As we enter relationships we are come equipped with a dominating guidebook for our emotional cravings, their roles, and when they are appropriate. We all have these emotional guidebooks because they come from childhood.
My childhood neighbor was a rough and tough, tumbling G.I. Joe-loving little kid. We would play for hours, mostly me trying to understand his world.
I really couldn’t understand the allure of an action figure, but whatever I played I did it because I longed to fit in. As a boy with significant insecurities around boyhood, I was just glad to have a friend.
Soon enough my friend, Eric, would enter the jock crowd. He would pick other playmates during games of baseball and ignored me as I walked down the hall.
After being teased daily for being a “faggot,” I simply craved to have the protection of another boy my age. Would anyone come to my side, validate my boyhood, and welcome me to the place where I belonged…the boy world?
When puberty settled in I started to crave protection in a much more profound and sacred way. I dreamed of my other. My innocent fantasy told me that he would want to be by my side. And when my emotional craving for protection led me to romantic attractions to other boys, I felt incredibly dirty.
My emotional craving to be protected was labeled by my church as a perversion and by boys as gay, the derogated type.
But watching shame distort our emotional cravings is something we all do.
Emily, one of my clients, had a brother with a sever mental disability and she was scolded for being too energetic and laughing too loudly. Emily was taught that her innocent emotional cravings for fun and joy were wrong. So in relationships she was stoic. She would often cry on my couch, grieving the part of herself that used to feel alive.
Every time Mark approached his father with the hopes of securing emotional intimacy, Mark’s father would complain that Mark was in the way. And Mark wondered why he had incredible feelings of discomfort whenever he tried to open up to his partner. He was frustrated that only vulnerability he could share comfortably was buying gifts and doing deeds around the house.
Because of Emily and Mark’s childhood environment, they had significant shame binds wrapped around their emotional cravings; Emily felt shame for being joyful and Mark was shamed for wanting connectedness.
In other words, to use Pia Mellody’s language, we carry many shame binds around some of our innocent emotional desires. Your shame bind will take on a life of its own-without your consent-and may distort the way you see yourself as a relational being.
Essentially, when we’ve received negative feedback about our emotional cravings we’ll play the script over and over as we progress in our relationships. In this light, the distortions of emotional desires actually prevent us from engaging in relationships with freedom, reciprocity, and vulnerability.
Although many shame binds can be undone with awareness and practice, the hardest part is allowing them to be reclassified as innocent.
It is hard to redefine the cravings of your heart in a way that bolsters your new relationships, as opposed to letting it leave feeling inferior.
As a means to redefining your emotional cravings, practice trusting that your partner won’t be overwhelmed by your joy, or that you won’t be rejected when you ask your loved ones for relational intimacy.
After several years of rehearsing the script that told me I didn’t belong, I tried something new. I ask the men of my life to listen to my history of using a self-deprecating dialogue. They helped me understand who I am once they learned how hurt I had been. Some of them went road biking with me, and others shopping. I was able to cry and laugh with them. We had shallow conversations and deep ones, too. Overtime, I felt cherished. But mostly I was able to learn that I belonged, I just needed new teachers.
Trusting someone with the vulnerable parts of who you are, especially after they’ve been wrapped in a shame bind, will be utterly frightening. But trust me, you’ll be glad you did. Relational stability and freedom are priceless and well worth the fight.