The Bittersweet Allure of Feeling Unloved

Do we unconsciously indulge in feeling unloved?

Though it’s mostly unconscious, many people have a strange affinity for feeling rejected, abandoned, and unloved. Yes, this idea flies in the face of common sense. Who would want to bear the pain of feeling unloved any more than what life might force upon us?

Our psyche is an inner realm that, like the outer cosmos, doesn’t always adhere to the etiquette of common sense. If we’re willing to investigate all the nooks and crannies of our psyche, we come across some startling truths that defy common sense.

Our affinity for feeling unloved is one of these truths. Feeling unloved is familiar to many of us. We can easily get used to that feeling. Sometimes it even defines us. We won’t know ourselves or recognize ourselves without this old hurt. We can easily identify with ourselves as victims of rejection and other forms of cruelty or unfairness inflicted upon us.

In fact, there is evidence that we can even begin to indulge in these negative feelings. Sometimes the feeling arises in the familiarity of bittersweet self-pity. We can’t climb out of the pits of “poor little me.” It’s as if we’re determined to be loyal to our suffering self, or that we don’t know any other way of being. If so, we drag ourselves down into unhappiness, depression, and ill health when we cling to this false (yet emotionally powerful) impression of who we are.

Our affinity for rejection, abandonment, and betrayal are emotional attachments. These attachments are like barnacles on the side of a hull that aren’t being scraped off. They’re jelly beans we keep eating even though our teeth are decaying badly. We first experience these negative emotions in childhood because we’re so sensitive to any signs of rejection. These old hurts don’t magically go away when we turn twenty-one.

A basic axiom of depth psychology states that we will continue to feel, no matter how painful, whatever is unresolved in our psyche. We just keep tripping over the feeling. Sometimes all it takes is a word or a look from someone to trigger that feeling.

When we feel unloved, we usually believe that other people are the cause or the source of our feeling. We perceive that they are rejecting us or being unkind or insensitive to us. But feeling unloved is ultimately the result of an unresolved conflict we have with respect to ourself. We want to respect and love ourself, but something is in the way. Often we are stuck in ambivalence, liking or loving ourself in one moment, disliking or rejecting ourself in the next. This self-doubt, self-criticism, and self-rejection can be mostly unconscious.

Irrational conflicts are at play in our psyche, and these conflicts undermine our well-being. For one thing, our inner critic, a negative drive in our psyche, can be very harsh and unforgiving. We end up absorbing this negativity and feeling that it somehow represents the truth about us. We need to see more clearly into the nature of our emotional conflicts so we can use insight and intelligence to avoid unnecessary suffering.

As an example, a needy person who appears to be desperate for love is often entangled in the familiar pain of feeling unloved. Unconsciously, this person often chooses to feel unloved rather than to feel loved. This person often turns away from love when it is available and runs off in self-pitying agony to where love is unavailable. When that person’s attachment to feeling unloved is brought into the light of awareness, the person can usually improve his or her situation dramatically.

Such people are convinced that they want to be loved and feel love. Sometimes they feel a desperate longing for love, which further convinces them that love is what they want. This desperate feeling covers up their unconscious willingness to go on living through the feeling of being unloved. If they don’t see their attachment to feeling unloved, they will continue to suffer with feelings of being unloved and to sabotage themselves in the process of trying to establish love in their life.