I recently had a conversation with a friend of mine who told me that although she likes a guy and she thinks he likes her too, she does not want a relationship because she knows she cannot love anyone, as she does not know how. She thought she was giving new information to me, but I told her I kno what she feels like, has I felt it too. Then I told her that I overcame this feeling, and I found out that I know how to love, I just needed to try, and she can do it too. I also told her why I believe she feels like that.
She and I have something in common, which is bad examples as parents on this matter. Mine are divorced, and hers are on the way to. The problem lays in the fact that parents are our first example of interacton with others, but our parents are also people with flaws. When we are young we do not see the flaws, so we think that their way of interacting is the right way. Only with time we get the capacity to distinguish what we want to learn and what we want to avoid doing.
In my case, I copied for a long time the mechanism of interaction between my parents. All I remember is that my mum was too weak to be alone, so she was clinging on my dad, and my dad had angry problem, so shouting was common in my house, until they split. My mum fell in depression and never tried to move on, so when young I adopted her neediness as the base on which constructing my relatioships. From my dad I got the bottling up of emotions until I could not do it anymore and I had bursts of rage.
This is not a good combination, as it can be guessed. You cannot be in a relatioship in which you need the other. That is because firstly you do not learn how to stand up by yourself because you ask for constant help, and secondly it might happen that the other might feel pressured as they can feel like your happiness depends on them. And that is a heavy weight to carry, as the other might have bad days too. Bottling up emotions leads to fights about feelings rather than honest and contructing conversations, and this can harm the relatioship deeply. All of this applies to romantic relationships but also friendships. In fact, it happens that I wore a friend of mine out in the past because I did not know how to give love properly. I was always asking and never giving, because I thought I had nothing to give.
Wrong. I had a lot to give, I just did not learn the right modality to let it come to light. Whenever I tried to act kindly, I unconsciously expected something in return as my neediness made me weak and I needed constant validation. So, when nothing came back, I broke down and felt unloved. This is why I also felt like I could not love, as any time I tried to it hurt. It is a particularly vicious circle, that can be broken only by starting to not have expectations.
When you do not have expectations, anything positive that happens will give you more joy because unexcpected, and anything that does not happen will not hurt as you were not painfully waiting for it. I believe that working on not having expectations could start with random acts of kindess to strangers. As strangers, they do not love you, so your brain would not expect anything from them. Volunteering is the next step, as it is a more structured way. You will soon find out that just seeing the effects of your help alone will be enough, at least, that is what happened to me.
Working on self-worth is a bit more complicated. I constantly felt like if I was alone I was nothing, and I could not see anything in myself. I started working on this to help others help me. Because I felt useless my uneasiness was visible, and others suffered because of it. From this I started to see the need of changing my behaviour not for myself but not to cause hurt in others. It has been a long process made of positivy notes, walks, sport, helping out, writing, theraphy and resting. Gradually I started to work on myself for myself, because I found out that the me I took care of was indeed capable of something. And mind me, I arrived to this conclusion only last year, after ten of hard work and falls.
With self-woth, neediness disappears, because you know you can be there for yourself. With self-worth came also the knowledge that talking about how I feel matters as much as other people’s feelings. As soon as I started talking I stopped bottling up and rage faded. After all these problems seemed to weight less, I started feeling positive emotions, among them love. I found my own way to love others as I realised no one taught me how to while young. I finally got the courage to talk with my parents and in their own way they also helped, now giving me help and support by recognising they have not been the best example.
Essentially, I believe we feel like we cannot love because other negative emotions are in the way, which makes us feel like we have nothing good to give. Understanding and tackling those emotions might be good to find out all the good we have within us. Other sources of this feeling are bad examples received as young people, as written above, or trauma, but I suspect there are many more.
If you feel stuck in this feeling, do not give up, and try to understand the source, so you know where to start from to find the love you have inside.