No matter how much you love your loved one, you also hate him; no matter how much you depend on him, you can’t completely trust him. This, surprisingly, turns out to be a good thing; not a confusing, frustrating thing, as you might suppose.
I grant you that, in early love, that insane, blissful period when you first met each other, there was no hate; but that’s only because your love hadn’t ripened yet. You had not yet experienced any disappointments that take love to the next level. Mature love is mixed with a generous shot of hate. It doesn’t go down so easy, it burns; but it also transforms. To understand why this is so, let’s go back to the origins of these emotions: love and hate, when they first appeared in your infancy. In these stripped down versions we can see the basics more clearly.
It may be obvious, but deserves repeating, that a human infant is utterly helpless and dependent on others to get what she needs. Most of the time, she gets it. No matter how abusive or neglectful your parents may have been, most of the time you were fed and cared for and held and cherished as much as you needed. If you hadn’t been, you would have died a long time ago, starved to death, utterly alone, marinating in a shitty diaper.
It was out of the experience of being cared for, that you developed your capacity to love; although it wasn’t fully ripened love at this point. It was like that early love I was talking about, right after you first met your honey. If you had been cared for perfectly when you were an infant, with no exceptions, if someone always came immediately when you cried, if you never needed to cry at all; you wouldn’t have develop what we, as adults, call love; you would just be a contented beast. What’s more, you wouldn’t have needed to learn to protect yourself. You wouldn’t have even needed to walk, for everything would’ve just come to you. You would have no anger or frustration; consequently, there would be no contrasting joy. And, of course, fear and anxiety would be unknown because there would’ve been no threat of pain. You would have no emotions.
As it is, it’s a good thing you do have emotions; they show you the difference between good and bad. Your emotions are your google maps of the world and your place in it. If you were incapable of anger, you’d have no backbone. If you had no fear, you’d be a splattered mess in the middle of the road. It is out of your infant experience of disappointment that you developed your emotions, all of them.
Because someone usually came when you cried, you could go away. To the extent you felt safe, secure, and content, you could let go of your parent, explore, and learn. You felt held by your environment even when your caretaker was not holding you. Secure in knowledge that the parent will come, as a child you were free to be alone and develop your imagination.
Your first imaginative toy was what we call a transitional object. It was a blanket, stuffed animal, or a body part that you imagined was your parent. You reassured yourself without needing your parent to be there. Once you had a transitional object, you became, in effect, your own parent, imagining a safe world in the absence of the actual sources of safety.
However, as I said, trouble inevitably occurs. No matter how perfect a parent you have, no matter how excellent your transitional object, no parent can be there all the time, right when you need them, and a transitional object can’t actually feed you. As it was, trouble arrived; you cried, and no one came for, like, forever. When this happened, you learned that your parent, no matter how he loves you, also goes away and has other things to do and other people to do it with. You learned that your parent was separate from yourself, not under your control. She had her own free will.
I think you will agree that authentic love requires a recognition that the other is a separate and independent being with a will of her own. There are people who don’t acknowledge the autonomy of others and still call their feelings love. In that case, it is only for themselves that they have love. Being the partner of one giving that kind of love may be fun for a while, but it gets old, real fast.
A baby, discovering that her parents won’t come immediately, is going to have mixed feelings about it. On one hand, she loves and desires her parent, who’s the source of all good things; on the other hand, she hates and is angry with her parent, who disappoints her so much. The world is no longer a wonderful thing, interrupted by moments of danger. No, danger lurks right in the person she loves. The very people she cherishes the most are the ones who disappoint her the most. It is in this moment that both love and hate are born, at the same time, directed at the same person.
Incidentally, other emotions are developed at this same moment; each, as a way out of this bind. Jealousy comes along as a plan to remove the competition. Envy and greed rear their heads to get you to want more than you ever could need. When shame materializes, you wish you didn’t want anything. And, of course, there’s anger and rage, when you try to hurt those who disappoint you so much. And then you developed your first case of guilt.
Additionally, so much was occurring at this dramatic point, that you must’ve been confused. You know what it’s like now, as an adult, when all of your emotions visit you at once; imagine what it was like when you were an infant, experiencing them for the first time. The natural reaction to this panoply of passions is to feel helpless and grieve the innocence you lost. So, there you go, you got the first instance of grief, too.
All the emotions you feel today, as an adult, had their foundation when you were still in your crib and unable to care for yourself. The more intense the emotions are now, the more like that baby you become. For instance, when you discover that your partner has been cheating on you, it’s like a remake of that original drama that occurred when you had a dirty diaper and no one was around to change it. You knew that your mother was busy with your father and forgot about you, just as your partner was with someone else and had no consideration for you. You rage at your partner just as you raged at your mother. You’re jealous and envious of the other man, just as you were jealous and envious of your father. You feel guilty that you’re angry at all, which is an emotion that you believe ought to be beneath you. You feel shame about not being good enough to keep your partner, just as you felt shame for not being good enough to get your mother’s attention. And you feel helpless and in grief.
Luckily, though, this drama resolved itself when you were in your crib. It had a happy ending. It is this same happy ending that you may enjoy in the later adaptation, provided you can get through the opening acts.
Before I tell you how to convert this tragedy into a comedy, let’s go over the resources you have developed since you were an infant. You had your good times before this crisis came. You had formed an attachment to your caretakers and had the beginnings of love and gratitude. To the extent that you experienced the world as stable, you were free to play and find wonder and awe at the things you found. Through your capacity to play, you created transitional objects with which you learned to comfort yourself. You were able to take on the point of view of your caretaker so that you could imagine your blanket was a caretaker. You knew that when you hit your caretaker or screamed at her, it hurt her. You knew she had feelings, too.
So, this is what you’ve already done; you found a way out, so that you would not have to get caught in that bind between love and hate. What was the key? What was the portal through which you escaped?
The way out may not be the the way you think. The way out is through guilt.
The way out is not to go back to naive love; you will only be disappointed again. It’s not anger, hate, envy, or jealousy; if you stay in those feelings too long, no one will want to be near you. Hopelessness, grief, shame, and loneliness don’t get you anywhere, either; they only freeze you in place. The only way out is through guilt.
Yes, guilt; a much maligned emotion. No one wants to feel guilty; but that’s the idea. Guilt can propel you to the next step as nothing else can. Thanks to guilt, we have such things as ethics, altruism, and respect. Guilt is where compassion comes from.
As an infant, you were luckily able to feel guilt because you had practiced putting yourself in the shoes of another. You could guess how they must be feeling. You learned to accept limits to your demands and developed an understanding that you’re not the center of the universe. You found out you could mitigate the bad with good and repair damage with caring deeds. By getting angry with someone you love, and loving her, still, you developed a moral law by which you live.
There’s a lot you can learn from the infant you once were. This is not the first time you traveled the road to reconciliation. You still have all the resources you did, then. You and your wife had good times before this crisis came. You formed an attachment to her and had love and gratitude. To the extent that there was more stability then than there is now, you were free to develop friendships, interests, and work outside the marriage. By means of these accomplishments, you nurtured other supports. You’re able to take on the point of view of others, including your wife, so that you can imagine her situation. You can guess what it feels like to be on the receiving end of your rage. You know she has feelings, too.
You also have capacities that suggest a strategy to ease the present crisis. You’ve got to put limits on your demands. You’re not, and never were, the center of the universe. You can mitigate the bad with the good; you can repair damage with caring deeds. By getting angry with someone you love, and loving him, still, you develop a moral law by which you can live.
Previously published on medium
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Photo credit: Dennis Skley