Anyone familiar with the five love languages of touch, quality time, words of affirmation, gifts, and acts of service is probably not new to the idea that individuals don’t always interpret love the same way. That is, they show and receive love through actions or behaviors that may differ from others close to them. Because of this, it also stands to reason that some individuals may interpret (through conditioning or other learned responses) abusive or unhealthy behaviors this way, as well. While internally, this can create a conflict within an individual and (sometimes) cause lasting damage, an individual may have trouble stopping the cycle of abuse for the simple reason that the learned paradigms hold firm even while causing irreparable harm. However, shifting the way we see such behaviors and abuse may not be as difficult as expected once the abuse is seen in its entirety for what it really is instead of how the mind has come to interpret it. In fact, as soon as clarity on this matter is realized, the process of retraining the brain can begin and through mental habit, can be achieved. Despite the fact that I am just a writer and neither a licensed therapist or psychologist, I have (therefore) compiled a list of some damaging and abusive behaviors an individual could mistake for love in the simple hope that it may aid in recovery for those who may find themselves struggling and confused. In no particular order, they are:
Perhaps one of the most common behaviors mistaken for love is jealousy or possessiveness. Maybe it’s the intensity of this feeling and behavior paired with the human need to belong or maybe it’s cultural, but it’s damaging either way. Leading to a lifelong pattern of conflict in one’s personal relationships, individuals who mistakenly believe that jealousy and possessiveness indicate love from either partner will find themselves at odds with the peace they claim to really desire. In fact, an individual with this paradigm is often bored in more freeing and peaceful relationships. This is not to say that the feeling of jealousy, itself, is the enemy. As is often said, it’s what we do with it that makes the difference. Healthy jealousy, as I see it, can actually add to the fun of a relationship and bring people two people closer. Toxic jealousy, on the other hand, creates a divide. In the presence of an overly jealous or possessive partner, for instance, an individual may feel the need to hide or even lie about some details of his/her life while with the other person, including innocent and harmless friendships, whereabouts, and activities. Fearing a blow-up from the partner if he/she were to know, the individual closes off a part of herself/himself to the partner, unintentionally and effectively killing the intimacy between the two in the same moment. And yet, there is no win in this scenario even if the individual chooses not to hide or lie to the partner. In the instance where the individual remains open and honest, any blow-up from the partner would also destroy the intimacy. And what if the individual just discontinues friendships and activities that lead to a blow-up? Now, the individual hasn’t just killed their intimacy, but also has bread resentment and the desire to escape. In short, the relationship is already over even when the intensity of it keeps both partners holding on.
Like jealousy, although perhaps less common, obedience may be mistaken for love. Whether the obedience is given or received doesn’t matter. What matters is that it’s not love and, given time, will eradicate any trace of it. In this way, obedience is like an invasive weed in your well manicured grass lawn. At first, you may think it’s at least green, so it can stay. But give it a couple of months and you’ll find that the entire look of your yard has changed. That’s what obedience does. It takes the place of love. The person giving it at first does it out of love, but also hopes that it’s accepted as love by the other person. This seems even more likely to happen when other forms of love have been rejected and when obedience is seen as an act of service, like fixing the kitchen faucet or preparing a meal. But it’s not the same because obedience lacks respect and true equal partnership. When a person simply obeys, love is not part of the equation. Unlike acts of service in which a person is motivated by love, obedience is motivated more by fear than anything else. Even if one obeys in order to be accepted, it’s the potential lack of acceptance or threat of rejection that one fears and by which one obeys. Think you’re making an altruistic choice to do something out of love? Make sure you’re not just afraid, first.
Gaslighting is a popular term these days, so it would make sense that it’s easy to spot. However, I’m willing to bet that people are being gaslighted into “loving” their partners on a regular basis. Here’s how I suspect that this works. Since gaslighting is all about manipulation and psychological control of the victim through the feeding of false information, a person looking to obtain another individual’s love need only to feed that individual false information about his/her own lovability. Yes, this would take a certain amount of finesse and subtlety to go undetected, but manipulators are often highly skilled at what they do and they don’t always have to use words to do it. False information can come in many forms, even mimicking the five love languages mentioned earlier as a form of love-bombing. But how does one determine that their partner’s self-portrayal is false? My personal experience is that even when a person uses actions to paint a false image, the person’s true self will also show in other conflicting and toxic/abusive behaviors. Furthermore, when the victim of gaslighting indicates an attempt at self-love or calls attention to the toxic/abusive behavior, it can be quickly turned around to make the victim feel like the “bad guy” in the situation. Since the victim never wants to be the bad guy and instead seeks to be a loving partner and person, his/her “love” is re-engaged. Mission accomplished. I also think it’s important to note that this tactic often works best on people pleasers and those seeking acceptance. While many caring individuals are often working to be better people, they also need to remind themselves sometimes that self-care, being “selfish” on occasion, and being the “bad guy” are okay and (from time to time) even important or necessary. Those who find themselves questioning their own “goodness” and negating their own needs in a relationship should take note. While self-reflection and evaluation can be a positive and growth-inducing trait, something that feels off or contradicts your own reality considerably should be suspect.
Defined as excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a partner, it’s easy to see how codependency also can be mistaken for love. However, there’s often a number of other elements at play in this scenario, such as insecure attachment styles, addiction, illness, and more. Whatever the case may be, however, codependency is the result of an unhealthy need for a certain type of situation or dynamic. Typically, it’s not the love for each other that keeps two people in a relationship, but the dynamic itself. For example, an individual may “need” the intensity of a jealous partner or to spend all of their time with a partner out of fear of abandonment and an insecure attachment style. On the flip side, an individual may have the “need” to take care of the other person…..needing to be needed, perhaps, or dependent on another’s dependence. None of these are what we think of as real love, for the individual with who one is codependent is second to the particular dynamic with which the person is drawn.
Normally, I wouldn’t think that I would have to clarify that verbal abuse is not a love language, but there’s a whole range of possibility with it and it’s amazing how many of us can accept abuse when it’s disguised as a joke or takes the form of gaslighting. There’s also the intensity of it, again, that can be misinterpreted…..especially when followed by desperate apologies and codependent declarations of love. And yet, just as words of affirmation can be a language of love, words used to tear down, create doubt, and undermine a partner in anyway should never be interpreted as such. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen an abuser hide behind the facade of honesty and love, all the while making his/her partner feel like they’re not good enough or could be good enough if only he/she just changed something about himself/herself. I guess the question one would ask themselves in a situation like this would be whether their partner genuinely wants what’s best for his/her own sake or the partner’s sake. Forget rationalizing it away and making excuses for the partner. A person who loves himself/herself the way he/she is deserves a person who loves him/her the same way. Or, in the case where a person doesn’t love himself/herself for one reason or another, the healing should begin at home either through change or acceptance of the self, first and foremost. In fact, it’s one of the best ways to ensure that one doesn’t fall victim to one abuser after another in the pursuit of love and healthy relationships. Love yourself first and you’ll recognize abuse for what it is when you encounter it.
And that pretty much sums up the 5 non-love languages, as I call them….although I’m willing to bet there’s more. Physical abuse, for instance….also not a love language….but you knew that. 🙂 Feel free to leave a comment for any others you may have encountered and bookmark this page if you find that you need a reminder now and again. Best wishes for your healthy and happy future!