Oh, who among us can forget the wonderful world of childhood innocence?! The world was our oyster. Good overcame evil. We were protected and safe. Life was simple. At least that’s what we thought at the time. Obviously not all of us had such experiences. However those of us who were well protected undoubtedly went through such childhood pretense. Even today as adults, we can still believe in magic. We may dress up for Halloween and eat our children’s candy. We may dance around the Christmas tree wondering how many presents are for us. Just like the good old days. Naivete-the belief that we don’t have to protect ourselves and good things will come our way-can still be in our minds as adults today.
Unfortunately such thinking may generally not work very well for us in our current adult lives. In fact, it may imperil us. If we assume that our loved one cares about us as much as we care about him or her, we may be in for trouble. If we attribute good qualities to a partner just because that good quality is in us, unpleasant surprises may await us. It always takes two to tango in relationships. Some of us yearning for love don’t realize we’re merely dancing alone with our shadow. We become fools for love.
Ever since I was a little girl I always put men up on pedestals. I used to love sitting on my dad’s lap and looking at pictures of him in his navy uniform. He was my hero. I thought no one could replace him. That is, until I met my current husband. He owned his own construction company. He had broad shoulders, big muscles and even bigger dreams. I was swept away. We made a good family together. But finally over the years I started feeling a deep unexplained emptiness, especially after the kids left home. I noticed that both my dad and husband are the strong silent types. When I spend time with either one of them I do most of the talking. Neither one of them asks me anything about myself. They never remember what I said from our last time together. They change the subject when I ask personal questions. I never expect them to remember my birthday, even though I always take them out for dinner on their birthdays. So I told myself, “Oh Marge you are just being silly. Your dad and your husband are just being men. Look how much they have given you.” But when I’m sitting alone in our quiet home with my husband in the garage I feel such a deep loneliness. There aren’t words to express it. It’s been shocking to realize all this. How could I have been such a fool?! I guess I just give men more credit than they are due.
Impact of naivete
Always playing the innocent role is like leaving your car unlocked while the motor runs. It’s a real setup for disaster. If people know you’re so desperate for love that you don’t protect yourself, you will surely attract predators into your life. If you don’t protect yourself and tune into what is really going on in your relationships you’re likely to be abused emotionally or physically. Naivete attracts the wrong people. It fools us into thinking all is well when such isn’t the case. Even if your loved one doesn’t abuse you, not looking at your connection with eyes wide open can rob your tie to that person of honesty and emotional depth. If you relate to another person with wishful thinking your dear one may only be telling you what you want to hear. Chances are you’re already afraid of facing some essential truths with that person. Perhaps you are feeling slightly used, have unresolved anger toward another or are simply needing more from a loved one. Possibly you may be too scared of closeness and are pushing another away who is capable of caring for you. While it’s not necessary to be close to every person we meet, putting on the happy face will certainly insure that true intimacy with another will not occur. We owe it to ourselves to see the impact that naivete has on us. As Sheldon Kopp, a famous psychoanalyst, once said, “It’s not the pretending that hurts us. It’s the pretending that we’re not pretending that really hurts us.”
Besides how wishful thinking may allow others to hurt us, we ourselves may undermine our own happiness and that of our family through failing to look realistically at what we are facing. For example, some of us may be so terrified of what our children are up to, we pretend they are doing just fine and maintain an emotionally distant relationship with them. Our children may feel they have to lie to us to protect our fragility and allow themselves unhealthy freedoms. Essentially we abandon our children through our naivete. Inevitably they act out this breach in a cry for help and we parents get very distressed. Taking a naive approach to life is harmful in itself. When we don’t see things we need to see we lose faith in ourselves and get depressed.
Signals of unhealthy innocence
Assess your own limitations and rely on trusted friends for feedback as you may be unable to see yourself. You likely have problems with naivete if some of the following are true for you:
- You typically only see the good in others and ignore the bad
- You space out or get passive when bad things are being done to you
- If you like someone you don’t know you hardly ever doubt what they are saying
- It almost feels “unchristian” to not trust someone who is giving you no reason to distrust
- You are commonly caught off guard by someone who tricks, cons or disappoints you
- You have a history of being scammed and deceived
- It’s vital to you to be seen as a nice person
Why are we fools for love?
Most of us who are fools for love are very good hearted people. It’s certainly not a crime to be good hearted. Frequently we have learned to play the scapegoat role in our families growing up. Our kin may have seen us as emotionally strong enough to take the blame for our family’s dysfunction. We assured ourselves of a way to belong to our family by unconsciously agreeing to having them hate us instead of hating themselves. Our fogginess to evil allows us to pretend that we are not being hurt and keep our family together. Often today we repeat these learned patterns in our adult relationships with others. We may have great difficulty with setting boundaries with others and only realize too late that others are taking advantage of us. It may take several times for caring friends to wake us up to evil. It’s not that we like being hurt. It’s that we don’t know how to belong without being a scapegoat. If we learn that people will love us even when we protect ourselves, we will no longer be fools for love.
Facing the music
It’s ordinarily good to think well of people, especially if they are giving you no reason not to. However, automatically attributing good qualities to others without any evidence for it can actually be quite reckless. It’s vital to realize that being nice to others doesn’t automatically mean they will be nice to you. For example, if you have someone offer to do some work on your house who initially comes across to you as if he/she is your best friend and acts like the epitome of honesty, it’s best to check for references. You may find some shady dealings in his or her past that give a different picture.
Similarly, in new relationships you ought not to assume the person you’ve newly met is what they say they are, especially if they are too good to be true. The obvious question is, if they really are all that good, why are they still available?
Some of the most violent people and con artists start off with being too good to be true. If you’re naive and always think well of people without their having to earn such status, you’ll tend to ignore or shrug off the warning signs that a potential partner is real trouble. If you care about your safety, hang on to warning signs and ask for explanations from a prospective partner just like a pitbull. Always consult with savvy friends on your questionable reactions. It may save your life.
Obviously, if you’re already in an unfulfilling relationship you may be tempted to blame yourself, fault yourself for asking for more than you’re receiving or try to find the magic formula to change your loved one. No amount of pretending that things will get better will make things get better. If you’ve repeatedly tried to elicit support from an unwilling loved one, take the rose-colored glasses off and focus on your own happiness apart from your loved one. Be responsible for your own happiness, especially since no one else is.
In general it’s better to face the music. Sheldon Kopp said, “We can run but we can’t hide.” What we avoid eventually comes back to haunt us anyway. Some of us may need specific help in tuning in to what is really going on. Accurate discernment is a learning process that we can all participate in and grow from. Read The Authentic Heart by John Amodeo (Wiley Books, 2001).
To be more in touch it’s best to start with yourself. Taking a good therapeutic yoga class may connect you more to your body and getting a trusted psychological guide may enable you to accurately assess your heart.
If only we put as much energy into tuning into ourselves as we did into converting our TV’s to digital, we would all be a lot better off! Life in all its richness and heartache is really worth knowing.
John H.Driggs, L.I.C.S.W., is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in private practice in St.Paul and co-author of Intimacy Between Men (Penguin Books, 1990).