Human beings are very social creatures who have a basic need to feel a sense of belonging within a group or tribe. In a healthy societal unit, children grow up feeling loved and accepted as who they are by both the immediate family as well as the tribal unit as a whole. The tribe understands that the new child arrives with innate talents and abilities that will enhance the lives of all within the tribe. Accordingly, children are accepted as they are and encouraged to express and develop their unique skills and ways of being. This allowing of the developing person to be him-or-herself is a form of love that ensures the young person grows up with self-confidence and a strong sense of belonging. Feeling this love and acceptance from many then allows the person to move through life and personal relationships as a healthy human being secure in who s/he is.
It is very obvious that this is mostly not happening in today’s world. There has been a breakdown of the family unit, with dysfunction largely the norm within the immediate family in the early years of development and continuing into adult life. Parents work long hours and then leave the workplace to transport children from one activity to the next, fitting in a quick meal on the go. Then they all come home afterwards, do some homework, watch a little television and then go to bed. Many of us come and go from our homes day in and day out for years on end without really knowing who lives in the homes around us. We’re taught to be independent and have grown up living basically separate lives and believing that it is up to us to make it on our own, without any group support to help us survive. Family members often live in different parts of the world. It’s an extremely disjointed way of life that provides no real sense of belonging within a bonded group that loves and supports us as we are.
At the same time we are, from the time we’re very small, repeatedly told romantic stories about finding our “one true love” who will “make us whole”. The fairy tales that teach children of princesses finding their “Prince Charmings” and vice versa are fed to children in endless variations through books, movies, TV shows, video games and on and on. Indoctrination into this fairy tale mythology continues into adulthood via the same media channels that are endemic throughout popular culture. Our absorption of these romantic fairy tales through story after story very powerfully teaches us that there is one person out there for us who will make us feel complete, and that we will clearly know it when we find him or her. This conditions us to have unrealistic expectations that our love relationships will provide for us a feeling of love and acceptance and security within the world, which in turn places upon our beloved one the equally unrealistic responsibility for “making us happy”. Consequently, we keep entering our personal romantic relationships believing or hoping that they will “complete” us and make us feel secure in the world. And we are repeatedly disappointed, even devastated sometimes, when they are not.
What we fail to understand is that the love we feel and receive from one human being, no matter how true and good, cannot satisfy the basic human need to feel that we belong to a group, or tribe, which is still within us waiting to be fulfilled. It is a need to feel loved and accepted as we are within a community, and it is as basic to our healthy survival as the need for food, water and shelter. Because this need doesn’t go away, it drives us to try to fulfill it in whatever ways we can. This is an unconscious process, and it most often is what moves us to join groups of various kinds. We affiliate ourselves with religions, charitable causes, our jobs/professions, sports teams, and other such groups, and then we assimilate them as part of our identities. We adopt them as part of how we define who we are so that we can feel some sense of group, or tribal, belonging… “I am a (fill in the blank)“.
Yet our attachments to these kinds of groups rarely fill the need, or stop the drive within us to fill it, because they are usually lacking its most essential ingredient – love. A true tribe loves it members and not only accepts, but also wants, them as they are, without condition, and without insisting that they conform to norms. It is this type of unconditional love from a group that is missing for most of us today, for it is rare that any of these types of groups accepts members without conditions for their acceptance. There are rules to be followed, i.e., conditions for membership, that derive from the definition of the group. And if we don’t follow the rules, then the group rejects us. Directly or indirectly, we are forced out of the group. Membership within such groups, therefore, leaves us still wanting and needing a sense of being unconditionally accepted, i.e., loved, on a larger scale than one person can satisfy.
And the truth is that without this we don’t really know who we are. Many of us today are aware that no one can “complete” us but ourselves. This must come from within. But when we’re raised from childhood and move into adult life never feeling that sense of unconditional acceptance and belonging within a family or other tribal community, many of us never develop the self-love needed to feel whole and complete.
So these two things – our lack of a sense of love and acceptance within a tribe, which makes us feel secure in who we are and allows us to love ourselves, and our indoctrination into the myth that our relationship with our romantic partner will complete us – collapse together, thus dooming our love relationships to failure because of these absolutely impossible expectations. We enter romantic relationships with another who loves and accepts us with the expectation that the love from her or him will make us feel secure in life: “Ahhh! I’ve finally found my one and only true love! I’m truly loved and accepted for who I am!” But we’ve now attached our sense of self-worth, which is key to our very survival, to the relationship, so that when the relationship later fails, we’re left ungrounded and feeling very insecure. And in extreme cases this is so terrifying that one or both of the two are driven to act out in extreme ways that leave everyone wondering what happened and asking, “How could someone who loves another so much do something like that to them?”
But remember, the very powerful forces that drive us to do these things are not conscious to us. They are basic, primal and very powerful human survival needs that remain below the level of our conscious awareness and, therefore, they can move us to do things without our even being aware of them. When we are being driven by these archetypal forces we are as amazed as everyone else at our own behaviors! We see it all the time when the one who acts out is as devastated by their own behavior as is the other, and yet it still can spiral downward a very long way from there. Lives can be shattered by this, on many levels, though seldom is it realized what has actually been at the bottom of it.
We are social creatures who are not healthy living in isolation, whether isolated alone or as a couple. We all need loving, social connection with other human beings, and in our world today we must begin to recognize and honor this basic human need by reaching out to others – for our own well-being, for theirs, for our world. If we never feel secure in who we are as a human being, then no one person can give that to us. While knowing our own self-worth is ultimately an inner journey, we still are social creatures, and even the most self-loving human being cannot survive completely alone. Even those who successfully live in remote wilderness are able to do so only because they feel themselves to be a part of the natural setting. They feel a sense of belonging and acceptance there, and if they didn’t they wouldn’t be able to stay and survive where they are.
In our world today, particularly in the United States, we highly value the ability to survive alone, whether in the wild or in society, and we attach a romantic, individualistic strength to the notion of the lone wolf. However, like humans, wolves are very social animals, and a lone wolf cannot survive long all by itself – it cannot. Wolves hunt in packs, and a lone wolf will not survive long because it can’t by itself run down game like a wolf pack does. Human beings need a pack to survive as well. The wolf pack also values every individual wolf, and love is generously expressed by and to all within the pack. We humans also need to feel this kind of love and acceptance within a pack/family/tribe if we are to be healthy, secure and happy in this world. If we have that, then we feel secure here and are already whole and complete when we meet another with whom we want to mate. We are in a position to share our life path and our love with another human whom we feel is a match to us – without putting an unrealistic and impossible expectation upon that other to “complete” us. And being able to love one another without such unrealistic conditions, our relationships will have much higher chances for lasting a lifetime.
No one else can make us happy, it is an inside job. That is true. But it is equally true that we are social animals that require social love and acceptance in order for us to feel safe and secure and confident in the living of our lives. Today’s modern society seldom satisfies this basic need for us, so we are forced to create it for ourselves by reaching out to and accepting each other as we are and celebrating the unique talents and skills we each have. Cultivating this group love and acceptance could significantly change our lives and our world for the better, for the more we all learn to accept each other as we are, the stronger we all become.
In this broader love lies a promise for much happier relationships, and lives, for us all. The larger the group we feel accepted within as individuals, the more confident and safe we feel in being and expressing who we really are. The safer we feel about being who we really are, the healthier and more confident we will be in our relationships with others… and the more confident we feel in letting our true selves fly. I want to fly. Don’t you?