COURTING THE BELOVED – An article on love and relationships.

COURTING THE BELOVED – An article on Love and Relationships

HUMANS – we are mammals and as social animals we are hardwired for relationships and love.  Attuned caring, love, touch, nurturing and needing to belong are our birthright – not luxuries.  If we are significantly denied these human needs as babies we will die or fail to thrive. If we do survive, we will have significant and  often debilitating physical, social, emotional, behavioral and/or psychological issues throughout our lives. Love is as necessary as food, safety and warmth for a thriving human nervous system.

In the womb, as our nervous system develops, we are being formed and prepared for what awaits us outside.  Our mother’s nervous system communicates chemically to the developing nervous system what to expect.  Will the environment into which we will be born be safe, stressful, scarce in resources, gentle, harsh, caring, threatening, abundant, inconsistent etc.?  Not only does it communicate what the external environment will be like but it also communicates what the emotional and relational environment is like within the likely primary caregiver – the mother.  If mothers are stressed, depressed, anxious, dealing with trauma or other volatile and pathologized mood issues (nervous system hyper or hypo-arousal), the developing nervous system of the fetus is being prepared and shaped in that fashion as well.  The internal and external landscapes equally affect the fetus as it prepares to enter the world.

So when we are born we have a certain predisposition of how to perceive and feel our sense of what is within and without of ourselves.  We get some of that from the genetic inheritance of our biological parents. That is further shaped by our time in the womb and then we are launched into the big world hopefully prepared for what awaits us.  By prepared, I mean prepared to survive.  Even then we are wholly dependent on others for several years to survive and our further growth and development is shaped by the caring we get from our primary caregivers, most significantly that is usually the mother in our culture of the compartmentalized nuclear family, and possibly others in our extended family and community if we have such a luxury of extended support.

Those first few years of post-partum caring are crucial and have the most profound effect and prediction value of how we will turn out as relating beings later on in life.  The type of emotional attachment we develop with our primary care-giver is by far the most important developmental milestone we have as it profoundly affects all realms of our lives in the future.  Physical health and immune system functioning, emotional and psychological well-being and of course  . . . the ability to relate to others . . . is directly related to the attachment we forged (or not) in those first few years of life.  We learn relationships not from explicit teaching but by how we were cared for in those formative years – this is the baseline ability of how we will move into the world of relationships as adults in the years to come.  If we didn’t get it right back then it is predictably likely that we will have pervasively problematic, unsatisfying, unhealthy and even dangerous relationships as adults . . . or even worse . . . no relationships at all.  There is much information out there on attachment theory and poly-vagal theory on how all of this works in much more detail that I can relate here.

Until about the age of 2 years we have limited to no ability for explicit memory – we don’t know things as facts or verbal symbols but still experience most of the world as a felt sense – the deep instinctual and intuitive knowing – the magical part of human consciousness before our little super computers in the neo-cortex come on line and start to have us “make sense” of the world in more abstract, symbolic, logical and less-felt ways.  The beginning of our separation to ourselves and others starts at this point and if we didn’t learn and feel caring, empathy, compassion and attunement from our caregivers by this time we will delve ever more deeply into the mind to try and make sense of things that just don’t feel right within us or within our environment. In these early years we are also learning to regulate our nervous system in an ideally optimal range of arousal and we do that by attuning to and regulating from the nervous systems of other people close to us.  So if little Johnny spends most of his formative time with a primary caregiver that is anxious or traumatized(hyper-aroused), depressed (hypo-aroused) or otherwise dys-regulated, he also learns to feel and see the world in an similar manner and his nervous system starts to pattern and shape more consistently in that way.

A consequence of this unhealthy learned co-regulation, is it affects his perceptions, thoughts and beliefs in how he will understand the world and the people within when he becomes older, especially as the cognitive part of his brain becomes more dominant and takes up more of his consciousness. If little Johnny has been trained to feel and perceive the world as scary, threatening and hopeless through countless signals, cues and responses from his primary care-giver he will continue to orient to those types of things in the environment, even if they are minimally present or even non-existent.  Thinking and perceptions can become so habituated to threat, stress and volatility that it can create a crisis when none exists.  In this state of hyper and hypo-arousal, healthy relationships are next to impossible.  The added tragedy of this is that because this was formed before explicit memory came on-line, he has no cognitive understanding of what happened and just accepts this as normal – even if the felt sense of it, in the past or even presently, doesn’t quite feel right.  The crazy-making messaging from a dys-regulated caregiver and/or family will, over time, wash away any strong sense or emerging belief that something is wrong.

Our modern “culture”, institutionalized educational, political and economic systems further perpetuate the problem. By devaluing emotions, the sensual world, intuition, cooperation and caring of each other, they alternatively promote self-deception and harm through advertising, public relations/communications, organized dogmatic religious doctrine, and social/economic “values” that objectify the human experience into being a “productive cog in the economic machine” as an end in itself and not a means to something better.  Competition is valued as something good even though that means somebody has to lose.

As we moved from infancy into childhood and then into adolescence and adulthood, what really influenced our “choices” about our first intimate relationships? Who we are attracted to, who is attracted to us, what does intimate relationship mean and what is its purpose and why do these relationships seems to have an old and familiar emotional flavor to them?  The answers to these questions are directly connected to our first and early relationships in the womb and shortly after – regardless of their quality.

Ok, so now we have a rudimentary framework to possibly understand where we came from.  Now what?  Does our past determine our future?  If I had a horrible childhood does that mean I’ll never have healthy, alive, passionate and caring relationship(s)?  Of course not, but what does need to happen is that we need to take back control and responsibility for our relational health and to transform all the false, unhealthy and dys-regulated ways we were implicitly and explicitly taught in how to relate.  In other words, as adults, we need to re-parent ourselves in a securely attached and attuned way – to give ourselves now, what we needed as infants and children so we can enjoy healthier relationships going forward.  We have to build the neuro-pathways of healthy loving and this takes time and practice, just as if you wanted to learn to play the piano. Daily practice is the way; it won’t just fall at your feet like in the fairy tales or in Hollywood movies: “They fell in love and lived happily ever after”.

The good news is our nervous systems have the ability of neuro-plasticity; we can change and transform old unhealthy ways of relating into new ones.  To do this sustainably we do need to do things in sequence and to accept the reality that it will take time, commitment, persistence and support from others to transform ourselves.

In order for our nervous system to change and not be activated into old patterns of reactivity but into new possibilities of responsivity, if has to feel safe.  That “reptile brain” part of our nervous system (brain stem) which is responsible for survival functions such  breathing, heart rate, metabolic process, protection (fight, flight or freeze) needs to be in an optimal zone of arousal and not into hyper or hypo arousal which is what occurs when a threat appears (real or imagined).  This means that any current life circumstances (job, school, family, career, environmental) or perceptions and beliefs that are threatening to our physical or emotional safety must be changed or outright eliminated from our lives.  If we are in an intensely stressful, volatile or even dangerous career or relationship we need to decrease these stressors/threats while simultaneously building our internal capacity and resources if we want to make meaningful and sustained changes in our lives.  While it may create more stressful consequences to make sudden and impulsive changes such as quitting a job or ending a relationship it is often times very possible to improve healthy boundaries within these contexts to allow our nervous system to feel safe enough to make immediate and incremental changes for a longer term transformation which might include leaving a job or ending an unhealthy relationship later on. If I tried to teach you how to juggle when you have never done it before and all the while I was throwing rocks at you it would be difficult, if not impossible, to learn a new skill under these threatening conditions – so it is the same in learning a new way of relating.

When I was in counselling for relational issues, several times I would hear “relationship issues can only be healed in a relationship”.  I interpreted that as “Gee, I guess I better get into another intimate relationship and work all this stuff out”.  That wasn’t quite what those counsellors meant, but it took me some years, and more suffering, to figure that out.  As I mentioned earlier, as humans, we co-regulate with other nervous systems and life forces so any new patterns of relating do need to be learned with and trained with “others” but this doesn’t necessarily mean in an intimate partner relationship.  We can co-regulate with a counselor, friends, family members, groups/activities, animals, nature and even in the spiritual realm – with something bigger than ourselves. Ask anyone who has a pet and they’ll tell you how healing that bond and connection is. It is in these healthy relationships that we can transform our old wounds and learn how to be in mutually loving, caring, nurturing, attuning and supportive connections with self and others.

Relationships can occur with self and others, and for many of us the best place to begin is with our relationship with self.  If we were not cared and loved for consistently and in an attuned way in are early years we likely do not love ourselves because it was through those relationships that we either learned we were lovable or not by how others treated us. If they didn’t love us we would have internalized that felt sense even before we could put words to that corresponding feeling.  Issues of poor self-esteem, self-abusive behavior and disrespect towards self all have their roots in the early years.  If we want to attract a beloved who will love us in a healthy and sustainable way we have to develop and internalize a strong core of self-love that is felt, not just repeating affirmative mantras.  Many people who do not love themselves develop very strong and defended egos to protect themselves from this painful truth and in its quest to protect or temporarily avoid the pain they will push themselves to achieve $$, looks, fame and success to somehow externally validate their worth as a human being.  These accomplishments, when/if achieved, result in a short term relief of the pain but the pain is internal so it returns and this spawns the next pathologized need to be even more successful or recognized from others.  And on and on it goes. Salvation will not be found here but in creating a relationship of love, respect, care and nurturing of the self.

Those of us who do not have this strong self-love core, because of our insecure attachments from childhood, developed very strong and instinctual ways to survive despite our near complete dependency on others.  Some babies cry to get attention and needs met, others are cute and compliant, others get sick to draw in care, others act out and misbehave to get some sort of attention and others learn that if they can meet some unmet needs of the caregiver then maybe some of their needs will be met.  Again this process is not a cognitive problem solving action, but an innate and instinctual survival skill that is reinforced when it works.  In the latter example, when children become caregivers to their parents they forego their normal developmental process as children and become more mature, responsible and adult-like in order to survive . . . again not to thrive.  These are usually the folks who turn out to be professional helpers or are the ones in our family that makes sure everyone else’s needs are met first before and often to the exclusion of their own.  They carry this childhood pattern forward into adulthood and enter adult relationships with the deeply buried belief that if “I take care of you – then you will give me barely enough love and support to survive.”  And . . . that is exactly what they get . . . and nothing more. If we do not value our own needs and take care of others to our own detriment, this will not endear us to healthy beloveds.  Healthy beloveds are attracted to people who emanate self love and worth – like attracts like.  Unhealthy givers will attract the needy, users, takers, predators and abusers.  Sound familiar?

In our unconscious and highly patterned way of relating we keep attracting and being attracted to the exact people who will perpetuate these old patterns – even if in our mind we “know” better.  This is something that needs to be transformed in the mammal and reptile parts of our nervous system, not so much in our cognitive functioning although it can support the process by helping us remember what is required..  When not safe nor integrated, our nervous system is truly ruled by survival instincts for safety and love and our mind will create many stories, beliefs and rationalizations to justify our behaviours; mental gymnastics.  These reptile and mammal parts of our nervous system, in the unconscious, are running the show – despite the stories we tell ourselves or what we think.

Imagine for a moment that you walked into a room of 100 aesthetically pleasing people of the sex/genders you are attracted to.  If you walked through the room and looked at them all without talking to any of them there would be a certain few that would catch your interest or that you would have a very strong reaction to.  How is this possible – if not for these non-verbal parts of our nervous system feeling out the threats and attractions in the room, scanning for the familiar, however unhealthy, looking and feeling for those who we can work out some old relational wounds with but not letting our mind in on the plan.  And of course our thinking mind has its own ideas of what the purpose of the attraction is and then we create a story, fantasy or projection of what the other person is meant to be for us.  In short, if we have not attended to our emotional wounds, learned how to take responsibility for our own happiness and fulfillment we then hope, believe or expect the “other” will do this for us.

Of course, after the honeymoon/infatuation period ends, when the oxytocin and dopamine subside, we begin to resent the other person for not fulfilling our responsibility to ourselves and then the power struggle ensues.  If in that initial period of swooning impairment we have made promises and commitments based on nothing more than addiction to love chemicals, fantasies or blind hope of our salvation/rescue by the other, then we can really become bitter and resentful when we sober up and find ourselves in relational prison.  If marriage and children become part of the mix, the added stress of these life changes will surely put the last few nails in the coffin of any hope for a healthy, alive and nurturing relationship with our partner – the war of attrition begins or the suffering endurance challenge ensues or some détente of acceptance that if you make yourself smaller and less alive, so will I . . . for a time.  At some point someone will want out of this mutually imposed relational prison and will either make a daring daylight escape (end the relationship) or do it in clandestine ways (infidelity, addictions or outright numbed dissociation) bringing us to these familiarly-felt patterns of relating just like our childhood, whether we remember it or not as such.

Not wanting to be accused of being cynical and against love and relationships, I want to boldly state that I am whole-heartedly in favour of healthy, loving, alive and mutually empowering and supportive relationships with self and others.  I am not in favour of how people get into and out of relationships that are unhealthy, unaware and needlessly harmful to self and others that will require much work and marriage and relationship counselling to repair.

If we look at modern day marriages in North America, over 50% of them end in divorce.  The other 50% is equally suspect and my experience in marriage and family counselling is that many couples stay together for economic reasons, for the thin excuse of “doing it for the children” or out of fear of being alone or of the feelings they will experience. (This is with the assumption that committed monogamous relationships are the healthy norm – and this is far from a decided fact based on research and the high rates of separation, divorce and infidelity).  If we enter into relationships with another without having developed a core relationship with self, the outcome will not be positive nor what we truly desire in our most authentic self.   We will neither attract nor be attracted to the healthy, loving beloved and we will repeat the same relationship, with several others, who are teaching us that we have personal work and healing to attend to and this pattern will not change until we attend to it.  If 2 people come together with this understanding and awareness and are ready and willing to journey together for this purpose, wonderful healing, growth and relating can come from it.  This often includes the necessary support of counselling, friends, family and community.  This is the ideal I hold up for worthy praise.

A prominent author on healthy relationships suggests that we need a 5-1 ratio of pleasurable to stressful events in our relationships in order for them to be healthy and sustainable instead of harmful and destructive.  I would also suggest that we use this ratio as we look at our relationship with the self.  What is your current ratio?

The foundation required to call in the Beloved begins with the self. If there is no beloved within there will be none without. Would you write a list of all the qualities that your ideal partner(s) would have (a common exercise many relationship coaches or marriage counsellors suggest to help people get very clear on what and who they want)?  Give yourself full permission to list as many as you want and to be as specific as you can. When done, review your list and then rate yourself on each of these qualities, maybe on a scale of 1-10. Obviously qualities such as height, hair color etc. can be removed for this exercise while keeping others such as caring, generous, honest etc..  If you scored yourself highly on most or all of these qualities in how you offer them to yourself, your beloved(S) are just around the corner.  If your scores were in the middle or low range, this is what you can expect to call in as your next partner.


In our upcoming workshop, Courting the Beloved: Love and Relationships, Rachelle Lamb and I will support the group in laying the foundations for calling in the beloved within ourselves and with the others.  Integrating psycho-education on love, relationships, secure attachment and attunement, along with experiential exercises in somatic psychotherapy, movement, music, journaling and Non-Violent Communication (NVC) and much more, we will help participants:

-Take responsibility and control for their happiness

-Understand their relationship history as formed through their family of origin

-Learn how to self resource, soothe and regulate their emotional arousal

-Identify and set healthy boundaries and to communicate their needs and feelings to others

-Learn how to resolve conflict in a healthy and healing manner that that builds trust and intimacy

-Learn how to love, respect and nurture the self

-Transform old patterns of unhealthy relating into ones that are nourishing and fulfilling.

-To court the Beloved!

Jim Kragtwyk M. Ed, RCC, ICADC

Registered Clinical Counsellor

Relationship and Marriage Counsellor

Certified Addictions Counsellor

5Rhythms Movement Psychotherapist

Victoria BC



COURTING THE BELOVED – A playshop on love and relating!             Friday to Sunday – Mar 2-4, 2012 at the Church of Truth: 111 Surperior Street, Victoria, BC, Canada

This weekend experiential workshop will pathwork the foundations for embodied relating with love, respect, passion, reverence and healthy communication with self and the beloved.

Facilitated by Jim Kragtwyk and Rachelle Lamb. Jim is a Registered Clinical Counsellor, Marriage and Relationship Counsellor, 5RHYTHMS® Movement Psychotherapist and Wing Chun Kung Fu Instructor. Rachelle is a speaker, writer and Certified Trainer of Nonviolent CommunicationSM. Together they have over 60 years of experience guiding, teaching and exploring the world of the interpersonal through assorted modalities. They bring a shared love for the various expressions of the beauty of the human experience as well as a deep compassion for the inevitable pains and losses of life.

Open to individuals and couples, this workshop is for those wanting to open the door to deeper experiences of relating and intimacy while dissolving the patterns and beliefs that block us. Conducted within an intentional space through means of information dissemination and experiential inquiry supported by communication exercises, Somatic Transformation (ST), music and 5Rhythms therapeutic movement, participants will be guided into their own inner sanctuary where the beloved awaits and where they will create the altar to establish and nourish the fertile ground from which all healthy, passionate and sustainable relationships can take root and blossom.

Rachelle and I welcome you with loving kindness!



Category : Counselling &Relationships &Workshops Posted on December 30, 2011

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