Love is a funny thing.
When you're happy in love -- whether it's with a person, yourself, your life or all of the above -- you feel lighter.
Hold up. I'm going to switch narrative voices. I'm going to quit assuming I know what you feel like when you're in love with anything. From here on out, this is how I feel.
Lighter. That's how I feel. I feel like I could float. When I have someone to care for whom I love, a friend, a significant other, even a pet, I am determined to do anything for them. I want to give that person the world. Often times, in the process, I forget about giving to myself.
I don't lack confidence. I know my strengths and I'm very well aware of my weaknesses. So, when I find someone who may be lacking this confidence for whatever reason, I want nothing more than to show them that everything is okay. I will lay myself down in the middle of traffic just to show those I love that even that isn't so bad.
In the past, this has eventually led to a very miserable version of myself. I pull out all the bits of myself that I love, I lay them out on the table, and like clay, I form them into what I think this other person might want or need. Then I just hand it over with a big grin hoping that they'll love it and it will make everything better.
I think, ultimately, I do this so this person I love can be happy. I figure that I can regrow what I gave away and give it to the next person I meet who will be in need. This is an exhausting way to live. I am continuously depleting and regrowing myself. It's quite a lot to take on.
The rush I can get when I'm caring for someone in this way is better than any high. It's better than any great meal or any beachy vacation. But the low, after I've given all of myself away, is the worst thing ever. It is a dark feeling of panic and, worse yet, failure. It's like acing every test in college and then, on graduation day, the dean tells you, "You did great here. But it just wasn't good enough. I'm sorry, but we can't give you a diploma."
This is where I have to recognize the importance of setting energetic boundaries and being honest with myself about the intentions I set.
Am I doing this loving thing for my friend because I want something back? Am I doing it because I want to fix him/her? Am I compromising who I am to try to make someone happy (when, at the end of the day, that is not, was not, and never will be an area I can actually impact in any long-lasting way)? We are all in charge of our own happiness. Read that sentence again. Really. Go back. Re-read it. Okay? Does that resonate? The minute you start walking down the dark road of, "If I can have this, and this, and him and her and that, then I'll be happy," you've already signed yourself up for first class tickets to Hell Town. You are, even if you consider yourself an independent, strong-willed individual, limiting yourself in one of the greatest ways.
But if you're doing something for someone because it makes you feel happy to be loving, sweet and giving, then get into it. If there's that little voice that says, "If I do enough of this, then I get some of that back eventually. They'll get happy and they'll be better and then everything will be okay," just stop. Stop right there.
The risk in giving in this basic and very conditional way is a recipe for disaster for two reasons. One, the work you do may not have an impact and may not be wholly appreciated, and that will leave you feeling weak and depleted. Two, if you do make an impact, there is a good chance that this person will think that this is your role in their life. This person, when you're hurting and low (because that happens to everyone), will retreat. They will think you're done giving and go back into their little hole and they may even resent you for it. Additionally, because they are so unhappy, they won't know how to handle your sadness.
Vicious cycle, no?
Love, pure love, is the act of simply letting them be. Sending them good energy and helping where you can, but don't exhaust your mental and physical resources. Be sure you're keeping a healthy reservoir of love for yourself. Create a safe space for that person to be who they are, no matter who that may be, and love them, no matter what. When you feel that pull to go too far and give too much away, check yourself before you wreck yourself.