Today we’re going to focus on our mental health.
I was on a video chat earlier with a group of people who had such an insightful conversation about Love Languages. The focus was mainly business related — how do we fulfill the needs of our clients, for sure, but moreso, what is it about our business that fulfills our own needs? Why do we gravitate toward certain activities, jobs, or business ventures over others?
If you’ve never heard of Love Languages, here’s a quick explanation:
Certain actions make us feel most loved and appreciated, but the actions that speak to me — my love languages — may not speak to you. We need to learn what’s important to us as well as what’s important to others.
In his book The Five Love Languages, author Gary Chapman identified the languages as: words of affirmation; quality time; physical touch; acts of service; and receiving gifts.
While we each crave a bit of all five, we tend to have one major way we receive, or feel loved and appreciated, and then another one or two that might be close seconds. Then the last one or two might be very low on our radar, yet we still need them to some degree.
It’s not just about romantic love
Let me stop right here to emphasize that Love Languages doesn’t just mean romantic love. It includes every type of relationship imaginable: family, friends, coworkers, business partners, children, teachers, bosses and employees, people we contract with, and so on.
We can apply Love Languages to any interpersonal connection, although we also need to be mindful of professional (and personal) boundaries.
It’s a way to show our appreciation for another person in a way they best receive it, and vice versa.
Knowing what makes us feel most fulfilled goes a long way toward building healthy relationships. We know what to ask for. And by the way, it’s okay to ask for what you want. Not to demand or command, but certainly to ask.
If we don’t honestly and effectively communicate our needs to others, we will become frustrated when those needs aren’t met. And the people around us will get frustrated and confused by our eventual outburst or distant behavior because they had no idea what we needed in the first place.
If you ask for something and it’s a “No” from the other person, then at least you both know exactly where you stand. If the ask and ultimate “No” is a deal breaker for you, then move on. Otherwise, find the compromise that results in both of you feeling good about the outcome.
When we learn more about these different types of languages, we begin to become more sensitive to what others crave. For example, one person might really need physical touch to feel appreciated — a hug, a firm handshake when greeting one another, a gentle squeeze on the arm, or depending on the type of relationship, snuggling while watching a show.
Another person might not enjoy all that touching so much, but would really feel terrific through acts of service — someone taking the time to teach them something new, cleaning the dishes without being asked, giving them a ride somewhere, anticipating some sort of need and fulfilling it before being asked.
When our love language is instead used to cause harm
But here is what else we need to understand: our Love Languages can also be used to hurt us. We need to be aware of it if that happens, recognize the source of that harm, and know how to fix it, work through it, or leave if the acts or comments are intentional and abusive.
This short article from Psychology Today gives us a brief idea of how our love languages can be used for both good and for harm.
What if your Love Language is physical touch, but you grew up in a household where you were either denied any sort of physical touch — no hugs, cuddles, anything — or the polar opposite, you were physically abused? How might that affect you? Not only during that time, but into adulthood with adult relationships of all kinds.
Same goes with any Love Language.
Words of Affirmation can be used as a weapon if withheld, or alternatively, become words of constant criticism and put-downs.
Physical Gifts might be used in a guilt-inducing situation: “I’ll only give you this trinket if you behave in this certain way.” (Not to be confused with earning something that you set a goal for.) Or destroying something cherished to punish the other person.
Quality Time might be withheld as inducement to do only what the other person wants. Or something you were looking forward to doing together might be intentionally canceled just to cause emotional pain.
Acts of Service can also be used for guilt or shame. It can be a partner refusing to help with something even though they know you are unable to do it yourself, and then saying it’s your own fault, thus creating a feeling of helplessness.
There are so many ways our love languages, in the wrong hands, can be used to cause harm. And if we aren’t mentally equipped to recognize what is happening, it becomes detrimental.
I’ve always been envious of people who seem to have it together so well that they can easily walk away from people who hurt them in some way. That has never been an easy thing for me. Honestly, it still isn’t. I’m still the person who is going to give someone the benefit of the doubt plus many more chances than they probably deserve before I walk away.
Overcoming and forgiving those harms
It took therapy for me to realize that my own fear of judgment and rejection made me incredibly resistant to even appear to reject others. I’d end up in relationships (romantic or otherwise) because I didn’t want to hurt someone’s feelings instead of admitting that, through no one’s fault, it just wasn’t a fit. Or worse, I’d commit to unhealthy relationships.
Much of that stemmed from never learning my emotions were valid. Among other things, as a child I was raised to believe my emotions of fear, anger, sadness, etc. were bad, particularly if they didn’t fit the narrative of those around me.
My main love language is Words of Affirmation, and I can barely recall any of that growing up. Instead it was criticism and how bad of a person I was for any mistake I made or limitation I was struggling with.
At least that’s how it always felt to me.
I would ask time and again what about me made my family proud, and was never given an answer that I can remember other than to stop being overdramatic, too sensitive, and ridiculous.
I was not taught how to understand and handle my swarming emotions in a positive way, but to instead believe it was up to me to make sure everyone else felt okay — and if my frustration disrupted that, then I was somehow bad, wrong, or ultimately the one to blame for whatever emotion the adults around me were experiencing. This led to a lot of unhealthy choices.
As an adult, and with my therapist’s guidance, I have come to accept that those childhood lessons were not intentional. Everyone does the best they can with what they have and what they know, however limited it may be. We had never heard of Love Languages back then. My family had their own demons to work through. They loved me for sure, they just weren’t equipped to understand what I needed.
I’ve learned that it is okay to simultaneously admit that our parents were not perfect and did cause some amount of harm, and to also understand and accept that they loved us and did the best they knew how.
I had work to do to learn how to sort through everything and how to cope in a productive way. I continue to work on it every day. I have triggers, just like everyone else, but now I recognize them and where they come from, and most of the time I can work through them in a healthy manner.
I have also learned to forgive myself — mostly — for my own numerous, unintentional mistakes I made when I became a parent.
For the majority of people, our intention is never to cause another person harm, especially someone we love. I fully believe deep in my soul that most people are good and well-intentioned at heart.
But we are all imperfect and make mistakes. Sometimes we can work through them, and sometimes we need to distance ourselves from others, especially when they are unwilling to accept the role they play in a situation.
That’s called boundaries.
We can love other people and still set boundaries for what we will allow in our lives.
What about those dogs?
Now back to that video chat — how does my own love language fit into the life I have chosen, the business I am pursuing? As I mentioned, words of affirmation are the main way I feel loved and appreciated. That is, sincere words of affirmation. My close seconds are acts of service and quality time.
So holy cow, dogs!
They might not speak my human language, but boy do they speak my love language.
A wagging tail. A canine smile with the tongue hanging out the side. Snuggling. Running up to me. Even jumping. 😉 That happy whine they make when they just can’t contain their excitement. And ohhhhh – those eyes.
Dogs have no idea how to hide their emotions. Nor would they have any desire to do so. When you are making a dog happy, you know it. They tell you.
And when you take good care of someone else’s dogs, their caregivers also tell you. They thank you. They smile. They continue to book with you over and over again. They recommend you. They trust you.
Nothing feels better to me than knowing I have earned someone’s trust. That I have made them feel good, happy, safe, and comfortable. When their dog greets me with happy tails I know I have succeeded, and I feel super loved.
Building a business around my love for dogs has helped me gain confidence in myself and my own worthiness. It’s a low risk way to learn how to fully accept joy and love from another being. After all, dogs don’t judge or criticize. Even the shy or timid ones who need time to build trust can make us feel incredibly fulfilled when they finally allow us to pet them. It teaches us patience with ourselves and with others.
Because of dogs, I have learned how to accept praise, how to forgive, and how to love and be loved.
What makes you feel loved and appreciated? What have you had to overcome — or might still be working on overcoming — to allow yourself to accept that love and appreciation from others?
Come share with our community!