Earning Love - How to Stop Doing It To Ourselves and Our Kids

Earning love is when praise, attention and rewards are given when a special ability, skill or achievement is demonstrated. It’s common for parents to unconsciously make their children earn love (just like your parents probably did to you, too.)

When earning love is reinforced within a family, it creates an internal, unconscious belief that hard work and achievement get us love and attention. This belief carries over into our adult lives, and we often don’t realize how much it negatively affects our lives.

Strategies We Develop to Earn Love or Avoid Feeling The Pain of Not Getting it

When we carry around the belief that we must “earn” love and attention, it’s often difficult to take time off, to relax, and to enjoy the present moment. Instead we are constantly looking for the next task, job, or project. We often become caretakers of others and put their needs before our own. Sometimes hardly even knowing what our own needs are.

In childhood, we may become highly emotional or funny, as strategies to get more attention. To get praise, we may focus on our appearance or learn a unique talent. These may seem like an authentic part of who we are, but underneath these behaviors is a limiting belief that is saying some variation of: “If I don’t work hard / if I’m not loud / if I don’t look beautiful / if I don’t show myself in a ‘special’ way… I won't get noticed / I won’t be seen / I won’t be loved / I won’t get attention.”

We may also develop strategies to avoid the pain of being excluded by excluding ourselves first. For example, leaving a party or meeting early, turning down invitations from others, isolating yourself, assuming nobody really wants to hang out with you. These thoughts and beliefs then act as self-fulfilling prophecies.

How to Start Untangling Patterns of Earning Love

  1. Bring Awareness to Your Thoughts and Words. Begin to notice thoughts like, "I am excluded”, "What am I doing here?", "These aren't my kind of people", "I need to get going, I have things to do", "I am wasting my time",  "I don't belong with this group", "They don't like me", “I don’t have what they’re looking for” etc. Watch for impulses that separate you, like bragging about your achievements, working too much, or intensifying emotion by repeating a particular story to yourself. Start noticing when you begin distracting, avoiding, denying, numbing, or blaming - which can show up as eating, scrolling, binging, cleaning, sleeping, shopping, drinking, etc.

  2. Pause, and Tune Into Your Body: When you catch yourself in one of these unconscious strategies, pause. Remind yourself this is coming from a past event where you were left with unprocessed pain or fear. Close your eyes and tune into your body, scan from your head down to your toes. Feel if there are unpleasant sensations in your body. Notice where and go deeper into the feeling, saying to yourself, “I am allowed to feel tingly/numb/deep pressure in my body.” Whatever you’re feeling, use adjectives to describe it. Remind yourself that these feelings are valid and strategies you needed when you were young to protect and support you.

  3. Breathe Through It: Take slow, deep breaths and stay focused on the feelings in your body. It may take some time. Once the feeling subsides, you can remind yourself that you are naturally confident, that you are included, that you are welcome, and good enough. Remind yourself that when reactivity isn’t present, you feel calm, confident and connect easily with others.

Becoming aware of our learned strategies from our past takes commitment to our personal growth and emotional maturing, as well as compassion for ourselves.



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