Why do human beings fear love? That is, why do we fear loving ourselves and others, and why do we fear being fully loved ourselves?
If someone does not receive what they need emotionally as a child, their capacity to give will be limited accordingly. The less of what they need they actually get, the less they will be able to give (and the more they will take for themselves without consideration for others). In order to give, one must have experienced receiving during childhood. If we do not experience love in a way that is truly meaningful, then we will never be able to love ourselves. And if we do not love ourselves, we cannot truly love another.
So what does loving really mean? To me, love means to feel a deep and abiding commitment to nurture the full evolutionary potential in someone, whether ourselves or another. Love might have other elements in particular contexts, such as in a sexual relationship or between a parent and a child, but its most genuine manifestation is its desire to nurture.
If you do not love a child just for being themselves, they will never achieve their evolutionary potential. That is, if you do not love a child enough to let them make each one of their own life choices, no matter how trivial or profound this choice might be, or to have their full emotional response whenever this choice is denied them, then they will never become their ‘True Self’ and they will never learn to fully love. For a comprehensive explanation of this, see ‘Why Violence?’ and ‘Fearless Psychology and Fearful Psychology: Principles and Practice’.
So where does obedience fit into all of this? It doesn’t. Those who require obedience are frightened. And fear is the opposite of love. If you want someone to do what you want, you are frightened, not loving. The poets and songwriters have long told us that love is ‘letting go’. The person in your cage is not a loved companion; the individual who is genuinely free but chooses to stay feels loved.
One complicated variation of the fear of loving that sometimes arises is that a child may not be loved by one parent (or even both) and yet this or both parents will want the child to delude themselves that they are, in fact, loved. This might happen, for example, when a child is aware at some level that they are not loved by one parent and gets angry about this lack of love (which might be manifesting in any number of ways). However, the other parent, anxious to maintain their own delusion about being loved by their spouse, will interfere in the expression of the child’s anger by distracting the child from how they feel (for example, by counselling the child to be ‘understanding’) or by punishing the child for the expression of their feelings and the truth that this entails. Of course, this circumstance will manifest repeatedly in the form of ongoing differences between the parents and the child but the larger picture will be utterly obscure to all those involved (invariably including any professionals whose help they seek).
But apart from those people who are too afraid to love, some people learn to fear being loved. Why is this? Because being loved unconsciously reminds them of not being loved as a child. And this is frightening, extraordinarily painful and infuriating. This is the main reason that some people unconsciously seek out and marry violent partners. Tragically, for these people, the ongoing violence they experience in an abusive relationship is less painful than the many unpleasant feelings that would surface if they were now loved by their spouse. To reiterate: being loved now would raise the deeply suppressed feelings of sadness, fear, pain and anger that they were not loved during childhood.
This is also why many more people, quite unconsciously, go to considerable lengths to avoid feeling loved ‘too much’: it is just too painful to risk triggering the suppressed memories of a childhood devoid of (or at least terribly deficient in) love. And they will stay in a relationship that is devoid of love, or even violent, while the people around them cannot understand why they do so and encourage them to leave. As a generalisation, the people who work to support victims of domestic violence do not understand this aspect of the problem thus making their support work much less effective. Lack of Self-esteem and Self-love is only one dimension of the problem; fear of being loved is another.
Another reason someone might fear being loved is because it raises feelings about the ‘duties’ that derive from being loved. If, during childhood, being ‘loved’ was made conditional on the child behaving in a certain way in relation to the parent(s), then once the child is older they may fear being loved because it is unconsciously associated with the onerous responsibility to behave in particular, Self-denying ways. In some contexts, this might include interpreting any declaration of love to require a sexual response, whether or not this type of response was actually intended/invited.
Of course there are cultural constraints on who we can love too. In some societies, people of the same sex might avoid using the term ‘love’ in relation to each other for fear of being seen as homosexual. And, of course, in explicitly homophobic societies, homosexual individuals might also fear expressing their love.
Another category of people who are terrified of love consists of those individuals who offer trinkets designed to give them a sense of control over another person, rather than to offer gifts that will, in some way, be a response to what the other person actually needs. Of course, control is no substitute for love and cannot meet the trinket-giver’s needs but their fear of love stops them engaging more deeply.
If you wish to join the worldwide movement to end the violence that frightens us out of loving, you are welcome to sign the online pledge of ‘The People’s Charter to Create a Nonviolent World’.
Experiencing what it means to love and be loved, fully and unconditionally, requires us to feel our fear of love.
Biodata: Robert has a lifetime commitment to understanding and ending human violence. He has done extensive research since 1966 in an effort to understand why human beings are violent and has been a nonviolent activist since 1981. He is the author of ‘Why Violence?’ His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and his website is here.