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Following a series of incredibly difficult betrayals, challenges, and losses I often feel emotionally numb. I believe that is a protective response to the pain and hurts I have endured – like a callus or scar. I have worked very hard to forgive and to feel and show love to those who have hurt me. But it is difficult for me to feel love from others – my husband, children, siblings. Most disheartening to me is that I don’t feel loved by Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. I know in my mind that they love me and I review many times I have felt that love, but despite doing all the things I know to help me feel closer to them (prayer, scripture study, temple worship, service, fasting, serving in my callings, etc) my heart doesn’t feel that love. I miss feeling that love. How can I allow myself to feel the love others have for me? What can I do to help me feel love from others, including my family, and Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ?
It’s true that relational betrayals close us off in a self-protective cocoon. The internal work of forgiving others for their hurtful behaviors is an important part of opening up to love again. As you’ve seen, though, it still requires more than internally releasing someone from the hurt they’ve caused you.
If you want to reengage in a meaningful relationship with the individual who hurt you, trust in the relationship has to be reestablished. The person who injured the relationship has the primary responsibility to create conditions where trust can be restored. Their willingness to repair the damage they’ve done opens up the way to reconnect with them. Forgiving them won’t fix an unsafe relationship if they’re unwilling to take personal accountability and responsibility for how they’ve harmed you and the relationship.
If conditions are repaired and safe, but you still feel yourself hesitating to get close, here are some ways you can open yourself to their love. I recommend you tell them exactly what you asked in your question above. Take the risk to be vulnerable with them and let them know how scary it is to open up to love. Let them know you want this, but you’re cautious. If they’re a safe person, they’ll understand and show support.
Next, look for ways that they are turning to you. For example, are they making more time for you? Are they trying to be more sensitive and aware? Notice those things and see how they affect your heart and mind. Don’t dismiss them, no matter how small. Opening up to love happens in stages and takes time. Be gentle with them and with yourself as you let them affect you again.
Find ways to turn to them and give yourself permission to take a break when you feel overwhelmed. I believe that you can’t truly say “yes” to someone until you know it’s okay to say “no.” Give yourself permission to move toward, and then move away. Keep moving like this until you find yourself receiving more and spending more time in relationship with them. This works for friends, family, and Heavenly Father. It’s not an all-or-nothing process of either being with them or away from them.
In your relationship with your Heavenly Father and Savior, please recognize that they are perfectly patient. The Savior taught the parable of the prodigal son to show that Heavenly Father’s eyes are fixed on us and He runs to us the second we move toward Him. His arm is outstretched for you, even when you’re not sure you want to reach for it.[i]
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland taught that if we study the life of the Savior, we will have a better understanding of the true nature of God and learn how perfect his patience, love, and grace is for us. He teaches that one of the purposes for the Savior’s earthly mission was for us to understand who God is and how he relates to us, his children.[ii] There is room and space for you to open up to their love for you. Continue to hold the spiritual ground you’ve gained and stay in the light. Your Heavenly Father and your Savior have not abandoned you.
Also, don’t forget that working with a specialized trauma therapist can help you unblock the wall between you and others. This type of treatment can help heal the scars that have built up over time, blocking the emotional, relational, and spiritual flow between you and others.
There will come a time when it doesn’t make sense to your body and emotions to stay as distant. Your desire to feel love can draw to toward the people who want to love you. Let them know you want to feel their love, but need their reassurance and support. Those who truly want to repair the broken bond with you will give you the time and space you need to feel their love. They will hold it out for you as long as it takes to reconnect with them.
As you consistently work in all of these different areas and continue to seek light and connection from your Heavenly Father, you will heal. Please don’t give up hope and believe that you can’t ever love again. Even though your wounds are real, you are still capable of feeling love again.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.marriage-recovery.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.
[i] 2 Nephi 19:12