By: Esther Chunga (Counselling Psychologist)
February is the month of love.
People are encouraged to express their love to their significant other on the 14th of February. Gestures are bold and moving, with an extra effort to make the other feel loved, desired and appreciated. Red roses are bought in their dozens, accompanied with chocolates and heart felt card messages; all in the spirit of an open and honest expression of love. Love – what a warm feeling it gives us. It offers us a feeling of affirmation that we matter and are cared for.
When we think of love, often it is often associated with romantic love, as is demonstrated on Valentine’s Day. If we are to go back to early development and infancy however, the love between a baby and parent is what teaches us about love. This early relationship models something about the way we ought to love and of course how we might be receptive to love and how we react to it. This kind of love, between a parent and a baby, has a huge influence on our future selves.
The internet is laden with love tests bearing titles such as “How deep is your love quiz”. It seems so simplified, rationalised and easily accessible. Perhaps this goes to show how people have a desire to love ‘right’ and to be loved ‘right’. Psychologists and researchers have proposed a number of different theories of love. To define love, however, for many is quite difficult. For children, however, it seems a little more straight forward.
Love through Safety
A group of professionals posed this question to a group of 4 to 8 year-olds, “What does love mean?” The answers they got were broader and deeper than anyone could have imagined (www.rogerknapp.com/inspire/childslove.htm).
When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You know that your name is safe in their mouth.” Billy – age 4
Upon reading that, it sounds like such a sweet and thoughtful comment for a four year old to make, and perhaps it has an even deeper meaning and speaks of the importance of one of the key elements of attachment in infancy. Attachment is a deep and enduring emotional bond that connects one person to another across time and space. One of the most important tenets of attachment theory is that an infant needs to develop a relationship with at least one primary caregiver for the child’s successful social and emotional development. In the presence of a sensitive and responsive caregiver, the infant will use the caregiver as a safe base. When a child feels emotionally safe in their relationship with the person they most depend on for survival and affection, the child will have a good chance of growing up to be an emotionally healthy and balanced individual, who is likely to form deep and long lasting attachments to others and also feel strong and secure within themselves. This forms part of the foundation for the ability to love oneself and to love the other.
Love through Encouragement
“During my piano recital, I was on a stage and I was scared. I looked at all the people watching me and saw my daddy waving and smiling. He was the only one doing that. I wasn’t scared anymore,” Cindy – age 8
The above extract speaks of the many situations that make children feel scared, alone and in need of reassurance. In those challenging moments, children seek affirmation, encouragement and comfort. Giving that is a sign of love to children.
Love through being with
Author and lecturer Leo Buscaglia once talked about a contest he was asked to judge. The purpose of the contest was to find the most caring child. The winner was a four year old child whose next door neighbour was an elderly gentleman who had recently lost his wife. Upon seeing the man cry, the little boy went into the old gentleman’s yard, climbed onto his lap, and just sat there. When his Mother asked him what he had said to the neighbour, the little boy said, “Nothing, I just helped him cry.”
The little boy who made the effort to go and sit on his neighbour’s lap who had suffered a deep loss saw and perhaps had felt the value of just being with someone, being attentive and showing empathy. It was an expression of love. To love and show love has a lot to do with creating a relationship in which feelings can be shared. Being with isn’t a technique but perhaps a state of mind or an underlying attitude of empathy for the other. This is both important and difficult when intense emotions arise. Even though the little boy was unable to change the external situation for the grieving man, he was able to be with him in those moments, and just simply offer his presence.
So in this ‘month of love’, Ububele encourages you to perhaps start to look at love simply, in an uncomplicated way by offering ourselves, offering safety, encouragement and presence. It may cost us less and mean more to others than a dozen red roses!