You Owe Me For Love?

What? I owe you for the love you gave me? You know how many times I have heard this in the stories my patients tell me. This kind of ‘guilt tripping’ deserves an analysis. First off, true love is a gift. If it’s not a gift and you owe something for it, it’s not love. The word ‘owe’ gives us a clue that love is being replaced by commerce or trade.

Now it’s an exchange, a negotiation, I give you this you give me that. Now why would someone say something like this to someone he or she supposedly loves? One of the most common places you’ll find this kind of thing is in the family of origin. It’s really a form of coercion.

When you guilt someone using the idea of ‘debt’ you are basically forcing that person to do something against his or her will. The psychological force you’re using is guilt. This kind of guilt attempts to manipulate the love you have for the person who is making you feel guilty. This is why it’s particularly toxic. I know you love me, so I’m going to get what I want from you by manipulating your love for me by subtly threatening the loss of my love for you. Ugly, very ugly. The subtle threat comes in the imagined unspoken consequence if you do not pay your debt.

People who say stuff like this, what do they want? Generally speaking, if you have to resort to guilt tripping in this fashion to get love back from someone you’re pretty insecure about the level of your ‘lovability.’ If you have to force love out of people by reminding them of what they owe you, your self-esteem is pretty low. Some people who do this kind of thing are after other things like money, or continued care in the case of parents who are reacting to the ongoing emotional separation of adult children.

As a parent it can be quite difficult to let your adult child go without imposing your own needs on him or her. True parenting is potentially a thankless job in that any recognition you get for the job you’ve done will come to you voluntarily or not at all. You are supposed to be OK with that. Not forcing your grown children to repay a debt of love at a time in their lives when all their energy and effort should be going toward establishing themselves independently in the world. Remember, they are called ‘offspring’ for a reason.

The usual response to this kind of guilt is resentment and resistance. And for those spirited individuals who don’t like their freedom messed with, rebellion. I’m pretty certain that anyone exposed to this kind of guilt trip will feel the coercion in this right away. The real objective in our love-lives is to get to a place where we can love without the expectation of return. Even if you do this kind of loving sporadically, the important thing is you do it.

You know what it is like to give love without feeling like you are losing something that has to be repaid. This is the objective. This is when you know that your ability to love has matured in your lifetime. You have to trust that giving love will make you stronger from the inside out. Then you are free to love without compensation.  Dr. T. Jordan







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Dr. Jordan

Dr. Thomas Jordan is a clinical psychologist, certified interpersonal psychoanalyst, author, professor, and love life researcher.

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