Richard Bloom MFT 09312

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What is this thing called Love?

The Italians call it "the thunderbolt," the romantic obsession that begins with the first glance. Our phrase "love at first sight" does not do it justice. The body quakes, one moment powerful, the next dissolving into exquisite weakness. It is on the far end of the spectrum of what we celebrate as love in our books, on the movie screen, on television, and often in our fantasies. This man or woman is our other half, the missing piece in our life and in our psyche. Why is it, then, that our troubles are just beginning?

We have only one, overtaxed word for love. As a suckling infant dissolves in pleasure at its mother's breast, does it experience love? And the mother or father who cradles that child, does he or she experience love? Does the heated adolescent, hungry with sexual passion, experience love? Is that aching, tormented feeling of loss at the end of a relationship love? And why is it that our rages seem most intense toward the ones we say we love?

We do not often question what we expect from the people around us. It never occurs to us that there might not be food on the table unless we came from a family or a culture where day to day survival was problematic. If our parents were tender and understanding toward us, accepting of who we were but willing to place reasonable limits on our behavior, we understand love to be tender, accepting, and realistic.

But few of us grew up with these ideal conditions. As children we struggled to understand how this loving parent could suddenly become a rageful monster. The slap! The belittling, humiliating remark! The parental edict that destroyed our hopes! Parents who consistently put their own needs ahead of ours give us little room to develop ourselves. We learn to pretend to be who they want us to be and hide our real natures. We get lost in a labyrinth of our own making, divide our selves into acceptable and unacceptable, lovable and unlovable parts.

The "thunderbolt!" Suddenly I see the person who will guide me out of this maze. Finally, I have met my ideal mate, the man or woman who will appreciate me for who I am, give me the warmth and comfort I have always sought, the feeling of well being that always seems to elude me.

Unfortunately, my ideal mate is also seeking these comforts from me. We are bound to disappoint each other. Our desires do not exactly match. I want to spend the day at the beach; she wants to curl up with a book. I want sex; she wants to talk to her friend on the telephone. She wants to party, to go out dancing. I've got two left feet. We are not simply frustrated in our desires but deeply disappointed that our hopes for becoming whole have been thwarted. We begin to pick at each other, if not out loud, then in our private thoughts. We resurrect the strategies of our youth or the tactics of our parents and siblings to get what we want. We bully or become obsequious; we withdraw or nag; we capitulate but secretly seethe with resentment; we argue with stern logic or dissolve in emotional frustration; we strike out or run away. Psychotherapy helps us become conscious of these twists and turns, gives us a way to step back and examine our feelings as they come rushing in, aids us in developing healthier strategies for negotiating our lives, helps us reclaim those parts of ourselves that have been shamed and exiled, and allows us to accept that we are, after all, simply human. Then, perhaps, we can truly love.

Richard Bloom, mft, is a psychotherapist with over 40 years experience helping individuals and couples. He has offices in Santa Rosa and Berkeley.

For more information or to schedule an appointment call:  707-665-0846.