When people experience trauma, whether it be abuse, neglect, or other forms of harm, they can develop coping mechanisms as a way to protect themselves.
By now, we have all heard about the concept of the 5 love languages, popularized by author Gary Chapman. It is a framework for understanding how individuals give and receive love. I have often referred to it in blog posts and even have a download about how you can apply this concept to engaging in self love.
The five languages include words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time, and physical touch. While these love languages are typically viewed as positive and healthy ways to express and receive love, recently I have heard a few people say that they are simply born out of our trauma and therefore we shouldn’t encourage love through this lens.
When people experience trauma, whether it be abuse, neglect, or other forms of harm, they can develop coping mechanisms as a way to protect themselves. These coping mechanisms can manifest in various ways, including the adoption of certain love languages as a means of seeking validation and safety from others.
Here are some examples of how the 5 love languages can be used as a trauma response:
In fact, relationships that are affirming can be reparative and supportive on your journey to heal from traumatic experiences.
While it absolutely can be true that how we feel love may be seen through the lens of painful experiences, I do not believe that this makes the love languages invalid. Everyone enters relationships (platonic or romantic) with past experiences that shape their perception. When you seek connection with others, you are looking to feel validated and honored. Understanding your unique perspective and identifying ways that you can support your connections to others is an effective tool in developing relationships. In fact, relationships that are affirming can be reparative and supportive on your journey to heal from traumatic experiences. However, it is essential that you work to understand the impact your traumatic experiences have had on you and do the work to heal so that you are not simply driven by the pain. If not, you create unhealthy connections, perpetuate your past trauma and further validate those painful experiences.
Here are some clues to let you know that your use of the love languages may be toxic.
When you are motivated by a traumatic experience, your needs tend to be very rigid. You want people to show up a specific way, at a specific time and all of the time. If a person’s behavior changes there is a physical and/or visceral emotional reaction that occurs that is bigger than the situation would typically call for. There are detrimental effects for you and those in your life for trying to repeatedly meet your standards and, often, the needs are insatiable and do not take into account the impact it has on others.
Anything solely driven by your traumatic experiences will create a sense of chaos, loss and pain in the long run. So an unhealthy engagement with the love languages will create painful experiences and a repeated sense of loss for you and/or those around you. You will find that it actually creates unhealthy relationships with you and others, as well promoting unhealthy thoughts within yourself. However, healthy use of the love languages supports healthy connection with yourself and others.