Dear New Shrink,
I have been wondering and worrying about how I can let the people I love know that I love them. I come from a kind of hands off, non-demonstrative family and we just do not say I love you or even give hugs or embraces. Yet I know we all care deeply about one another. I find myself following in the same foot steps, but I want to change it. I just do not know how to go about it. I am known for sending the best cards, with the best messages, but while this may be good enough for those I send them to, I don’t feel satisfied or that I have communicated the deeper and close feelings that I really have.
Can you suggest anything?
Dear Not Sure,
Well you sound like someone who has matured enough to understand that someone we deeply care about can be taken from us in a flash. I don’t mean to seem morbid but it is one of those things about life that is unfortunately true.
I have had a number of close friends that have lost someone suddenly and a couple of my own friends died prematurely. Having studied attachment and loss, I can promise you one thing; if you are good with someone before you lose them, you will do much better with the loss. We are always grief stricken with loss of any kind, but if we have unfinished business, left over resentment or we simply have not said the things we needed to say to someone, loss hits us much harder. I have had patients that literally spent years regretting that they never told someone that they loved them, or made it clear how important that somebody was to them.
While you haven’t said anything about loss, I wanted to include it because it may be an unconscious factor in your wanting to change. The other factor is probably your own desire for closeness. It is definitely more satisfying to be intimate and most of us need or crave it.
If you come from a family or culture, which can play a huge role, where folks do not seem to be demonstrative or know how to say I love you directly to each other, then it is normal for you to be hesitant or not to know how to go about it.
My recommendation is to start slow, with baby steps so to speak. First off, pick the people you want to do this with the most or that might be the easiest for you. Make a list of the top few then make a list for the next people in line.
Start by putting a hand on their shoulder, then if it works out, next time try an arm around the shoulders with a quick squeeze. Perhaps you try a peck on the cheek if and when appropriate. Stick with this for a while and then when it feels comfortable, you can move to a hug. As things move along organically and it all feels OK, then try a bigger hug or saying I love you.
It’s important to go slowly because you don’t want to scare people. If you have never done it, and you start off with a big bang, they are going to wonder if something is wrong, maybe you have an illness and are not telling them. Maybe they will think you have taken to smoking something. The point is you do not want to scare anyone and if you are too quick and too much all at once, you will.
A slow and gradual approach will probably be easier for you as well as more comfortable for them.
I must warn you, there are those folks that simply do not like demonstration of feeling and never get comfortable with it. I think if you do it in this slow and easy way, you will know who to continue with. Don’t take it personally if someone you care about is uncomfortable and seems to back off. They might just be one of these people who are just too uncomfortable or it may be that the next time around, they will be more responsive. This latter example is generally the case.
I think most of us like to hear that someone cares about or loves us. It really is just a matter of not changing it up on them too fast.
Good Luck; I am sure you can do it.
Dr. Barge is a licensed psychologist and a licensed marriage and family therapist with offices in Brentwood. Please send your questions and responses to firstname.lastname@example.org. All communication is kept strictly confidential. Got something on your mind? Let us help you with your life matters.