Dr. Bruce Perry quote

Appreciating the Power of Love, Part Two

In last week’s blog I invited my readers to consider the dynamics, principles and properties of love, what neuroscience has discovered about the brain’s response to the love experience, and the acknowledgement that it can be helpful to differentiate between conditional and unconditional love. 

In the book The Five Love Languages of Children: The Secret to Loving Children Effectively by Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell, the authors share an image of children having an emotional tank that needs to be filled in order for a child to thrive. They describe the emotional tank as a place of emotional strength that can fuel him through the challenging days of childhood and adolescence. Just as cars are powered by reserves in the gas tank, our children are fueled from their emotional tanks. We must fill our children’s emotional tanks for them to operate as they should and reach their potential.

As I imagine literal gas tanks in cars, I realize some cars are gas guzzlers while others can go much further on a gallon of gas. I am guessing that is true for our children and for ourselves. 

The authors go on to say the following: “But with what do we fill these tanks? Love, of course, love of a particular kind that will enable our children to grow and function properly. We need to fill our children’s emotional tanks with unconditional love, because real love is always unconditional. Unconditional love is a full love that accepts and affirms a child for who he is, not for what he does. No matter what he does (or does not do), the parent still loves him.”

They then acknowledged the truth about how some parent; “Sadly, some parents display love that is conditional; it depends on something other than their children just being. Conditional love is based on performance and is often associated with training techniques that offer gifts, rewards, and privileges to children who behave in performing desired ways.”

If you only received conditional love as a child, this last paragraph might have produced a wave of sadness for you. Because we all need our emotional tanks to be regularly filled with unconditional love, we can feel sadness if we did not receive what we deserved. 

It is important to appreciate that almost all parents and caregivers do the best they can when it comes to caring for their children. If they did not experience adequate unconditional love growing up, it can be hard to know how to provide that love to their children. 

As I am writing this, one of the songs from the musical Oliver is playing in my head. The lyrics are: “Where is love? Does it fall from skies above? Is it underneath the willow tree that I’ve been dreaming of? Where is she who I close my eyes to see? Will I ever know the sweet ‘hello that’s meant for only me? Who can say where she may hide? Must I travel far and wide till I am beside the someone who I can mean something to? Where… Where is love?” While this song was the lament of someone trying to find romantic love, it also speaks to the search every child experiences – the search for the unconditional love of their parent. 

Receiving unconditional love is what we all deserved throughout our childhoods and continue to deserve today. Just as a car needs to regularly be refilled as it uses up what’s in its gas tank, our emotional love tanks need regular refilling for us to successfully travel through life. The children in our lives need this too, maybe even more than adults.

Invitation for Reflection:

  1. When you think about yourself as a child, to what extent did your parents and other family members fill your emotional tank with unconditional love? Do you have any specific memories that are examples of this? Notice any thoughts, feelings or sensations that pop up for you as you pull up these memories.
  2. If you did not experience the sufficiency of unconditional love as a child, how do you think that is impacting you today? What challenges do you think this has created for you in life?  
  3. How can you give yourself credit for the losses you experienced if you did not receive an adequate amount of unconditional love in childhood? Sometimes this acknowledgment, this act of giving credit to yourself, can be healing.

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