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November 2, 2023

How can love languages mess us up?

Within popular culture, there’s the relationship concept of love languages. The theory asserts that people usually gravitate towards one or two of these prominent ways of expressing love: gift-giving, words of affirmation, touch, quality time, and acts of service.

We tend to feel loved in certain ways, accentuated as our love language needs are met. Love is translated through that language. It becomes deeply experienced.

Those of us who have survived abuse often struggle to experience and feel that healthy love we’re all gunning for. But even with that reality happening to us and causing us pain, many of us still gravitate towards a love language. We aspire to it. We chase it. We try to earn it.

We practice giving it to others, with the hope that it comes back to us.

These things can cause further harm and, at the very least, tricky complications concerning healthy relationships, choices, and lifestyles.

Discerning the healthy, the harmless, and the effectiveness regarding love is a challenge. A large part of that challenge exists because many of us have yet to experience love in any reliable, realistic, and healthy form.

It’s distorted.

And those distortions are further solidified with each mixed message and confusing “should” argument we come across. It can be insidious.

Love is a good thing, right?

Expressing love, therefore, is also a good thing, right?

Not quite. Not always.

Our language can be gift-giving.

“Everyone is a friend to one who gives gifts.”

Proverbs 19:6

We love getting gifts. It’s what birthdays and Christmas holidays are centered on.

Many of us feel loved when we receive a token. We can feel moved and worthy because someone took the time, the energy, the thought, and the money to get us something deeply personal and unique to us.

Getting a gift can feel wonderful.

But there’s more to the issue than being the recipient. After all, “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). For many of us, it is in the giving of gifts that we experience that warm, fluffy feeling…and sense of meaning and purpose.

Furthermore, many of us can believe good things will come back to us. We believe in reciprocity, a give and take, especially if we love someone and we believe that they love us.

“Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”

Luke 6:38

That’s a lot of pressure and expectation, isn’t it?

Now, most of us don’t like to think of ourselves as petty, as scorekeeping, tit-for-tat. We don’t want to see ourselves as only doing something to get something back.

But reciprocity is valid and reasonable. We have a right to expect healthy, give-and-take interaction, love, and friendship.

But this can often get twisted, as, for extra fun, the concept of giving, coupled with its obligation, gets embedded, pressuring us to “give until it hurts.”

And to also be happy about it. Scripture states, “God loves a cheerful giver.”

But that can be taken out of context.

It’s not about just being blissfully happy and stupid about the act of giving. Check out the full scripture…

“Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

2 Corinthians 9:7

What is it you and I truly want to give to a person or to a situation?

Have we ever really stopped and asked ourselves that question?

Or, has our toxic background or experiences enforced how we MUST give everything, to everyone, all the time?

We give until we fall over and die?

“If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.”

Matthew 10:14

What do we do when we find ourselves speaking a foreign language with another person?

Or more complicated yet, what do we do if we find ourselves to be mute?

It can often come down to the concept of proportional response. Our sense of gift giving is language with another, whether it’s giving or receiving. If there is a lack of recognition, and even abuse, no matter what we do, we can be presented with a reality demanding our response.

Do we continue, or do we remove ourselves, with gifts in tow?

“Shaking the dust of our feet” is the realization that our efforts and attempts at connection with this person are not working. They aren’t healthy.

And so, we need to give ourselves permission to walk away.

That can be extremely difficult for those of us loving gift givers. It can be because we have believed a wrong assertion that once we give, we are required to keep giving for the rest of our lives. We believe we are not allowed to stop, to change our minds, to rescind not just material or financial gifts, but our energy, time, and support.

We can make another choice though. We can reverse the gift giving.

That involves confronting the loss of that action. Grief and sadness will be a part of that.

If we continue to gift give when it is harmful, toxic, and dysfunctional, perhaps, we are trying to avoid that grief and sadness.

“Giving until it hurts,” therefore, can serve us. It can be the preferable pain to the loss associated with walking away from a person.

We just don’t want any love, including toxic expressions of love, to die on us.

Our language can be words of affirmation.

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.”

Proverbs 18:21

Words have power.

And, for those of us who have abuse and toxic relationships in our backgrounds, words have often been weapons, confusing us, inflicting fear, and fostering self-hatred. Many of us don’t recognize we have been abused, because we believe that “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

But they do.

Verbal abuse is abuse.

It shows up in name-calling and insults.

But it is also found in the absence of words, mainly positive, loving words.

“A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.”

Proverbs 25:11

Many of us have been denied loving and kind words. We have only heard and have only believed the bad messages hurled at us. Abuse can also manifest itself as silence, including our silence. When we feel we have lost our voices, helpless states of being often result. We feel powerless, desperate, and hopeless.

“If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.”

Matthew 10:14

When we cannot be heard, when we cannot speak, that is unhealthy. It is not what we deserve. It’s manipulation, gaslighting, and abuse. It’s not normal relational behavior. It doesn’t belong in families, in partnerships, or in workplaces.

Unfortunately, when we seek certain words, we can place ourselves in unsafe and compromising positions. We can allow certain behaviors, all because we want to hear “I love you” or sweet terms of endearment. We are starving for those words. We want them in our lives.

If we have the opportunity and the ability, we are presented with a challenge: we can leave with our feet and our words, taking the right to have our voices, with our steps.

We have a right to speak, and to be heard. We deserve to experience both in life.

Our language can be touch.

“Lay hands on no one hastily, nor share in the sins of others; keep yourself pure.”

1 Timothy 5:22

Like other love languages, touch is often something that has been abusive, violating us in some way. Some of the most severe examples of that include of physical and sexual abuse.

Touch is quite pervasive in its impact. It can be misused in subtle ways too. It can be the uncomfortable or the confusing, mixed signals kind of touch that is not wanted and has us second guessing ourselves. It can be the absence of touch, utilized as punishment, making us feel abandoned and rejected.

It can be a spectrum of questionable scenarios regarding touch. Martin Luther once stated, “To act against conscience is neither right nor safe.” 

But be careful that this right of yours in no way becomes a stumbling block to the weak.”

1 Corinthians 8:9

What does the conscience within us have to say about touch?

Good? Bad? Right? Wrong? Pleasurable? Painful? Safe? Dangerous?

Touch and boundary crossing can reveal themselves to us, causing harm. If someone who claims to love us crosses a boundary, we question its validity as an expression of love. Being placed in a vulnerable position with someone we trust can arouse instincts, conflicts, guilt, and shame. We don’t know what to do about love within this context; we don’t know how to respond to the person who is affecting us.

“If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.”

Matthew 10:14

None of us should ever be at the mercy of touch and the toucher behind it. None of us should have to choose between violating ourselves and experiencing love. Love doesn’t violate. Being groomed and conditioned is not love; it’s abuse.

If we are conflicted about any touch, we have the right to say no to it. We are not obligated to touch or be touched if we don’t want it. That includes hugging, kissing, holding hands, shoulder massages, and any other form of touch. We can say no to sex, in any form or expression of it.

We determine what touch we allow. No one else.

If that does not occur, we have the right to leave.

If we are violated when it comes to touch, that is not our fault. We did not ask for it. It was a violation of our rightful boundaries.

Our language can be quality time.

Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.”

1 Corinthians 15:33

With whom do we spend our time?

How healthy and safe are they?

For many of us from abusive and toxic backgrounds, we are conditioned to endure situations with people who are not good for us.

And it’s a complicated reality. An unhealthy or an unsafe person may bring some desirable things to the table. We may experience moments of love, support, laughter, and kindness. And those things can be authentic.

And these people can also be individuals who are not choosing good behaviors and decisions. To be blunt, these people can be fools…

“He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed.”

Proverbs 13:20

It’s a harsh thing to consider, let alone, to accept. Wisdom involves certain choices, often involving finances, health, and personal relationships.

Those choices have ramifications.

And often, those of us who were denied quality relationships will justify and put up with a lot of unsafe and unhealthy things, just to keep the contact with that person going. We can put ourselves at risk, telling ourselves this person is important.

We decide, on some level, that we will pay the price.

And that price can often be a costly one.

“If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.”

Matthew 10:14

Radical acceptance is the tool we hate to use here. It is painful, scary, and difficult to do just that. It means we need to see reality as it is, not what we wish it would or could be. It means we need to let the tight control our magical thinking has on what this person and their situation has on us.

We aren’t in control. We cannot save. Sadly, we cannot rescue them, no matter how much time we may spend with them.

We are not in control.

The time that we associate spending with them is personally valid and meaningful to us, regardless of the outcomes. Accepting this, for ourselves, therefore can be a healthier part of erecting and maintaining safe and healthy boundaries for ourselves.

And we need to do that.

Our language can be acts of service.

“Do to others as you would like them to do to you.”

Luke 6:31

Like that of quality time, acts of service can be the main love language we speak and choose for our lives. And, like that of quality time, acts of service is about doing.

This may be the toughest of love languages to handle, especially when we are connected to an unhealthy and unsafe person. For codependency is about doing in an unhealthy way, isn’t it?

And that is especially difficult if we are people of deep faith and spirituality. For many of us believe the following tenets of these scriptures…

“For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Galatians 5:14

Because, in the past unhealthy, abusive, and unsafe dynamics we have been involved with, we have a heavy and inaccurate sense of responsibility, especially if we love someone.

“Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.”

Matthew 7:12

We would want someone to love us the way that we love them. We project that magical wish onto them. But they are not us. They think, feel, and respond differently than we do.

For reasons we may or may not understand, they do not prioritize health, safety, appropriate connection, and decision-making, perhaps, the way that we do.

Therefore, we will “do unto them” in more of a loving, kind, healthier, and safer way than they would choose to do towards us.

“If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.”

Matthew 10:14

We can drive ourselves crazy trying to extract their motivations. The reality is that they are not doing to us what we are doing to them.

We must learn to apply love languages for ourselves.

What do we need? What does that look like?

The harsh, challenging reality is that, despite another person, and how they show up in life, we must give ourselves displays of these love languages.

We must give to ourselves, speak words of affirmation to ourselves, be physically gentle with ourselves, spend quality time with ourselves, and perform acts of service for our own lives.

By giving ourselves our examples of these love languages, we are choosing to walk away from dependence upon another person, especially if they are harmful and toxic.

Decisions, boundaries, and accepting reality for what it is can aid us in truly speaking and standing up for ourselves.

We need to start communicating using that language.

Copyright © 2023 by Sheryle Cruse

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