So what is the connection between love, affection, and the freedom and safety to be oneself? Love and affection are not equals. As David Richo reminds us in his book How To Be an Adult in Relationships, “… as one finger is not the hand, so affection is not love, but only part of it. To be held and cuddled but not allowed later to make choices freely and without blame will soon be revealed as inadequate and untrustworthy.” (p. 36)
Being an adult capable of having mature relationships presupposes that when we were children we were able to be ourselves, able to let our wishes and needs and fears and feeling be expressed without recrimination. When we were angry or sad as a child, for example, if we were told not to feel or reminded “you don’t really feel that way” we were not able to honor our true selves. On the other hand, in a family where it is safe to be true to self, we can express feelings and still be accepted.
Remember: feelings are not bad or good, they simply are. What we do with them is another matter—taking anger into inappropriate actions of hurting self or others is never acceptable, but acknowledging the feelings that arise is. A controlling atmosphere that constricts the freedom to be true to self is where we are told what to think and how to feel. Control is not the same as limits. As Richo reminds us, “Control is meant to make you what others need you to be. Limit-setting makes it safe for you to be yourself. … We can’t achieve freedom without limits. They are the holding environments in which we flourish.” (p. 39)
Many of us, however, have grown up in families where being ourselves would mean losing the love that was available only on condition we act and feel in ways that suited our family of origin. As David Richo lovingly frames this, “Trying to live in accord with the wishes and needs of others is like being a cygnet and trying to become a duck just because you find yourself living in a duck pond. The false self is that of a conformist who is a royal heir in hiding.” (p. 37)
Perhaps, then, developing into a psychologically healthy adult means becoming free to own one’s own nobility!