Venerable Chodron: I asked B. F. for his thoughts about another inmate who told me he doesn’t feel he deserves love and thus has a hard time giving and receiving it. Many people I meet have talked about a similar problem. The following are his reflections.
About the man who doesn’t feel he deserves others’ love for him, I think he probably does not have much “self-love.” He might have a feeling of low self-worth that won’t allow him to love anyone because he feels that he isn’t worth being loved. He may be a younger guy that hasn’t reached the age where you come to terms with loving others.
Since coming to prison, I have gone from being young to being middle-aged, and in the course of that aging, I have learned a lot about love—love coming to me and love that I give. I have been transformed from someone who could never even say, “I love you,” much less know the meaning or recognize the true feelings of love, to someone who freely tells those whom I love how I truly feel. I have gotten past that silly pseudo-machismo of youth that prevents you from saying, feeling, recognizing, or expressing your love for others.
I’ve never really had a problem with feeling that I didn’t deserve love. Before prison, if someone loved me (like a girlfriend or family member—friends didn’t really “love” each other in my clique), I really didn’t trip on it too much. I was too busy doing all the crazy crap that I used to do. If someone loved me, it was like, “Yeah, alright, that’s cool.”
Now that I am older and much more mature and know the true value of someone’s love, it’s not a question of whether or not it is deserved. Love is not like a grade on a term paper—you deserve an “A” because it’s an excellent paper—or your paycheck—you deserve $700 because you worked for it. When someone loves you, truly loves you, it is mostly given with no conditions, or very few. Mothers love their kids even when they don’t love Mom back.
Deserve love … I wonder if any of us really deserve love? I don’t know if I deserve love, but I openly accept it from those who love me. As I’ve gotten older I have come to the point in my life where I tell those people whom I love, including friends, that I love them. Yeah, I tell my buddies when I talk to them on the phone, “Yeah (Mike, Tom, Jon, or whoever), I’ll see ya later. Love ya, man!” I tell my family too. It’s not hard when you really do love the people you love.
For me personally that youthful bravado has been replaced with a certain sensitivity and cognizance of my true feelings, and I have learned how to relate to those feelings. There is nothing weak in telling my friends what they mean to me, and for the most part they reciprocate the openness.
Maybe some day he will see that it’s not a question of whether or not he deserves the love of others. Accept it and find comfort, solace, and strength in it. I do.