railroaded by people who are controlling or predatory. Such people often know exactly who will put up with abuse. The wily prince may have wanted Cinderella not because her foot fit the glass slipper but because he knew from the story of her life with her stepmother and stepsisters that she had a capacity to put up with unacceptable behavior.
As we grow in psychological and spiritual consciousness we notice when someone is trying to control or censure us. We do not let that happen but neither do we blame or retaliate against that person. We simply respond by saying “Ouch!” and protecting our boundaries. We establish and have a bottom line, a no-exception policy about how much we will put up with from others or how far they can go with us. This may mean getting as far away as possible if a dialogue cannot ensue.
Commitment: How can we escape from the patterns that have hurt us? How can we stop replaying childhood betrayals and heartbreaks?
Dr. Richo: We interrupt the cycle when we grieve the hurt rather than pass it on. This locates the issue in us rather than maintaining it as a transaction. Griefwork leads to our letting go of resentment.
Since griefwork leads to forgiveness, it is itself an act of love for others. Thereafter we respond to those who hurt us not in the manner of boxing in which we fight back to hurt the other. Our style is that of aikido, in which we work with someone’s aggressive energy in non-damaging but nonetheless self-protective ways.
Commitment: What can a parent do so that their child grows up able to receive and give love, nurturing, acceptance and validation?
Dr. Richo: Show them the five A's while maintaining healthy limits. Comfort in childhood was associated with a holding environment in which we felt secure, were not at the mercy of abusers, noticed that our needs were welcomed and fulfilled, were allowed personal options rather than being constantly controlled, felt our authentic self to be the object of our parents’ love and curiosity rather than something to be molded into what they believed to be the right personality for us to portray.
Our parents mirrored us with mindfulness rather than censured or manipulated us with mind games.
Commitment: You write, “In healthy intimate relationships we do not seek more than 25 percent of our nurturance from a partner; we learn to find the rest within ourselves.” Can you explain this, and how do we find the rest within ourselves?
Dr. Richo: The other 75 percent comes from self, family, friends, career, hobbies, spirituality/religion, and even pets (dogs are expert at giving the five A’s!). We find nurturance in ourselves when we grow in self-esteem, attending to our feelings, accepting ourselves as we are, not harming our bodies, acting freely in our choices.
Commitment: How do unmet needs and incomplete transactions impact who we choose as our partners?
Dr. Richo: Anyone who becomes deeply important to us is, by that very fact, replaying a crucial role from our own past. In fact, this is how people become important to us. They come from central casting and they pass the audition for us, their casting directors. We then make them the stars of our dramas. We don’t call them stars. We might instead call them soul-mates or arch-enemies. We are often sure “we were together in a former life.” That is not so far off; we were together indeed, except it may not have been centuries ago, only decades or years ago.
Synchronicity, meaningful coincidence, makes just the right actors come along for the audition. Our partners are then contracted as performers who gradually memorize the scripts of our lifelong needs or fears and we may be busily doing the same for them. Do I live in my own home or on a movie set?
Commitment: What is a healthy ego? What is an unhealthy ego? How do we transform an impoverished ego into a healthy one
Dr. Richo: Our psychological purpose in life is self-expression within and through human connections. As long as our relationships are unconscious re-treads of the past, we are not engaged in self-expression but in self-concealment. A healthy ego organizes a purposive self-expression toward others and toward the world. This cannot happen when we are relating to ideational representations of our past.
We then become unable to deal with our past directly and consciously. Instead we slam it all into the closet of repression and keep enlisting cunning accomplices to keep it closed. They are the people we love or hate, or both, and never know why.
As we grow in self-esteem our ego becomes stronger as a tool for growth and happiness and do not put ourselves down anymore nor allow others to do that to us.
Commitment: You wrote, “The human heart holds much more love than it can ever disburse in one lifetime. This book suggests a program for activating that abundant potential.” Okay, how then can we activate our potential for love, especially if we feel hurt and rejected?
Dr. Richo: Loving-kindness/metta is a practice in Buddhism by which we may wish four immeasurable spiritual gifts to ourselves and others: love, compassion, joy, and equanimity. We intend each of these, one at a time, first for ourselves, then for those we love, then for those to whom we may be indifferent, then for those with whom we have difficulties, and finally for all beings.
Our arc of love thus widens from our own hearts to those of all humanity. What seemed so separate now appears as it really is, one. Our common human goal of happiness makes us realize our oneness.
We can use this same practice by beaming kind thoughts and wishes to those who hurt or disturb us. Loving-kindness is not an alternative to standing up for ourselves; it is an addition. We stand up for ourselves and we complete our transaction with others by aspirations that they may find the qualities that lead to enlightenment.
To Purchase How To Be An Adult In Relationships click here.
About the Author: David Richo, Ph.D., is a psychotherapist who leads popular workshops at the Esalen Institute and around the country. He is the author of several books, including How to Be An Adult and Shadow Dance: Liberating the Power and Creativity of Your Dark Side. He lives in Santa Barbara and San Francisco, CA.