I recently saw a quote online that suggested we think before we speak, and ask ourselves, “Is it true, helpful, inspiring, necessary or kind.” Doing that has about as much appeal to me as balancing my checkbook, and I thought to myself, ‘If I followed that philosophy, I might never open my mouth.’
The next day, while driving, I saw a bumper sticker that said “Respond with Love.” “In other words be a good little girl,” I said to myself out loud in the car, while realizing that many of the new age formulas for enlightenment can make me feel as oppressed as good vs. evil religiosity.
Okay. I get the concept; love is a powerful force for good. But I don’t think it’s that black and white, and the problem with uplifting quotes like “Respond with Love” is that following such a doctrine can stop us from thinking for ourselves and from seeing each situation as unique and unfolding. As someone who has struggled to find my voice, I’m much more interested in following the soulful promptings from within my own body than theoretical and prescribed dictation from the right/light of a hierarchical heaven.
I believe the practice of responding with love can be used to avoid change, which can sometimes be dark and messy, but necessary. It also doesn’t take into consideration the ways people on both sides of the equation can be harmed under the guise of love. Making yourself indispensable to others through over-loving and over-giving can result in festering resentment when the object of your love isn’t changed in the way you want. In the end, it can cause the one being over-loved to feel inferior and indebted, or it can enable dysfunction and stop growth in all concerned.
Every wise parent knows that giving too much to our children – too many toys and too much leeway in how they behave – is not a good thing. “By always trying to protect them from adversity, we’re depriving them of the chance to learn coping skills. By not setting appropriate limits, we’re undermining our children’s character development,” says a PHD author quoted in Discipline Tips for Parents Who Love Too Much.
Although love is considered a good thing, too much of it is harmful for the same reasons that other kinds of excesses are harmful. Over-loving someone is like over watering a plant. It sounds like a caring thing to do, but too much can be deadly. And that goes for romantic love too.
Some of the typical signs of loving too much that will eventually kill relationships have been outlined by Marina Pearson, author and speaker on divorce and heartbreak. They include: You say yes when they mean no. You abandon your friends. You are only happy when s/he is around. You put the object of your love on a pedestal or downplay their behavior. You make excuses when they treat you badly.
Robin Norwood, a therapist and author of Women Who Love Too Much, writes, “There’s absolutely no difference between being addicted to relationships and to drugs. People in these relationships get just as out of control and sick physically as do drug addicts. Their lives deteriorate in just the same way.”
I suspect that “Respond with Love” is comforting to people who fear confrontation (most of us) and that people-pleasers love that kind of permission. I think those who take and don’t take responsibility gravitate towards others who do it, so they can continue to do more of the same.
Years ago, I learned the value of contradicting my program as a way to challenge habitual defense mechanisms and move out of unhealthy comfort zones. In the case of over-loving and over-giving, this would mean that those who rarely respond lovingly would likely benefit from opening their heart and responding with love more often, and those who respond with love automatically, might do well to ground themselves in fierceness and act from their gut more often.
The semantics of what it means to respond with love can be argued, but there is a lot in between responding with love and responding with anger. Honesty and authenticity come to mind. And sometimes anger is an appropriate response that can clear the air and set the stage for positive change.