“There is a secret about human love that is commonly overlooked: Receiving it is much more scary and threatening than giving it. How many times in your life have you been unable to let in someone’s love or even pushed it away? Much as we proclaim the wish to be truly loved, we are often afraid of that, and so find it difficult to open to love or let it all the way in.” {John Welwood}

In my efforts to understand love in a deeper, more mature way, I’ve found that my attention and research tends to bring up trauma. Understanding trauma — and how we react physically, mentally and emotionally to trauma — impacts the way we give and receive love.

In our human brains, processing, decision-making, emotional reactions and emotional attachment occur in the amygdala. The cerebellum handles motor control, memory, mood and language. The amygdala and cerebellum work together to help us express and process, then decide and act.

But when trauma enters the equation, our brain reacts which causes our emotions, actions and entire personality to react. When you are experiencing trauma (or attempting to recover from trauma) your pre-frontal cortex — the part of the brain responsible for learning, differentiating between good and bad, better or best, same or different — is taken offline. So the executive director of your brain is no longer functioning when you’re experiencing stress. It is difficult to be entirely present for a partner when your entire personality is offline.

We have to strive to understand how we react during stress and how our partner reacts under stress in order to give them the adequate time for their brain to settle and for their personality to be restored. Whew. That’s heavy.

That’s a huge task, especially if you’re in a particularly highly-charged moment and language is firing off (though it isn’t firing off well, because your brain function to determine what is good, bad, better and best is turned off).

So how do we do this? How do we become solid ground and present to support the people that we love in feeling secure and calm so that they are able to function with their best, strongest and healthiest version of their brain?

Dr. Kristen R. Jamison has four suggestions, and I want to add one.

1. Worth

We need to instill within our partners a feeling of belonging, positive sense of self, foster self-determination and motivation within them by showing you support them. Let them know they are loved and cared for. Show them that they are seen, heard and felt.

2. Emotion

Help each other identify feelings, and acknowledge they are real. Learning what a feeling is and how to regulate it can help an individual return to a safe, happy and secure brain faster.

3. Empathy

Understand each others’ sense of self. Understand that you are both very different and experience the world differently. Practice acceptance instead of judgment.

4. Exploration

This is higher-order thinking because now we’re discussing problem-solving. As Dr. Jamison said, “It’s about getting messy to explore the world but it’s not OK to expect someone else to clean up your mess.” We can’t be reckless with another’s heart or time or energy.

5. Surprise and Delight

I’m adding this one because it’s special and I think it creates within your partner a sense of security, intrigue and validation. Finding small ways to surprise and delight your partner (or people that you love) reiterates to them in volume how important they are. It also shows your investment into the partnership and it keeps the brain elated, overjoyed and confirmed.

Being present for them means knowing when you're experiencing stress and that your personality may be offline.

Being present for them means accepting and showing them their worth, and never taking that for granted.

Being present for them means genuinely wanting their happiness and showing them through surprise-and-delight efforts.

Being present for them means knowing when you or they are experiencing trauma and being there for them through that, in whatever what they need.

It has taken me a while to arrive right where I am with this. I’m still practicing. I still mess up. But as I dedicate time, energy and thinking to discovering what love is and how to accept and receive it, I’m learning more about what it takes to suffer alone and with someone. I’m learning what it takes to be present and proactive. I’m learning what it takes to make a choice and stand by it.

These lessons are refreshing and they’re opening up my world in ways I never anticipated.