What is love? Do I even know what it feels like? Can I feel the love my children have for me? I know it’s there but can I feel it? Can I feel the love I have for them?
Can my children feel my love even if I can’t feel it?
There’s this quote I’ve read various versions of many times… something about how you can’t selectively numb feelings, if you numb one you numb them all… if I’m honest I’ve always thought that was bullshit. I would kind of agree with it theoretically but I always thought it didn’t apply to me. It was only when in session with Anna that I would realise just how very numb I am. She would express deep emotional responses to what I was talking about and I’d feel nothing. Or I wouldn’t know what I was feeling. I’d maybe notice that I was feeling spacey and numb but I’d think, ‘well I was laughing my head off earlier so I haven’t numbed all my feelings!’ But I’m learning that it isn’t as black and white as I first thought and perhaps there’s a pattern. I wonder if the emotions I’ve numbed are the very vulnerable ones… anger, sadness, fear… love. I fucking numbed love. If I could feel my heart I’m sure I’d feel it breaking at this realisation.
Anna and I stumbled upon this very painful topic two sessions ago that we then continued exploring on Saturday. She was very tentitive about it wheras I marched right back in. She reminded me I don’t have a second session this week and that maybe I’d want to save this topic for a week where I have 3 sessions in 8 days. I didn’t understand why she was making such a big deal out of it all… oh hello numbness!
In our session last Tuesday I talked about my friends two month old baby who I had spent a great deal of time with the previous weekend. I told Anna how I’d held her in my arms and soaked up the beautiful, peaceful trust that babies gift you. I said, ‘it’s such a precious thing, it’s an honour to have a baby fall asleep in your arms… I felt this amazing connection with her as I held her, I didn’t feel like that when I held my own babies…’ Anna gently probed further and I sobbed into my hands as I exclaimed that I felt nothing when I held my baby girl… that I don’t know if I ever felt anything for her. Even now, 7 years on… do I feel love for her? It’s like there’s a vast empty nothing inside me. I desperately want there to be love there. But I can’t feel it. Anna encouraged me to explore all the ways that I show my children I love them. I started to robotically list all the things I do for them. That I take an interest in what they’re interested in, I never withhold affection, I help them repair disagreements and ruptures, I seek to understand them, I buy them things they need and want, I play with them… I said, ‘I know what you’re doing, you’re trying to get me to see that I actually do love them!’ She smiled and said, ‘I’m encouraging you to explore how you feel and to look at your behaviours… to understand why you are the way you are… to maybe go a little easier on yourself… how do your kids experience your love, Lucy?’ I thought for a long time with my eyes closed and then spoke, still eyes shut tight, while I attempted to describe how my children might experience my love.
I wonder, is this why I work harder at ‘parenting’ than everyone says is necessary..? Is it to prove my love for them? Do I do everything in my power to make them feel they are loved, even when I can’t feel it…?
But what even is love? How can we know it and feel it? I told Anna, ‘this is the hardest puzzle ever!’ And she said patiently, ‘yes it is, it’s the core of it all… and we won’t find all of the pieces today… or for a very long time in fact. But just knowing the puzzle is there is enough just now.’ Oh but it hurts. It aches like it needs to be fixed now. How did I come to be so broken that I can’t even feel love..? Of course I know the answer to this question in the pit of my stomach. I was wounded in my main attachment relationship so how can I relax into an attachment relationship that looks so similar to the original source of my pain. How can I trust myself as a mother when mother is not a person I’ve ever trusted? How can I feel love in a mother daughter relationship when the mother daughter relationship I experienced hurt me so much it made me numb?
Anna asked me if I think my children love me. I said, ‘of course they love me, I know that in my head… I mean kids love their parents no matter what they do to them, they cant help it, I know that much… I loved my parents more than anything… I know my kids must love me, I just can’t feel it.’
Anna said it’s normal for parents to struggle with these feelings, that oftentimes women don’t experience the initial bonding and rush of love that we’re told we should feel when our babies are born. I said, ‘I appreciate you trying to normalise this but this is not normal. This is a triggered feeling. It’s a numbness. It’s not normal. This is not what other people talk about when they moan about their kids pissing them off.’ She said, ‘I hear you. I believe you when you say that you can’t feel their love and you can’t feel your love for them. Perhaps it’s about accepting and forgiving the part of you that’s struggling to find those feelings?’ I thought about that for a while. Forgive myself for not feeling my children’s love and for not feeling a love for them? I said, ‘maybe this is how my mother felt… she couldn’t love me… maybe this is what she meant when she said I was difficult to love… and maybe if I forgive myself, I have to afford her the same grace?’ Anna said, ‘Lucy, there’s a big different between neglecting and abusing your child because you can’t feel a love for them, and….’ I stopped her mid sentence and whispered, ‘thank you for calling it abuse and neglect. Thank you for saying it was those things.’ I started to cry and she came and sat beside me. She put her hand on my arm and gently rubbed it. She said, ‘you are not abusing your children Lucy. You are loving them even if you can’t feel it.’