Patrick McCurry Counsellor Eastbourne Canary Wharf

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Can we allow ourselves to receive love?

12 July 2021


"It is often hard to let ourselves receive love, even when it's available."

John Welwood


I believe that all of us are, ultimately, seeking love. But it is surprising how hard it is for many of us to feel loved even when it is being offered.

We complain, to others or ourselves, that we are making the effort with our partners and not getting love back. Or we feel unappreciated or unacknowledged by friends or family members.

I think that much of our difficulty with allowing in love are down to our trouble with loving ourselves. When we don’t genuinely love or accept ourselves it’s hard for us to believe someone else might love or accept us.

We can see that in how we react to being given a compliment. Often we may bat a compliment away, feeling a bit embarrassed. Part of this may be cultural - we don’t want to appear as boastful. But often part of it is a defence against allowing ourselves to feel valued.

I think that the deeper fear in these situations is that when we allow in a compliment we are making ourselves slightly vulnerable because we are allowing someone else to affect us emotionally.

It can feel ‘safer’ to play down the compliment and perhaps make a joke about it.


This discomfort with receiving love or positive attention can make itself felt even in our close relationships. We may tell our partner that we want to feel loved but then we put obstacles in the way.

Much of this difficulty in receiving love is unconscious and may be based on early emotional wounding we experienced in our families.

Part of the problem is that we can expect so much from other people, particularly partners. When they don’t live up to our expectations of how we want to be loved, or given attention, we can judge them.

For those of us who carry early wounds around feeling (or not feeling) truly loved and accepted, to allow in love or care from someone can unconsciously bring up the feeling of those early wounds.

Thus we prefer to push that love away, not allow ourselves to see it or tell ourselves the love is not being given to us in exactly the way we want it.

We then feel lonely, isolated, sad, resentful.

But if we can broaden our expectation of what love is and accept that we are probably never going to receive, what psychologist John Welwood calls, ‘perfect love’ we then have the chance to experience love.

By broadening our expectations I’m thinking of the small, everyday interactions in which someone does something for us, smiles at us, shows us some warmth. We may not regard that as ‘love’ but it is a kind of care that we can enjoy and recognise.

We can also look at how we allow, or don’t allow, an internal love to be present. This is a love beyond that of a lover or friend, more akin to divine or transpersonal love. Meditation or prayer can help us access that internal warmth which makes itself felt as a kind of presence.

This is different to a technique of telling ourselves we are lovable, using affirmations etc, which some self-help books recommend. It is more about learning to be with ourselves in a loving, compassionate way, in make space for painful feelings without judging them. It is about opening ourselves, in silent reflection, to our deeper self that is beyond our ego.


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