I am an avid devourer of any psychological read. From self-help books to research-based articles, to psychological thrillers. From time to time, I also encounter young adult books with strong and fulfilling messages, like Steven Chbosky’s book, The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I strongly resonate with his most celebrated quote, “We accept the love we think we deserve,” for one simple reason. The love we think we deserve is the love we are accustomed to.
It’s quite simple.
You’re unable to demand ‘healthy love’ if you’ve never experienced it before.
From a very early age, you’re taught about love and what love really entails. You observe how your parents love each other, and how they love you, their offspring. This type of love and interaction deeply imprints itself within yourself, and follows you throughout your entire life.
Part of falling in love and being strongly attracted to specific people has to do exactly with this. You unconsciously seek those slight traits that remind you of “home”, and as so, you’re drawn to a set of qualities, or flaws in some people.
If you received nurturing love while growing up, and your parents treated each other, and you with respect, then you wouldn’t be able to tolerate any type of emotional or physical abuse.
On the other hand, if you were raised in a very toxic environment, then you probably won’t even be able to detect —and much less stop— any of the familiar abusive behavior. During early formative years, abusive behaviors tend to become normalized.
Because of this:
We accept the love we think we deserve.
If you’ve never been loved in a healthy way, you’ll start believing it is what you deserve. Or even worse: you’ll believe this is what love’s supposed to be.
Let’s take Jessica as an example. Jessica has always had a conflictive relationship with her mother. Once she moved across the country for college and met her roommate Stephanie, she became amazed to realize how supportive and nurturing Stephanie’s relationship with her mom was. She just always assumed moms were supposed to be selfish and competitive. You must now be wondering the following:
How did her relationship with her mother affect her as a person?
First of all, growing up in an environment where your emotional needs are not met is a disaster waiting to happen. In this particular case, Jessica’s mom had very low levels of empathy. She was unable to really support her daughter in any difficult situation.
In addition, she would be extremely critical and judgemental towards her. These constant “put me-downs” implanted on Jessica an unshakeable sensation that she is simply not good enough. In other words, she had no self-worth, self-love, or self-esteem. All of these traits are necessary for leading a fulfilling and successful life.
But here’s the thing about Jessica’s mom. We can’t be so harsh on her. After all, she learned this type of loving from her own mother. In fact, this pattern may have been replicating itself for generations. It’s called the Nuclear Family Emotional Process. This theorem, depicted by Murray Bowen, states that inter-relational patterns are passed down from generation to generation.
That said, her parents were probably unable to provide nurturing love. You really can’t practice —and much less teach— what you’ve never learned.
“Self-trust, self-love, and self-knowledge can be taught to a daughter only by a mother who possesses those qualities herself.”karyl mcbride, Ph.d.
On another hand,
Jessica’s relationship with her mother directed her dating life.
It would be logical to think that Jessica would want to date guys that are completely different from her mother. Right?
Well, no. Wrong.
Sadly, we repeat what hurts us.
So the thing with Jessica is that she would always date guys that would constantly put her down; they would always belittle her just to feel superior. They were competitive, selfish and extremely obnoxious. Until one day, her close friend, and roommate, Stephanie, who was majoring in psychology pointed out the obvious, “Don’t you see you keep dating people who treat you the same way your mom treats you?”
These guys in the end were mere reflections of strong characteristics of her mother’s personality. Jessica hadn’t realized that she was simply repeating a pattern. We have the unconscious need to repeat implanted toxic patterns as a way to heal. As human beings, we tend to stick to what’s familiar.
In other words, part of being drawn to the wrong people and being attracted to them has to do with the unconscious need of repairing what bothers us. As a way to finally “fix” these types of relationships. Yeah, the psyche is pretty messed up in that way. This is called Repetition Compulsion and was coined by Sigmund Freud in the year 1920.
This means that Jessica was consistently trying to fill the emotional void caused by her mother. She reenacted her mother-daughter relationship repeatedly. She was looking for all the love, and care her mother was supposed to supply. But seeking to fill these strong emotional voids with others only leads to codependency.
So what is codependency?
Codependency is a relationship where both parts need each other to feel complete. In this case, Jessica needs someone to make her feel worthy, competent, and above all, loved. Because she’s never felt this way. So in her last relationship (let’s call him Mike) she started doing a lot more than she should have. She took a codependent role. She felt that she needed to take care of her partner above any need or want that she may have had.
Mike, on the other hand, took a dependent role. He took advantage of her, and simply took and took and took. Jessica actually thought that if she gave her all, she would finally be loved. Sadly, that was never the case. Mike was a bottomless trunk. He never valued her for who she was. He only valued her for what she could do for him.
Like Jessica, Mike had similar wounds. He needed to feel validated by receiving a lot more than he gave. He needed someone that would prove their unconditional love. Because like Jessica, he never had a nurturing parent while growing up.
People with unmet emotional needs fall into codependent relationships. Jessica and Mike had similar emotional levels and similar emotional voids. This is how they complemented each other. There was no interpedenency. No work as a team. No taking turns in the caretaking.
How can you break this cycle?
Well, to make matters worse, Jessica couldn’t see how toxic her relationship was. She couldn’t detect when Mike stepped on her or when he was oblivious to her emotions or needs. Because this is what she’s used to. So the first step would be:
You can’t change something you’re not aware of. But… how can she possibly overcome something that is completely unconscious?
Probably the biggest issue is that this constant repetition only sinks Jessica deeper and deeper into self-criticism and self-loathing.
“People keep treating me this way. I keep attracting the same type of relationships. It’s probably because I am worthless.” Like a vicious cycle. This highly affects her self-esteem, her self-worth, and most importantly her self-love. This is why we often hear the very well known phrase:
“You can’t, and should not, love someone before you love yourself first.”Unknown
Jessica’s mother had (unconsciously) taught her that she was worthless, so feelings of self-love, were simply inexistent. She felt comfortable with Mike because he reinforced what she believed about herself. It resonated with that over-critical and harsh inner voice that had been implanted by her mother within her psyche. That’s how powerful parents’ words are; they become implanted in our psyche as ‘the superego’.
So, long story short, Mike just made sense. But if Jessica became aware of these associations, it could lead to self-love, and self-care. A sort of awakening. Or what Carl Jung called, an individuation, which is the integration of the unconscious within the conscious mind. In other words: becoming aware of what’s hidden within her psyche. And this is why self-awareness leads you to inner growth.
Loving yourself is an ongoing process, though. It does not come overnight. For this you need some:
Healing starts with forgiveness. Jessica needs to forgive her mother, and understand where these behaviors come from.
After she gains some understanding of her family background, she needs to grieve over the childhood she never had. She needs to face her emotions regarding her relationship with her mom. It’s important that she talks about these emotions, and that she processes them.
She needs to face her emotions regarding her relationship with her mom. It’s important that she talks about these emotions, and that she processes them.
Secondly, she needs to embrace acceptance —accept that this is her story, her life. Accept that this was her childhood, this is her mother, and that these difficulties, once aware of them, can only make her grow and thrive as a person.
Most importantly, she needs to realize that no one can meet her childhood needs, and therefore it’s time to stop looking for love externally. It’s better to focus her energy on finding love within.
Finally, Jessica needs to learn about selfishness —but in a good way. It’s the only way she would be able to set healthy boundaries. And she has to start with the place of origin. Back to the root.
So, to sum up…
Why do we accept the love we think we deserve?
We accept the love we think we deserve because we are conditioned to.
If you’re treated with love and respect while growing up, you’ll understand that it is what you deserve. If not, you’llconstantly seek in others what you didn’t have as a young child. This constant seeking —this need to fulfill emotional voids— makes you vulnerable to falling into destructive codependent relationships.
In order to attain inner growth and to break free from toxic patterns, it is necesary to become self aware of your history and understand the origin of these sensations.
Accept your history as part of who you are, process your emotions, and internalize them as lessons to become wiser, stronger, and above all, emotionally intelligent. This is a safe way to redefine yourself and redirect your life to a much more functional and healthy path. ✨
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How to reference this article
Pelaez.S (2020). We accept the love we think we deserve PsycheSpot https://www.psychespot.com/mental-awareness/we-accept-the-love-we-think-we-deserve
APA style references
Chbosky, S. (2012). The Perks of Being a Wallflower: the most moving coming-of-age classic. Simon and Schuster.
Jung, C. G. (2014). The structure & dynamics of the psyche. Routledge.
Laplanche, J., & Pontalis, J. B. (2018). The language of psychoanalysis. Routledge.
McBride, K. (2008). Will I ever be good enough?: Healing the daughters of narcissistic mothers. Simon and Schuster.
Rabstejnek, C. V. (2012). Family systems & murray bowen theory.
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