How Love Gets Confused

April 28, 2023
What is love? We all have a felt sense of love and opinions around what it is. How do our feelings and ideas about love form? What happens when our experience of love gets confused with our complex past? And how can we unwind our conditioning and open up to the deepest, richest love available to us?

Episode Intro: Welcome to the Art of Accomplishment where we explore how deepening connection with ourselves and others leads to creating the life we want with enjoyment and ease. I am Brett Kistler, and I am here again with Joe Hudson.

What is love? We all have a felt sense of love and opinions around what it is. How do our feelings and ideas around love get formed? What happens when our experience of love gets confused with our complex past? How can we unwind our conditioning and open up to the deepest, richest love available to us? This is what we will explore in today's episode.

Brett: Good morning, Joe.

Joe: Good morning, Brett. How are you?

Brett: I feel like we got hit by a truck. We just did Groundbreakers last week, and as always, afterwards, just being in the space with everybody's process and emotions, myself doing more and more of this work and just recognizing how sensitive my body is to what's going on in the room around me, I come out of it and I am just like [woosh sound]. My body needs to move some stuff. It is a lot holding that space, and then coming back into my own week having been away from a lot of other stuff and having catch up to do.

Joe: What's amazing to me, well, not amazing, but the folks who leave Groundbreakers are stoked, happy, loving, refreshed, revived and then everybody who has facilitated is just going to drool on themselves for two days in recovery. That's interesting. I am feeling pretty recovered now, but I definitely had two days of doing absolutely nothing, which is I think key.

Brett: I came right out of it and found out about a death in the family, another load of things hitting my system. It has really brought up for me as I am planning my travel back to this and reflecting, it has made me reflect on what this work is. We bring ourselves back to unconditional love. One of the ways you have described the VIEW state of being is to be in unconditional love. I am really curious to explore the assumptions underneath what each of us might think love is. One of the things that happen when people come into Groundbreakers is they thought love was sacrifice. They thought love was abuse. They thought love was tough love, really just pushing somebody or being pushed.

There are all of these different ways we have come to recognize what we believe love to be. I think everybody wants to be loved and to be loving, and there are just many different beliefs around what that actually means.

03: 24 Joe: What is interesting to me too is there is the logical belief and then there is the somatic belief system. You said that some people believe love is abuse. I believe most people intellectually would say no, it isn't, and yet you see it all the time where somebody has abusive love relationships. They are recreating that abuse. In Groundbreakers when they are overwhelmed with this tremendous love they haven't felt before, they will say they don't understand why they think somebody is going to hit them or they should be hit at that moment because they have had that kind of abuse in their life. We get love confused, not only intellectually but also in the body.

For me, what I see here is that classic saying of that which wires together, fires together. What I notice is that the love that was shown. We are kids and we love our parents. I don't care what happens to you. I don't care if you hate your parents. You end up loving your parents. The kid who was deeply abused by a parent still on some level wants the love and affection of their parent. They want that relationship healed. They want closure or they want to be seen by the parent. Even if they have given up on it, there is still something in all of us that wants that. It is hardwired. We are hardwired for this.

Whatever relationship we have had with our parents or caregivers in those early times, that gets wired with the love. This is what I think love is. If my parents were really critical, criticism is part of the experience of love. My parents' abuse is part of the experience of love. If my parents are avoidant, then avoidance is part of the experience of love. We go about finding that experience over and over again, recreating that experience over and over again, and knowing love to be that experience over and over again. It isn't until somebody stops and asks what the love they really wanted is that they can get in touch with the deeper levels of love.

Brett: The justifications are often if I am not critical with my kid, the world will be more critical. I am protecting them from something.

Joe: There are great justifications for all of it. My parents did it, and I just turned out just fine. On that note, if you are saying your parents did it and you turned out just fine, I can guarantee you that's not true. If you have to say that, it means you are protecting something that was hurt. I guarantee it. If you are listening to this and you are saying that, that's a really good marker for a part of yourself that has been hurt that you haven't addressed.

Brett: Let's look more into this. We grow up and naturally love our parents. We want their love. We need connection to survive. Our bodies, our emotions, and our thoughts get conditioned from whatever love was available to us or whatever connection was available, and we assume that's love. Then that becomes the way we experience, expect, and look for it in the rest of our lives. What are some of the practical implications of this phenomenon?

Joe: One is when somebody says you should love that part of yourself or you should love yourself, people will ask how they can do that. The thing that actually affects people's lives in a real way is that we become attracted to people who fulfill that concept of love. The things we think we have to do for love are part of that. That's how it has trained us. What we learned love to be is also our list of the things we think we have to do for love. It is also what tells us we have to close down our heart, incorrectly, but it tells us what we have to close down our heart for. The things we think this is what love is, if we don't do that, we have to close down our hearts. We get a false causation, false correlation. All of those things really screw up relationships. The effect is really screwed up relationships because of these things.

08:30 Brett: There were a couple of different points you mentioned there, so let's go into each of these and describe how they play out. The first one you mentioned is what you are attracted to and how your conception of love affects what you're attracted to, who is attracted to you and what you are looking for. Say more on that.

Joe: Again, I can't tell you how many clients I have had that part of what they want to do in our work is to find that relationship. They will just say they can't control what they are attracted to. Not in the short term, maybe, but definitely in the long term. There is this thing that sparks us and says wow, here is this person that I am attracted to. It is typically because they play the role that we had as a kid around that. We have touched on this in different ways in the podcast, and I think I have told this story but I can't remember. I have had this great occasion to listen to people on their first dates, and I can literally tell you what the patterns are going to be by listening to the unknown negotiation they are having with one another.

As an example, if you knew love to be deeply critical, which we just talked about, then most likely the person you are loving is going to be highly critical or you are going to be critical to them or both. That's how the system works. Whatever was wired with the love is what we are going to be attracted to. What I notice is over time my clients or the people who take the courses will often change what they are attracted to. That natural feeling of being attracted to a person completely changes because they have learned to create non correlational or space between the idea of love and the idea of what was wired in as love when they were young. That often requires a step of not treating yourself that way. This is love. Love is criticism. Therefore, I criticize myself a lot. Therefore, I criticize the people I love a lot. When they can start separating criticism from love, then they stop it in themselves.

That process can be quite scary because when you are separating the criticism from yourself, it is a very subconscious thing, but there is this fear that you are going to have love pulled away from you. That's the other way it works. If it was wired like that and it gets turned away, you think love is going to go with it. You have to accept that.

Brett: If I don't take criticism or accept it in my life, then I won't receive love and people will leave me because I got the most criticism, attention and love or what I experienced as love when I was being criticized. That also interacts with the self concept. Let's say the self concept is you need to be criticized or pushed or I need somebody else to tell me what's best. I don't feel like I am getting my needs met if I don't have somebody fulfilling that role. That's how I might recreate the patterns so that somebody who is in a relationship with me finds themselves criticizing me because I am inviting it.

Joe: The easier way to feel this for anybody who is listening is to say to yourself, out loud, that you don't need to accept criticism to be loved. Go ahead, if you are listening and do that. Many people who just said that to themselves are noticing the thoughts that arise. People will think I am arrogant or I am not open to feedback. You will have a thousand thoughts.

Brett: How will I improve?

Joe: Exactly, as if criticism for any of that stuff, and then you will hear the thought that criticism is absolutely required for all of that stuff. Feedback is, but criticism isn't. It is literally that process of getting to the point of seeing that clearly, criticism in the body and mind not being necessary, and that will happen with anything that you were taught love was. I have to put up with somebody leaving all of the time. I have to put up with avoidance.

13:40 Brett: This was the piece around what we are attracting and what we are attracted to. The next one you mentioned was what you have to do for love and the assumptions around what we have to do to be loved being wired together.

Joe: We have drifted into that. We have to accept that criticism as an example of that. That one is interesting because it is also how we lose our power in a relationship. For instance, let's say there are two people and they both date a jealous person. The first person didn't learn that jealousy or possessiveness was something to be accepted, and so they say no, they are not taking that on. It is very clean and simple, and either the person meets them or doesn't meet them. The other person that was taught that they were responsible for other people's emotional states and they think they will accept this jealousy even though it sucks and they aren't saying the thing they want to say because I am scared of the jealousy, even though it feels horrible to be in this interaction with this person. In that, they start losing their power and the attraction dies.

Everything we do to get the love, which is a false sense of love, and to maintain the love, which is a false sense of love, erodes our power and reduces the attraction in the relationship. You see that all of the time, two people who have been together for a while. The attraction and sex are gone because they are taking care of each other because they think they have to take care of each in different ways to maintain the love, and that is all based on a false sense of love.

Brett: By take care of, you mean caretaking. They are taking responsibility for the other's emotion and believing that they need to abandon themselves and their power in order to receive love.

Joe: Exactly. That's right. This is what creates the dysfunction in the relationship, the fights and the loss of power. The way it creates fights is let's use another example of somebody who learned that their job was to make sure the other person doesn't get mad. They are in a relationship where they think to maintain love they have to make sure the other person doesn't get angry. They will be confronted at some point where it is between doing what they want to do and doing something that might get that person angry. The resentment starts building, and that resentment either becomes aggression or passive aggression. That starts tweaking the relationship to a point where fights start occurring whether they are passive fights or aggressive fights.

Brett: The fights get stuck because the meta process in the fight is trying to minimize the other person's anger rather than hearing them, being with them, and fully receiving them and staying within oneself and one's needs. Then the communication drops in the relationship. It becomes a management process rather than a relationship or a joining of two wisdoms.

Joe: Here is something you have never heard. Oh my gosh, I just met the most beautiful person. I am totally in love with them. I am awestruck by them because they are going to need a lot of my management. You never hear that.

Brett: You do subconsciously.

Joe: Then a year later, it is constantly managing one another. All of that happens because of that false sense of love, that confused love.

17:45 Brett: Another thing you mentioned in the practical implications was the way we perceive or assume love to be determines where we will close our heart. Can you say more on that?

Joe: I will give you a great story that happened recently. One of my clients was questioning their marriage, and they were just not being loving. I was calling attention to him and asking what was going on. What we discovered was that they thought they couldn't leave and love them because that would be disloyal and it would be leading them on. As soon as they realized they could love this person even if they left or stayed and that's where their freedom is to love them unconditionally. Even the thought process of that, somebody listening to this might say you can't leave someone and love them unconditionally. As soon as that person realized it, they were able to love their partner in a way that was actually really appealing. It fixed the whole relationship. The thing that was stopping the love was the idea I might leave the person and therefore that was actually creating the reality of leaving the person. As soon as they realized they could love the person and they didn't need to manage the other person, then the other person felt seen and heard for the first time and started relaxing, unfolding and being vulnerable. It wasn't an overnight process. There were months of work that went into it, but all of that work was allowed because all of a sudden people felt seen and heard in whatever was happening for them, whereas before they couldn't. It wouldn't because there was that closed heart.

Anything you think you have to close your heart for, such as if I open my heart then, I have to stay with them or if I open my heart then, I have to put up with the abuse, or if I open my heart then, I won't hold my boundaries, or If I open my heart then, I won't stand for the thing that's important to me, or if I open to my heart then, I won't be able to get my sexual desires fulfilled. Whatever it is, that creates the closure of the heart that doesn't allow the relationship to heal.

Brett: It creates a feeling of being trapped. If you don't feel that you can love, be loving and love yourself because it would be bad for you not to love this person in the way you have been conditioned to believe love is, then all there is to feel trapped. That's a fear state. Now you are bringing a lot of fear into where love could be. That shows up everywhere in the relationship.

Joe: We all want to be loving, and we all want to be loved. Yet we don't. That's usually based on that confusion of what love is. We often don't even see when we are being loved. I was having a conversation just the other day with a person one of my clients works with. The person was describing the problems they were having with my client. She kept on saying something to the effect of I know that sounds harsh, and I kept on saying that sounds like compassion. My client couldn't hear it because of their version of what love is. This person I was talking to was in a situation where so many people in the world had told them that's not what love is, but they were very direct and clear about how to be with somebody. It was deeply compassionate. It wasn't refined. It wasn't skillful, but there was compassion behind it.

That's the same thing that happens. We have this idea of what love should be and therefore, we can't even see the love that is coming at us. Different languages of love.

Brett: We are listening on the wrong channel, so we feel like our life is loveless or lacking in love when we are just not seeing what is available. We are chasing something that's not really love and that comes with all kinds of other stuff, fear, threat, control.

Joe: The experience when you actually find the real love is it is everywhere all of the time. It almost feels like it is creating the entire reality. It is the thing animating everything on some level, the felt experience of it. How did I ever chase this when it is just there?

23:30 Brett: Let's say we are in one of these dynamics, and we recognize this or some other dynamic that derives our assumptions of what love is. How do we change it? What is the way out of the pattern?

Joe: Great question. Learning to love yourself unconditionally is a huge part of it. The best pointer I can give you there is to love yourself the way you have always wanted to be loved. Literally go into a three year old version of yourself and ask how you want to be loved, how you wanted love then and give that love to yourself. It is a felt sense, an experience. That's one of the things.

The other thing is to really allow the heartbreak. Because in that middle piece we talked about feeling trapped and feeling that you will either lose the love or sacrifice a part of yourself, and then the fights, at that moment, the choice is heartbreak. I might lose something that I love if I am myself, and I am going to be myself and I am going to let my heartbreak if I lose something that I love. Maybe that allows the person to be treated in a different way, but it definitely makes it so that the next person you meet will be a different way and you will be attracted to something very different. It is 80/20 typically if somebody is really consistent about it, 80% the person will meet them and 20% the relationship will end and a new relationship will begin.

It is allowing that heartbreak. When we say we feel stuck in a relationship, you are either going to have to feel fear or heartbreak. Beneath the fear I am going to have to feel is heartbreak. I can't say that to the jealous person because if I say that, they are going to go crazy. Maybe I am scared because they are going crazy, assuming they are not violent. Underneath that fear is this deep heartbreak of knowing you have been putting up with this and they are in so much pain. There is this deep heartbreak and sadness. Allowing that every chance you possibly can will increase your capacity to love. Every time our heart is broken, it increases our capacity to love.

The other is just to take contrary action. Today I was talking to one of my clients, and they were talking about their relationship with their mom. What became really obvious is mom was doing fear at the person, the way you can be angry at somebody. They were putting anxiety at the person. They were saying what I am going to do and they were asking somebody to hold some of their fear so they could feel better. It was consistent and ridiculous. I don't know how to Google. You know how to Google, mom. It was that kind of thing. In that, she was always trying to make the fear better because she learned at a young age that making mom's fear go away or care taking mom's fear is part of what love is. She was caretaking it. Then when she asked what the contrary action is when she has fear, and she could say that's a lot of fear, mom, or she could say, "Oh my gosh, then what will happen? If you can't Google, then what's going to happen?", playing into it. Or she could up the ante some other way, for example, calling up her mom and saying she doesn't know what is going to happen if she gets lost in the airport on the way to see her.

Finding that flexibility to act in a completely different way is part of allowing yourself to see that you are unstuck and you can be in love.

Brett: Each of these are different layers. Taking the contrary action to the pattern will bring you into the heartbreak because you are going to end up bumping up against the resistance and the fear. Also, feeling the heartbreak opens up your capacity to take those contrary actions because you felt through those consequences, and all of this brings you into deeper, unconditional love because you can be with yourself, love your partner even if you are leaving. Then the whole space opens up. One curiosity I have and listeners might be curious about, when we talk about feeling the heartbreak fully, I feel like in the culture heartbreak is considered something that breaks you. You have had a heartbreak. Now you are broken and have baggage. What is the distinction between saying feel the heartbreak all of the way through and a broken heart in the way that people talk about it as something that is damaged?

Joe: That's great. The best metaphor, which is weird because I have never done this, but in childbirth, Tara stopped calling contractions contractions and she called them expansions because that's what they are doing in the body, expanding. It totally changed the way she related to childbirth. Similarly, heartbreak feels like it is a breaking apart, but it is actually a breaking open. It is like the contraction. It is an expansion. To expand, take a huge, deep breath in and then take a little more breath in and then a little more, there is a pain to it, a little bit of discomfort. Expansion has that discomfort as well. When I say heartbreak, I am talking about breaking open.

I just recently heard something. Neuroscience shows that women compared to me in Western society are far more open to the experience of heartbreak and, therefore, they will take the early days of a relationship breaking off or ending and have a lot more feelings, but they will recover quicker, whereas the men won't be in the emotional experience and won't allow the heart feelings and they won't recover for years. That's what I am talking about.

30:50 Brett: Anything else you would like to add?

Joe: The thing I would like to say is it doesn't matter what kind of religion or philosophy. So many of them come down to love is a cure, and love is the solution and the way. There are so many things about that. Oftentimes what that gets translated to in the mind is either that's some sort of fluffy thought process that's not practical or it means love is just feeling good. Feeling good is the way. That's not very actionable. This is the action.

What I am trying to describe here is the action of love. It is loving and learning to love in a way in which it is in the purse sense of love, not in the learned sense of love, and allowing ourselves to feel love in a more and more purse sense is something that actually frees us incredibly deeply. The way to do that is to look for the ways that you are managing others, look for the things that cause you fights, look for the ways you are defending yourself, and when you find them, see what kind of heartbreak is required so that you can get back to unconditional love for the person. See what kind of ways you have to love that you didn't think love had anything to do with. Love might be leaving somebody. Love might be being very brutally honest with somebody. Love might be just playing with somebody. You can love while doing those things, and you might not think that's true. As you learn that, then all of a sudden love doesn't have to be restricted by fear. Fear in itself can be loved. That's the path.

I want to make that super concrete. It is not you are just going to be loving all the time. That doesn't work. That's attempted self brainwash and it doesn't work. It is just literally finding the ways you defend and feeling the heartbreak you need to feel so that you can love unconditionally and take care of yourself.

Brett: Awesome. Thank you, Joe.

Joe: You are welcome. A pleasure as always.

Brett: Thank you to everybody listening. Take care until next time.

Thank you all for listening. If you enjoyed this episode, send it to someone you think would like it. We love your feedback. You can reach out to us on Twitter at artofaccomp or at our website at, which is also a great place to check out our courses and coaching. See you next time.

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