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Learned Lovability

We believe we’re lovable or unlovable based on our early experiences with people, primarily our parents. If they cared for us lovingly, we come to believe we’re lovable. If, due to their own limitations, they didn’t love us well, we may end up believing we’re unlovable. The whole lovability concept is that simple. Don’t believe me? Read on.

Mentally walk out of the apartment or house you grew up in and go four doors down to the right, which we’ll call door #1. Now come back to your front door and travel down four doors to the left, which we’ll call door #2. Next, assuming that you have some sense of who lived there, consider what it would have been like to be raised by the person or people behind both doors. Maybe the folks behind door #1 were terrific—caring, stable, loving, bright, successful, compassionate, and sensible, with good jobs and high self esteem. If so and you’d been their child, you would have been cherished and adored and, consequently, would assume you were lovable.

Next consider the people behind door #2. Let’s say they were depressed or angry alcoholics who had little sense of what effective parenting entailed and even less ability to provide it. If you’d been raised by them, they might occasionally have been kind and caring but, as often, might not have paid attention to you or criticized your every move. It’s likely that as their child, you’d grow up feeling unloved and unlovable.

This is the family-of-origin lottery we all face. And, believe me, who you end up with as parents is nothing but a crapshoot: some people win and some people lose. It’s not about your inherent worth or lovability, but about who cared for you. Perhaps as a child you recognized that you had dysfunctional parents as you dreamed of running away to live with your best friend’s family or your first-grade teacher who treated you with compassion, fairness, and respect. Back then, you understood that other adults would treat you differently because they viewed you more positively and that there was another way to be parented that felt better—that was better.

Why, then, as an adult, do you ignore this fact and instead believe that the inept parents who raised you were right about your lovability? Are these really people whose opinions should be valued? Were they such shining examples of parenting that you should be guided by their ideas and words? You may have been raised by parents who made you feel unlovable, but make no mistake, you might as easily have been reared by parents who made you feel like the cat’s meow. Hold this thought: you were always lovable.