Coaching with Darlene on My Definition of Love


I am really excited to welcome my friend and guest blogger Carla Dippel. Today Carla is writing about a coaching session we recently did. This post is an excellent example of how to dig down and discover your belief system about a specific concept; in this case “love”.  As always please feel free to contribute to this wonderful post by leaving your feedback and comments.  ~ Darlene Ouimet, founder of Emerging from Broken

Cocahing with Darlene on my Definition of Love by Carla Dippel

A few weeks ago, I was freaking out about love. I felt anxious, confused, and stuck. I had this sense that I was missing something, that I was scrambling in the surface of myself while there was much deeper stuff going on beneath that I couldn’t get at. I described this “freaking out”-ness to Darlene. In her masterful way, she asked me a couple simple questions that changed everything. I really cared about working through this struggle because I really cared about the part of my life that it was affecting. So I decided to be open and reveal the truth as honestly as possible. I had hope that in doing this I would find better answers than the ones I was working with at the time.

First Darlene asked me to reveal my definition of love. She added, “Don’t worry about sounding silly or trying to have the RIGHT answer. Just write what naturally comes out, what you believe off the top of your head.” I had this sense of taking my focus off the leaves of the tree that were sick and shifting it to the soil. What was really down there?… I felt afraid to be so honest. I don’t like feeling vulnerable or sounding stupid (especially). But I went to work.  Here is what came out, un-edited and un-analzyed:

“Okay, off the top of my head with little thinking, love is… Always wanting to be with the person. Life long commitment (aka- I want to be with you forever). Feeling all fluttery inside whenever we see each other. Knowing I will never be hurt by the other person (that’s weird…) Perfect loyalty. Security. Liking everything about each other. Never having doubts. Always being nice (ew).  Major physical attraction all the time. Feeling empty if we’re not together (woa). High emotional intensity when we are together. Being perfect.”

Darlene’s response was: “Your definition of love could not be more wrong.” But she didn’t try and fix it. She asked me a couple more question to go even deeper: “What is your definition of love between you and your mother/ you and your father, you and your brother?  (do them separately for the best results).”

Again, I did my best to be totally honest. This is what I revealed to myself:

“Dad and I: Love is NOT ROCKING THE BOAT. Love is making him feel good about himself. Love is being protected.

Mom and I: Love is never abandoning her. Love is pleasing her. Love is pleasant and cozy. Love is helping her. Love is being helped by her.

Brother and I: Love is enjoying being with each other. Love is looking out for each other. Love is taking care of him. Love is sacrificing what I want for what he wants and arranging my life to work around his life. Love is trying to make sure he won’t abandon me.”

I finished writing this out, read it over and cried. I immediately and deeply understood why I was freaking out about love. I was terrified of being trapped in these kinds of definitions, definitions that had formed within my earliest relationships with the most important people in my life. Definitions I had had no control over until that particular moment of seeing them. Powerful beliefs that were hurting me and that I had coped with and tried to escape from in all kinds of ways. Beliefs that made me unnecessarily suspicious and untrusting in current situations. I felt this new compassion for myself. I wasn’t struggling because I was messed up. I was struggling because of a legitimate problem. And I was fixing the problem.

We moved on to “re-building” questions. Darlene asked, “How do you define love now? How do you define love in the friendship you and I have?” I know love differently now.  Love is many things, but at its deepest core it is acting in ways that are best for myself and for the other person. It challenges and encourages growth. It fosters freedom and choice and individuality. It is honesty with good intention and being real. It is fun… It is enjoyment, attraction, caring. It is not control, manipulation, or lessening myself. It is not constantly adjusting for the other person.

I have had the new definition of love in my head for some time now. I tried to apply it and felt like a failure when I started struggling. I felt helpless and didn’t understand my confusion and angst. Having the new truth in my head wasn’t enough. As long as I didn’t see my deeper beliefs (unique to me based on my own story) going on underneath, they still had the power to tug me down and backwards. Going through this process took their power away. I saw them and where they had come from. I empathized with myself for the pain they had brought me and I started working to change them in those deep places. This made all the difference. I felt free to move ahead. I felt excited… and empowered. I realized that I had been working very hard in the wrong direction by trying to cope with them. I had tried hard to change my thinking and my feelings on a surface level but was getting nowhere. There is faster freedom in working things out on the deepest level of my belief system. Though the struggle to reveal the truth wasn’t easy, the process was simple and invaluable to me. A literal process of digging deep “recovery.”

Carla Dippel lives in beautiful Alberta Canada. She loves to cook, dance, write and grow in knowing what is good and true about this life.  As Carla has emerged from broken, she delights in being a distinct and adventurous woman, living her life to the full, exploring new possibilities and making her dreams a reality.  Carla loves to share reflections of her journey with others and to hear the stories of others in return.

Related post ~ Rebuilding my Relationship with Me ~ Recovering from Dysfunctional

Before I faced the pain I had to face the lies

48 response to "Coaching with Darlene on My Definition of Love"

  1. By: Light Posted: 13th April

    Hi Susie, Your compassionate post inspires me that other people really can get it and care and love. Rather than seeing him as “damaged goods” you see the wonderfulness of your partner. That speaks volumes about you.

    Does your significant other know about your needs to be trusted and loved?

    When he responds “I love you” (or tries out a trusting behavior) it may feel foreign to him, and may sound/look rote, but perhaps his feelings need to catch up with his words and actions. Perhaps the repetition, over time, will feel safer for him.

    I’ve been told I’m hypervigilant and have difficulty trusting. I can tell you that because I’m in it, I don’t even “see” it. Having a conversation about what it means to show trust and love, with specific examples, would help me and give me ideas on how to show my partner that love and trust.

  2. By: Susie Posted: 13th April

    I have been reading many of the articles on this site…so helpful for me. I am the significant other of a man who was severely abused in his childhood, physically (BEATEN by his very angry father for the tiniest “looks” or percieved infractions in behavior) emotionally ( shown NO love, not listened to, blamed, etc) and sexually ( by his mother). He also had NO extended family that was healthy or kind to him, no special teacher or coach…In his adult life, he has been spiritually abused by wacky churches with harsh teachings, betrayed in his work life, gang assaulted after parking his car, serious medical issues in his twenties, and married very young to a controlling and manipulative wife for 25 years. He has some damage… we have a GREAT relationship, but it is haunted by his demons and ghosts. He is a WONDERFUL man and person. He denies he needs ANYONE, but I know better. He is emotional and sensitive, but he has never been truly loved or cared for by the most significant people in his life, ever. We talk openly about EVERYTHING, even the hard stuff, I have researched abuse online extensively to learn all I can, and it is depressing for people who really love and want to help and support their abused loved one. He has had counseling, and it has helped a little. But as you all know, it is a LONG process, and it is a constant process. The main things I deal with that is so HARD, is being projected on ( past behaviors of his wife and others who have hurt and betrayed him) me, and the assumption that if he lets his guard down, I will do these same things. It really hurts.The really interesting and horribly sad thing is…that he was very trusting of me in the beginning ( he never learned in childhood how to determine WHO to trust or not trust, or how to sense or determine that, because of his abuse) , but it seems, the closer we get, the more he distrusts me and more fear he has. This is all internal on his part and not due to any behavior of mine. I DO understand where it comes from , and WHY, but it still hurts and leaves me out in the cold. I am NOT his past abusers, what was done horrifies and angers me, and makes me weep for the little sensiive and helpless little boy he was, when he was perpetrated against with so much abuse. He lives with anxiety, ptsd symptoms and FEAR. He is governed by FEAR. His mindset in life is to always be on the alert for every “potential” bad thing that can happen. Obviously, this is exhausting emotionally and physiologically. His night time has always been plagued with nightmares. That is his normal. If anything is good in his life, he then braces and waits for the “shoe to drop” or the “hammer to fall” because anything GOOD can’t be TRUSTED.I long to comfort and help him, but I feel so HELPLESS and on the outside. I know I cannot heal him, and I know HE is the one who has to do the WORK. I love your site, and have sent him some of your blogs to read, and he said he can totally relate. My main problem is…we have been together for 4 years. I turn 50 this year. We have a GREAT relationship, outside of his issues that obviously affect this. I have my own issues, but have defined, faced and worked on them with counseling as well. His definition of love is: If you do something for me, than I do something for you” its an obligation, a tit for a tat. Love HURTS and means PAIN. When someone tells him they love him, that means they WANT SOMETHING FROM HIM. His mother told him she loved him too, and then sexually abused him from age 5 to 13. It makes me so sad for him. I told him what I believe love is, its unselfish, seeks the others good, kind, etc…and he just looks at me with a blank face, uncomprehendingly. He trusts NO ONE. ANd that includes ME. He has told me not to take it personally,but how can I not? I am lumped together with everyone else, including the monsters that hurt him, and I have done nothing to EARN or DESERVE this mistrust. I tell him I love him, but I cringe inside when I think of how he hears it and interprets in his head when I say it. He is thinking I WANT something from him, when it means I value him, and want to GIVE to him. He is unable to compute this, it is so completely FOREIGN of a concept, his mind refuses it, as his early definitions of these things crushes any good definition down. He has a hard time, or even can’t RECEIVE my love. Then, when he says ” I love you” back to me, I can’t help feeling that it is a rote response,is just saying it because it is the accepted response when someone tells you they love you, and Knowing how he defines love, that it has a completely different meaning for him than it does for me. I don’t know how many comments or followers you get on this site from people who LOVE their abused partner, but these relationships are HARD. Much of my emotional energy is spent on trying not to do or say anything that will “trigger” him, or finding ways that I can best help him in our relationship, but my needs of being trusted and Loved and seen in a healthy way, are neglected. We want to love them and help them heal, and feel so helpless…

  3. By: dory Posted: 29th January

    Excellent suggestions. Her initial definition of love that I read her write for all her relationships hit very close to home for me too. Thus her journey is of special interest to me – it may well be a great connect. Thank you! Thank you for this web site. May many be healed through your obedience to share. Hugs back.

  4. By: dory Posted: 26th January

    Is there a follow up post by Carla?

    I read… ” In her masterful way, she asked me a couple simple questions that changed everything. I really cared about working through this struggle because I really cared about the part of my life that it was affecting. So I decided to be open and reveal the truth as honestly as possible. I had hope that in doing this I would find better answers than the ones I was working with at the time.

    First Darlene asked me to reveal my definition of love.”

    I imagine this was the beginning. Are there more questions to this journey? Very curious about any followup to Carla’s journey..

    Thank you!

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 28th January

      Hi Dory
      Carla wrote blog posts from the beginning (which was December 2009) to July 2010. You can use the archive button to scroll through those months and read all of Carlas work. Another way to find her posts is to type “Emerging from Broken Carla Dippel” into the google search engine. I hope that helps!
      Hugs, Darlene

  5. By: Libby Posted: 8th April

    Thanks Darlene and Carla – its good to know that the slowness is “normal”.
    I think it has been more acute because of a recent birthday (anniversaries seem to bring up alot of stuff). My husband is desperate for me to be happier, for something like a normal life to return – he does understand that life will be different from how it used to be. I don’t want to give up – and I do….. just now things seem especially tough and the old negative thoughts are ever-present. I know they will pass, but I am fed up with them and they sap my already low energy. Self love is clearly the key… really is a foreign country and I have no map or phrase book! Hey Ho – try again!

  6. By: Carla Posted: 7th April

    Hi Libby~ I wrote this post a year ago (wow…) and I am still in this relationship, and still working on a lot of what “real” love is and means. I have experienced the slow part very much, in how both you and Darlene describe it. The process is still alive. In the past month, what has really come alive to me is the huge importance of truly learning to love myself. Reading through EFB posts, this sounds like such an obvious truth! But I see more and more how it is at the heart of everything. It seems like the degree to which I lack love for myself, that’s the degree that I let the other person take advantage of me or let the other person define me (in ways that I still haven’t learned to define myself). So even though I’ve “known” about the importance of loving myself, it is very hopeful for me to discover how to truly do and grow in this. And then to see how it affects my relationships. For me, I think this process is especially slow because truly loving myself has been a foreign thing for me for so long. And a person has to learn to love herself all in her own way. No one else can come live in my skin and do it for me- and I think we learn to love ourselves in a way that’s just as unique as who we are as people, which is actually quite exciting… I think the important thing is to stick with it, no matter how slow it feels. Slow is still way ahead of giving up altogether and forever… and holds much promise. These are my thoughts from a year later, for what they are worth! Thank you for contributing your experience to this post Libby. ~Carla

  7. By: Libby Posted: 7th April

    Wow. I have been struggling with this for a while – trying to understand what love is. What is it NOW. Now that I have been recovering memories of abuse by people who “should” have loved me, protected me, promoted my best interests. What did those actions called “love” mean for me now, as an adult woman, in an adult relationship, re-connecting with the wounded, broken child within? What I thought was love was now up for re-defining… and I have been lost in that effort…because it was too scary to look really way down within at the core of the lies I was sold – that I swallowed as a kid – because not to meant death.
    The impact on my marriage has been huge – we are still together – but I don’t know if I can return to how we were before all this stuff began to emerge and overwhelm me. Sexuality was always a rather fraught thing for me – although till now I didn’t know why.
    Bit I am not content to let this continue to rule my life… and so the battle for Self is joined. Things have changed over the past 18mths – but it is so slow as to be almost imperceptible at times….

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 7th April

      Hi Libby
      I can relate to what you have shared. My husband and I went through major changes because I was no longer willing to return to the way it was before the fog lifted for me. We are still together, happier than every before and our kids have flourished because of it too.
      About slow; I felt that way for a long time, but something happened and I have seen it happen with others too and that is that there is a time in recovery after the foundation is cleared and the new ground prepared (the slow part of recovery) when suddenly the clarity came quickly and the changes were far more obvious. That is how it happened for me anyway!
      Hugs, and thanks for sharing. Love Darlene

  8. By: Carla Dippel Posted: 15th April

    Hi Renee~ It’s nice to meet you here. It’s funny- I’ve used similiar terminology about my ability to choose, or even knowing what I want and knowing which desires to trust, in my recovery too. I told my counselor once that my “liker” was broken. What he explained to me was that as I continued to build my foundation on the truth and point myself in the right direction, my feelings would follow- but it would take TIME. That is a great comfort to me- whenever I feel panicky about not feeling the way I think I should feel about something healthy, I remind myself of that. The feelings associated with coping (whether it was feelings I felt or really feeling “numb”), which I lived in and were my “normal” for a long time, don’t just switch for me overnight. The new feelings are slowly growing, and that is exciting.

    Lynda, I’m glad that my idea of no striving or suffering was an encouragment! I hope a lot of good comes out of your letter, whether you send it to your Mom or not. Hugs to you.


  9. By: Fi MacLeod Posted: 14th April

    Numb – yup that’s me – I’ve spent my life an existence incapable to receive love and not even know where to start in giving love – if someone says to me “I love you”, I freeze and then run as fast as I can away from them, whether it was somebody I knew well or not, that was end of relationship. Love means only bad things to me, negative things, painful things, things to run from. The only times I’m not numb is when the rage and the hurt get too much for me and I start to feel them, and then I don’t want to live anymore. It has kept me alone but it has kept me safe but I realise it is not healthy but it’s so hard to risk and trust and let people in to help me.

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 14th April

      I can really relate to that Fi,
      I kept believing that someone would love me, and because my definition of love was so wrong, I was never looking for real love. I didn’t even know what it was and I also deep down believed that love was dangerous. I know today that I was seeking validation way more then I was seeking love, and I didn’t get that back then either….

      Everyone, I just posted a new blog post that was inspired by Mountains comment on Susans post (Dysfunctional Relationship with Mental Health Providors )(comment number 59) and also inspired from the comments on my last post. You can read the new post here: Seeking validation and Understanding from the Wrong People

  10. By: Lynda ~ Coming Out of the cRaZy Closet Posted: 14th April

    NUMB!!! Renee, MR TOO!! I was totally NUMB for YEARS when it came t loving. I knew inside my head that I loved my children, but the FEELING, for years after my last physical beating, was just Not There.

    Then, one day, it was like someone flipped a switch back on in my brain, and the feeling of LOVE for my children washed over me like a huge waterfall…. and I have had the ability to feel LOVE ever since.

    My husband, a combat veteran from Vietnam with severe PTSD, went through a 9-week in-house PTSD program at a VA hospital in 2005… that saved our marriage. Anyway, he told me they taught the veterans there that not being able to feel love is a common trait of PTSD, or so they have found in their studies.

    TRAUMA… the “gift” that keeps on giving.

  11. By: Renee/a Resurrected Spirit Posted: 14th April

    Fi-post #11 is my definition of love also. It took me 3 husbands to finally realize that my “PICKER” was and is broken. I told my oldest daughter her “PICKER” was broken also, and that what we both were attracked to was the abuse in a man. We discribe it as the rough handsome, rugged type = abuser. She decided that she didn’t want to go through life unhealthy and because there are children involved she wants to be emotionally healthy. Im very proud of her for taking the steps to being the best mom, self, friend, and daughter she can be. Myself It is hard to admit that my definition of love is the total opposite it turely is. I have had speciffic counseling for “love” but it is so ingrained into my being that it is only a word to me. It is just sad I wish I could be normal enough to actually feel love. I love my daughters and grandkids and it is such a different feeling and yet I am numb.

  12. By: Lynda ~ Coming Out of the cRaZy Closet Posted: 14th April

    ~Awareness…. takes the striving and suffering out of the process and replaces it with courage and persistence to simply find the truth~

    Carla, and Pat: THANKS. I needed that. Ever since the horrible news story yesterday about the “mother” drowning her helpless little children along with herself….. I hae been STRIVING and SUFFERING. This was my truth, one of many painful truths, my mother trying several times to gas us all to death. Finally giving up on her many attempts to over ride the safety shutoff valve on the gas furnace, she was going to drive us all off a cliff to our deaths, when she confessed to me, her 12-year-old confidante, the eldest of the 5 kids, the second mother….

    Since I saw that horrible nightmare on the news yesterday, and I SCREAMED……………. which is how it always affects me when I see in the news about yet another parent, usually a mother, killing her children….. I knew, then, that I was long overdue for writing a long therapuetic TRUTH-SEEKING letter to my mother, who is now 76 years old.

    I will write it for ME, not to herm, although I expect I will probably send it when I am through writing it……

    But it HURTS! That’s why I’ve put off writing this for over 40 years.

    I hope, Carla and Patricia, that your words here will halpt to take the striving and suffering out of what I must now do, and replace it with courage… and persistence.


  13. By: Carla Posted: 13th April

    Thank you Patricia. I really like what you say about awareness… In my mind, it takes the “striving” and suffering out of the process and replaces it with courage and persistence to simply find the truth… Hugs, Carla

  14. By: Carla Dippel Posted: 10th April

    Lynda, wow. How incredibly sad for a mother to tell her daughter that she loves her but doesn’t like her. That is so twisted to me. And what a powerful (and painful) realization that a father loved his daughter because she loved him first… What a huge weight to put on a child. I see a lot of children carrying that weight, into their adult years as well. It’s not real love. I see a parallel in your definition of love between you and your siblings and between me and my brother- that aspect of “taking care” of them. Powerful protectiveness and a desire to nurture. It’s hopeful to me that I can use that tool towards myself, as I continue along my recovery. Thank you for really engaging with this post and sharing your work with everyone Lynda.

  15. By: Lynda ~ Coming Out Of The cRaZy Closet Posted: 10th April

    My definition of love for my siblings means: Allowing myself to be our mother’s scapegoat, by allowing them to believe her lies, and staying far away out of their lives so I don’t rock the boat.

    I also used to dream elaborate daydreams about becoming rich enough that I could give each one of them a house and car and a trust fund with enough money that they would never have to work if they didn’t want to. I used to daydream about doing the same thing for each of my grown children, to try to make up to them for being such a broken mother.

    But when my siblings were very little, and I was the Big Sister Caregiver Substitute Mommy, before my mother threw me away when she remarried when I was 14; my definition of love for my siblings was: “….a feeling of inner joy when I bless someone, for example, the joy I feel when I feed our dog and then watch and listen to her eat and drink. Her needs are being met, by me, and that brings me joy. I feel a similar joy when I fill the bird feeder and the birdbath fountain and then watch through the kitchen window as the wild birds eat and drink. I feel joy, knowing that I have provided joy to these creatures. I call that joy LOVE.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.