We’ve all heard how important touch is to a child’s emotional and even physical health. It is more than just touch however – it is the kind of touch – it is touch that is loving, safe and consistent. It is touch from someone who is feeling and projecting love. Intimacy occurs when someone feels known, loved and accepted by another. Intimate touch is touch with the power of the heart behind it … and no matter how old we are … this need for intimate touch never leaves us. When this type of love is generated between two people the circuit created by their shared loved is reinforced. Loving touch from an intimate other literally heals us from the inside out. Doctors Lewis, Amini and Lannon in their book A General Theory of Love talk about how the architecture of the human brain, particularly the limbic system, places relationships at the crux of our lives … our emotional, physical and spiritual health. Even our immune system is given a turbo boost with loving intimate touch. The degree to which we have loving intimate relationships is the degree to which we can emotionally and spiritually stabilize when we are in pain AND emotionally, physically and spiritually heal.
Learning how to love well, choosing to bring people into our lives who love well, and allowing ourselves to be loved well are all critical components to a life well lived and a heart well-loved. Yet this is so much easier said than done! We all arrive at adulthood with childhood and adolescent experiences that hindered our ability to master these skills. That’s the bad news. The good news, is that with awareness, courage and intention we can take each of these skills to a new level – and thus create a more nourishing and joy filled life. Here are a few ideas on how to grow these skills –
1. How to Bring Loving People Into Your Life – Become skilled at recognizing people who love well. These people will be consistently loving to you and others. Their loving capacities are not dependent on the situation but rather are independent of what is going on. These people are natural lovers whose kindness and patience are an established part of who they are and how they move in the world. Think about the people you have known who seemed to love easily and well. What were the qualities of these people? What did you notice about how they handled conflict, disappointment, frustration, loss? Identify these qualities and how you both felt in their presence, as well as what you observed. This is your wisdom. You can now use this wisdom to discern who is loving enough to be in your inner circle – those people who you give access to your heart.
2. How to Love Others Well – Seek to discover and understand your emotional triggers. What causes you to feel shame, anger, frustration, disappointment, sadness, jealousy? What are the meanings, assumptions, pain and experiences behind these feelings? What is the wisdom and truth in these meanings versus what is a lie or fear or assumption? What is the loving thing to say and do (to and for yourself) when you feel these emotions? Practice regulating your emotions through mindfulness and deep breathing through these triggers (instead of doing or saying something) until you can process them with more thought and less reactivity. Surround yourself with people who can help you love yourself when you are experiencing turmoil and pain. Use their wisdom and perspective to help you understand your triggers and learn to self soothe. It’s hard to remember in the moment – but every person is both radically valuable and radically imperfect – just like you. That means people will at times disappoint and hurt you.
3. How to Allow Yourself to be Loved Well – Intentionally work to believe that you are precious, beloved, valuable – just the way you are – quirks and all – endowed with the image of God woven throughout your body and soul. You deserve love, to be filled with the love of others and filled with God’s deep and abiding love. When you are loved well by someone you trust, let yourself receive and surrender to this love. Let their love heal and nourish you. Only love can heal shame, comfort pain and give us hope.