When we love someone, we often make the mistake of thinking that our proclamation of our love via words, in addition to everyday actions such as keeping the house and laundry up, cooking dinner, fixing things around the house or going to work to provide for the family, are enough. We believe the act of being present and loyal are enough. After all, these are all great things, and we all need to not only give them, but also receive them, in order to feel that we are valued in a relationship.
As a mother, I learned what it meant to truly love someone so much that I would give my life, do anything in my power, to protect another human being. I was a ferociously protective mother. Not only did I feel the need to offer them the basic protection of safety, shelter and security–I also felt it was my duty and honor to protect them from others who would willingly hurt them and cause them pain, who would make them feel less-than confident about themselves, or who would tear them down for their ideas and beliefs. I didn’t just say I loved my kids, and I didn’t just show it by mothering them with meals, clean clothes, carpooling, attending games and practices, or all of the other many details of parenting we tend to get overwhelmed by or caught up within. If there was ever any hint of someone hurting them, even if that someone was one of my other children, or my own family, or someone I loved or a friend–I made sure my kids knew I was there to help them in any way and I would not permit anyone to hurt them or make them feel badly about themselves. By the same token, while offering my motherly protection, I also let my kids know when they were wrong, too. Unfortunately, this does not grant me entrance into the “Mother of the Year” books.
However, I did what I thought was the best thing to do for my kids at the time.
I suppose the reason I was so protective comes from not being protected when I was a child, and having to fight for my own self-worth and dignity as a result.
Dignity has been a key word today. I’ve heard it in songs I’ve listened to and it has popped up in things I have read. I thought about writing a blog about dignity, but I was unable to separate the intense need to feel safe in order to have self-worth and dignity, and how we are given the gift of both when we are protected by those who claim to love us.
Parents are the first to be responsible to offer protection. As we grow older and go to school and out into the world, we have teachers and other adult mentors who are charged with protecting us. Sometimes we have friends who offer protection and help us feel worthy of it. When we get into a relationship and get married, our spouse is supposed to protect us and our relationship from others who will tear the other one down, or tear us apart.
When we fail to protect those we love, we are essentially telling them, “Standing up for you and your dignity is too hard for me, so you aren’t important enough and thereby not worthy of my love, respect, or protection. Sorry, but you’re on your own.” It also sends the message, “I don’t believe in you enough to speak up and protect you, and I don’t believe in our relationship enough to protect it by standing up for you.” Finally, failing to protect those we claim to love only gives them reason for doubt…within the relationship as well as self-doubt, and strips them of their feeling of self-worth and dignity.
The more uncomfortable it is to speak up for someone we love, the more they probably need us to do just that. This is especially true for people who have had to fight for every scrap of self-worth, who had to learn to love themselves, and who, sometimes still struggle with it.
When I tell you I love you, and you are my friend, I mean I will do my very best not to hurt you and to protect you from those who would. Sometimes I mess up and hurt you inadvertently. Sometimes, in my need to speak my mind or heart, or set my boundaries, I hurt you, or someone you love, and thereby hurt you or bring out your protective instincts.
When I say it’s important to protect people we love, I didn’t say it was simple or easy. However, there are some hard and fast rules that apply.
Parents protect their children, family protects family, friend protects friend–and most of all, a husband and wife protect each other from the world.
If we can do all of that and not hurt someone else we care about, we are lucky. Most of the time, it’s more complicated than that. We often have to choose, and we often hurt someone in the process.
Coming from one who has been hurt deeply by this life, by others who failed to protect me and thereby let others injure me, so in turn, I question who I should trust or be wary of, I have had to learn the hard way.
Self-protection–self-preservation–becomes my only recourse when it’s clear I’m on my own.
And though it ain’t pretty, it is necessary.
When you love someone, show them how worthy they are to you, and protect their dignity with your unconditional love and protection. Simply telling them you love them is not always enough. The true test comes when you would rock the boat, or die trying, to keep another from bringing your loved one any harm, even if you don’t perceive what hurts them as harmful to you.
It’s not our job to judge them. It’s our job to love them, show them how much they are worth to us, and treat them with dignity.
We start doing this by standing up for them, no matter what, and protecting them and us from the world.