Giving the Gift of Love

On Valentine’s day, I hope you will take a moment to let the people you love know they adore them. Don’t take it for granted that they know. Reach out.

And the most important person to connect with, acknowledge, and love with all your heart is…yourself.


I was speaking to a woman with several children, who was in an abusive relationship with their step-father. She was desperately unhappy. The pain radiated off of her. Her hair lacked luster, her posture slumped, her complexion had gone bad in the last couple of years. She seemed to be imploding.

“How did he change after you married him?” I asked.

“He didn’t. Not really. I thought that he would.” I could hear the fragility in her voice. She had that “whipped dog” posture, waiting for me to drop an avalanche of shame on her. Dear God, I wished that I’d spoken to her a decade sooner.

What could I say? I thought about it and asked another question. “If you saw the flaws and problems…why did you marry him?” I hoped that was neutral enough. Luckily it triggered something positive.

“He needed love,” she said. “Everyone deserves love.”

Yes, I thought. But not from you. So we had someone who prized themselves on being a source of love. And had believed that her love, her sexuality, could heal a wounded heart.

Hadn’t Yoko Ono said that she could have saved Hitler’s soul by sleeping with him? It isn’t some rare fantasy. And anyone who has been in a healthy relationship knows how incredibly valuable the love of a good partner can be in healing your heart. But…where is the dividing line?

I had an inspiration. First, I had her sit up straight, changing her body language. Get the posture. Get the facial expression to at least a small smile. Sink her breathing down to her navel. Get her in the physiology of confidence and clarity. Then I asked the bomber question:

“Would you have wanted your own daughter to marry him?”

And THERE it was. The fierceness, the protectiveness, the “Mommy Lion” sense. Hell NO she wouldn’t have wanted her daughter to marry such a man. So, then…why didn’t she believe she deserved the same consideration.

Her posture tried to slump, but I kept bringing her back to upright, moving her expression to neutral, reminding her of her breathing.

From this (relatively) positive position, she spoke of her programming, to put the needs of others before her own. To not think of herself, and in fact her own self-esteem had been torn down by a neglectful father and religiously strict mother. She had entered the world of sexual/romantic relationships with a damaged sense of self, a willingness to accept any scraps, any tokens, any symbols of the happy life (like…a man, no matter how little positive influence he might be) and to take pride in “saving” a damaged soul.

Isn’t that the “Beauty and the Beast” model? He is a monster on the outside, but a beautiful prince beneath? And there are aspects of this that work great — if there is actually a loving soul within, as well as enough power to balance with the beauty brought to the relationship.

  1. If there is an imbalance of beauty and power (the 21st Century model of this seems to be equal amounts of each on both sides, so that works too) then one partner will try to drag the other down, for fear of loss. They will literally sabotage your health and self-respect, for fear that if you have too much beauty or power and will find someone new and leave them.
  2. If you have your self-esteem invested in supporting someone else, UNLESS it is balanced with love of your own heart and soul, you will actually tear yourself down, hold yourself back, to stop yourself from outpacing your partner. I have had women tell me that they were afraid to lose weight, because if they did they would become attractive to other men and cheat on their husbands.
  3. The combined power of love and sex opens primal circuits in your mind, and that “we’re soulmates!” feeling. CRITICAL point: this is the precise reason it is a bad idea to start having sex until you are a self-supporting adult, disabused of the notion that anyone is going to come and rescue you. Rescue yourself.
  4. The test question: “would you want your own child to do X?” is wonderfully powerful. You can use it to determine the actual worth of a habit, association, life path. We almost always have higher standards for our children than we have for ourselves.
  5. A common statement is “women are taught to sacrifice themselves”. And men often don’t see that sacrifice. But the truth is that men are taught to sacrifice THEMSELVES as well. Often with an occupation that shortens his life. And women miss THAT about as often as men miss the degree to which women harden their hearts to get through their days and raise a family.

It is time to end this war between men and women, between the child and adult aspects of our own being. To reclaim our aliveness and potential for love and creativity. And the first step is such a basic thing: LOVE YOURSELF.

How? First, commit to doing it. Just…commit.

Then, find people who have this characteristic, and model them. What are their beliefs, values, actions? DO THAT.

While you are searching, I suggest a couple of things.

  1. Heartbeat Meditation. Simply sitting and listening to/feeling your own heartbeat for 10–20 minutes a day. Of course, you have to give yourself permission to be healthy and happy, or you will find an excuse not to do it, or stop yourself after a day or two (people who expect to undo decades of damage in hours are really just trying to stop themselves from changing).
  2. Inner Child work. The symbol of the child within our own hearts, whether a connection to the past, or to the seed of our future potential, is incredibly powerful. There are countless approaches, but simply visualizing that child and asking her what she wants you to do next, can change your life.

A note: meditation is not “easy.” Your thoughts and feelings will float around and confuse you. You will find it impossible to sit still. Fall asleep. Find it impossible to create a photograph-clear visualization (that’s all right: no one this side of Nicola Tesla can create such an image. If you think you can’t visualize, answer this question: what color is your car? If you can answer that, I’m willing to bet you have visual memory). The first 10–15 minutes, on average, are cloudy and confused. It is AFTER that point that you will usually find a more peaceful place.

It can take WEEKS to work through the muck, and it can feel like pumping sewage out of a flooded basement. But…there is a finite amount of that gunk. You WILL get through it.

If you have faith that something deep within you is perfect, beautiful. Or if you are willing to have faith that just the process is a worthy fight. Remember: you children don’t expect you to be perfect. They expect you to try. They expect you to be there. They expect you to love them.

Love yourself. Enough to let the love of a good and decent, loving, healthy partner into your life. If you are not healthy, love yourself anyway, and commit to healing. If you really see yourself on a path of healing, you will recognize another heart on the same journey…and now you have your potential partner.

But come what may, you deserve to love yourself. You’re the only one who will always be there.





Steven Barnes is a NY Times bestselling author, ecstatic husband and father, and holder of black belts in three martial arts.

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Steven Barnes

Steven Barnes is a NY Times bestselling author, ecstatic husband and father, and holder of black belts in three martial arts.