Do you ever look back at your past and think, “There are many pieces of my earlier years that I would erase if I could – but this? This I would keep.”
What are your keepers? What makes them special?
One of my “keepers” from my earlier life is a favorite old hymn entitled “Before the Throne of God Above.” Specifically, these lines stay with me: “My name is graven on his hands, my name is written on his heart.” I have always loved these lines because they speak to me of being deeply known and treasured by another. For those who follow Christian beliefs, they speak of a love worth dying for. Religion is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I think there is great power in knowing that your name is written on someone’s heart.
Experiencing emotional abuse in close relationships can make you feel unworthy, unlovable, and unseen. We are told, and may come to believe a story that we are not enough. Not good enough..not special enough…not successful enough. The lack of unconditional love tells a story of lacking. That is what makes a loving, caring relationship so special: because it creates the possibility of correcting a flawed narrative.
Love writes a story
Have you ever been around a preschool age child? They love stories. Happy stories, sad stories, scary stories, funny stories. Any story will do, and the more outgoing kids this age will eagerly petition you to tell them a story. My daughter loves to hear stories about herself and all her favorite people. It makes her feel special to hear about herself through the eyes of people who love her.
Many adult children of narcissists carry stories of pain, betrayal, neglect, and invisibility. These stories shape their self-image and their beliefs about how relationships work. Distorted, conditional love tells a story of “only if you do this.” And “this” might change from moment to moment. The moving goalposts make it nearly impossible to actually get what you long for.
Fortunately, our lives are influenced by more than just those who raised us. I love the origin story of the nonprofit organization To Write Love on Her Arms. The organization began when a young woman, struggling with depression, self-harm, and substance abuse, was forced to wait overnight for admission to a treatment center. Unwilling to leave her alone during that long night, some of her closest friends sat with her, supporting her and covering her with their love. Her arms were marked with self-injury scars – but that night, they also wrote their love on her arms.
The writer and the written
That young woman’s story was one of pain, self-hatred, and hopelessness. But that night, when her friends wrote love on her arms, she could write a new chapter. There is a beautiful moment near the end of Doctor Who, season 5, when the 11th Doctor makes a great sacrifice in order to save the world (so, just another Tuesday for him). His sacrifice means the world will go on, but no one will remember him or his role in saving it. “We’re all stories in the end, ” he tells his young friend. “Just make it a good one.”
Who are the people that write love on your arms? Who do you go to for support, understanding, and compassion? Pay close attention to the story they are writing with their friendship. Sit with the parts of you that find it hard to believe or trust that anyone truly cares about you. Remind those parts that just because the story began with heartache doesn’t mean it must continue that way. And remind the parts of you that need to prove that they are worthy of love (or fear that they are not) that you, too can be that friend. Who in your life needs you to write love on their arms?
You can write love on your own arms
I remember a client who once told me that they felt like they needed to fail completely before they could truly accept themselves. It seems paradoxical at first glance, but maybe there is something to the notion. Unconditional love means seeing the whole person – the good, the bad, and the ugly – and loving them from our deepest Self. And having unconditional love is hard when we do not have love for ourselves. That’s one of the reasons narcissistic relationships are so painful. The narcissist’s inability to love others without condition is a reflection of their inability to truly, deeply love and accept their own flaws.
Perhaps we can only write love on another’s arms if we first write it on our own.
Perhaps we can only give love to others if we allow ourselves to feel loved and valued.
Perhaps we can bring grace and healing to our own wounded and unloved parts by extending a hand and writing love on our arms instead of judgment. How could your story change if you first wrote love on your own arms?
If this seems impossible, just remember that inside all of us is a place that is defined by grace, compassion, and unconditional acceptance. That deepest Self sees, knows, and appreciates all parts of us. And it is never too late to bring healing to our wounded parts.
Your story is still being written. After all, we are all stories in the end. So let’s make it a good one. (Thanks, Doctor)