Character is Ultimately about Love Ability

Love Ability

To be clear from the outset, this post is about love ability (the character capacity to genuinely love. It is not about lovability as the term is commonly employed and understood. Some of the most “lovable” people I know are actually quite lacking in their ability to truly love. How can that be? To answer the question simply, because merely possessing attractive personality traits doesn’t necessarily make someone capable of really loving. You need soundness of character for that. But too often folks mistake attractive traits like charm, good humor, charisma, etc. for love ability. And the consequences of that mistake usually only become clearly evident after someone has invested a lot in a relationship that ultimately proved devoid of loving regard.

The Nature of Love

Love’s true nature eludes all too many of us. Few of us are properly informed about what genuine love is. Morevover, many things look like love that really aren’t. Some equate attraction with love (especially, physical attraction). But there are many things besides love that can draw one person to another. And many qualities that initially attract parties can seem to vanish into thin air over time. Others equate tender sentiments with love. But you don’t even have to like a person or the way they operate in the world (egoically) to behave in a loving, upright manner toward them. It’s a mark of mature character to behave lovingly (while setting appropriate limits and boundaries, of course!) even when someone or their manner rubs you the wrong way.

Loving is a behavior. And it’s a behavior we do well to display even when it’s difficult to do so (perhaps, especially when it’s difficult!). Disturbed characters on the narcissism spectrum simply can’t love very well. And those on the far end of the spectrum can’t genuinely love at all. But not all narcissistic individuals are repulsive characters (some are even quite charming). And failing to appreciate that fact has led many folks to enter relationships destined to fail or become toxic. (See, also: Amorous Narcissists Can Charm Convincingly and Emotional Romeos Are Masters of Seduction.) Masters of emotional manipulation might know well how to hook you, but that doesn’t mean they have the capacity to love you.

Where Love Ability Starts

As with all other positive character traits, love ability starts with the individual. Once you know what it really means to love yourself, you better understand what’s involved in loving another. You also better understand when someone’s behavior toward you is truly loving.  Love ability also begins with embracing the first and most essential “commandment” I outline in Essentials for the Journey. Appreciating that everything we say and do has impact, and caring about the nature of that impact is the beginning of mature character. I talk more about this subject on the latest Character Matters podcast.


20 thoughts on “Character is Ultimately about Love Ability

  1. Looking forward to studying this topic. In my close relationships with family, I am sure I show love. Also, I can be harsh, but it does not minimize my love for the person. Honesty feels harsh and so do consequences, but that does not minimize my love.
    I told my daughter the other day, her son shows his love and caring for her by wrapping leftover food from dinners, sometimes him splitting his, because he wants to give it to her when she gets home after a long day from work. I’ve always showed love with feeding and nourishing foods, and this has passed onto my grandson.
    The other night I asked him if he were full and didn’t want to finish his dinner. He says he’s not full, but wants to save it for his mom because she works so hard. Touched my heart.

  2. Dr. Simon,

    I have a question. When one has explained (many times and in many ways) the issues (acting superior, treating the relationship like a zero-sum game, tricks, deception) to their adult child. Has expressed that they’ve done their best, would speak to their child’s therapist if desired (no therapy together), and that they wish them well, and have not responded to their provocations and sincerely fear what that child is capable of (dominant, covert and overt aggression but sly, ends justify the means). I’m just a prop to be used as abused as she she’s fit. (She has acknowledged she is an a$$hole)

    I recently had a stroke and have the beginning stages of heart failure and am sure it is in part due to the stress of dealing with her and her father before her.

    If she were to show up on the doorstep (as she will be in town most of this month). She texted.
    What would be the best way to handle it?
    Not answer?
    Is there something short and to the point that makes it very clear we’re done?

    She is the type that if there’s a boundary, she sees it as a challenge to get around or more likely, a challenge to her dominance/right to do as she pleases.

    I’d appreciate a response. The stress of knowing she could likely show up at any time, in addition to not knowing what the best firm response to someone like that would be, is difficult. I don’t want to be cruel, but I do want to be crystal clear.

    Thank you,

    1. She has the power to show up, of course, and to act in her usual ways. Where you have power, of course, is how you respond and what boundaries and limits you enforce. No point in attempting to discern if the message you want to send is “clear to her.” We make our “terms of engagement” most clear not by what we say we want and expect but rather by the actions we’re willing to take to ensure our well-being. You don’t have to be cruel to be firm. And your primary responsibility is to your own welfare, as best as you can discern it. I hope this helps.

      1. Thank you. It does.

        She wants to wear me down, or otherwise coerce and it’s exhausting.

        “Some of the most disturbing ways of operating in this world are actually functional, as opposed to dysfunctional, especially in a culture of entitlement, permissiveness, and relativism, even though in the end, people inevitably get hurt.”

        She has chosen it as an expedient and effective way to get what she wants, damn the costs and the people it harms. With me I’m pretty sure she believes there’s no way I would really fully leave her. Despite almost a decade of mostly limited to no contact.

        Thanks again.

        1. Healing,
          Its so hard when its your daughter. Friends and husbands you can leave or divorce, with your children its a permanent bond. Alanon has a saying to “detach with love”. Nobody, not even her can take away the natural love and caring you have for her as your child, but knowing that she is not somebody you can be around is the detachment. Easier said than done but you are not alone.

          1. Kat,

            It is. When her father showed who he was, I divorced him. I was relieved. As you say, with your child there is a permanent bond, or there is supposed to be. Somewhere along the way I guess she decided that bond didn’t matter, or was less valuable.

            It’s funny that you use the Alanon phrase. I used to tell her I had to do that with my toxic siblings. I could still love them, but from a distance.

            Hope is the last thing to die. It’s dead.

            Thanks for the encouragement, Kat

  3. I have an acquaintance I just realized has to be a narcissist. Recent contact with her left me feeling angry and confused. I’m sure thats exactly what she wanted to do but I fell into the games and manipulation again and was angry at myself for allowing myself to be manipulated by her. Of course I have decided that there is no friendship there and its best to stay away from this person. What is distressing is that things these types of people do is so covert and hard to pin down, so it leaves you wondering what they really did and questioning yourself and your judgement. Its things like not responding to your conversation and expressing a nonverbal disapproval. You can’t point to what they said, because it is more covert and subtle than that. Its the crazy making behavior that I so despise. They are looking for unaware victims so at least I have detected it and can keep myself away from it. I thought she was a friend, but she sucked me and tried to use me as narc supply and I am happy to say – thats not going to happen!

    1. kat,
      Even when I’m wary, thinking things are not right, it still takes me awhile to accept the fact the person is a CD, or whatever term fits, covert and subtle, as you mentioned. The encounters are confusing and leave me with a bad, angry mood, and feeling confused.
      Just recently I’ve emotionally let go of two more acquaintances (I used to say friend, but it does not fit). One totally tried to gaslight me and distorted an incident that happened, her putting blame on me. So I saw her for what she is in her core, her foundation. I’m so turned off by it I want nothing to do with her. I’ve been through too much to allow yet another person use their sick tricks on me.
      And I just let go of another person where there were so many instances of mis character that I just do not want a part of it.
      Geez, that makes five people within the past year and a half that I’ve let go – and frankly, will not miss.
      I will waste my precious life and time and characters who use and abuse .
      Let’s choose our friends and acquaintances wisely.

      1. Lucy, thanks for the response. As you stated, it takes a while to accept the fact the person is CD. I try and be as fair as possible and give the benefit of the doubt until the point where its doing damage. I know I have my character defects like everyone else and try to accept the good and the not so good in myself and others, but the CD pushes past boundaries, doesn’t listen to you, has to be the dominant person all the time, starts to belittle you and try to make you feel less than.
        After a while things start stacking up and there is that realization that the CD traits are there.
        I have had too much abuse in my life as well to willingly allow these CD personalities to make me feel miserable any longer.

        1. kat
          We’ve learned so much and are now much stronger and willing to protect our own self by letting these characters go away.
          What I’ve learned is that I’ve given people too many passes, and it’s wasted much time and energy. They aren’t worth it. I just want to be surrounded by good people. I’m trying hard to not give passes when it’s clear they show me what they are. It’s hard when we have a history of some many conversations that are ok and fun and laughs, but once I finally accept that my intuitions are correct, I’m not imagning, I’m full aware of what’s going on. This world is loaded with people with rotten cores. I’m just done with it.

          1. Lucy,
            I have a hard time going with my gut because of my background I believe. I also know this person’s background and have a lot of empathy for her because of it and that threw me off, but I can’t have so much empathy that I allow myself to be used and abused – she would walk all over me and then stomp on me if I allowed it. We do need to protect ourselves without shutting people out and giving them a chance – but I find it takes time to figure it out. There are an abundance of people out there who are just users unfortunately. But they can’t hurt us unless we allow them to so that’s a good thing.

  4. kat,
    I’m struggling with the same as you are.
    Yes it does take time. I do find myself taking lots of mental notes when I sense or hear something that is off. The things that are said/done that I find alarming or disturbing have to do with character traits, the deep down foundation, and that is what determines whether or not I can remain a friend.
    It’s the time it takes to figure it out that has now become bothersome, because I realize all the time I have wasted on bad relationships. I’m going to go with my gut more, not overthink it, and trust it. I say that . . . . . easier said than done.

    1. Lucy,
      Yes-the mental notes – I need to be very observant. I need to hold back more, at least until I get to know someone better. It is hard to do this over and over when meeting new people, it almost makes me not want to try but I wouldn’t like that either. My gut has not steered me wrong, I don’t know why I dont trust it more – the time with my ex made me not believe my own eyes at the time because of the constant gaslighting – but thats been many years ago and I have learned a lot as I know you and the many others have as well.

  5. Healing,
    So sorry what you’re dealing with in your daughter. You’ve accepted who she is and that it will always be. It’s easier to deal with realities rather than hopes and dreams and what ifs and maybes. It still hurts. Always will. My old boss used to say “forewarned is forearmed”. And that’s what you’ve done, you’re armed and ready.
    I have a couple of acquaintances I’m forearmed with in dealings. It’s like a chess game, and he/she knows how to play it, but I’ve had lots more practice, so am a step ahead. Now what needs to be done is to make the dealings less and less till nearly non existent. I have trouble being upfront and saying “just stay away. I’m done with you.” I can’t do that.
    I’ve lost so many friends this past year and a half. They weren’t really friends, though, more like nuisances and joy thieves.
    How did the last visit go with your daughter?

    1. Lucy,

      Yes, it was a difficult acceptance. Which, of course, contributed to the suffering and the unintended enabling. I know I tried everything and nothing worked. As a parent I didn’t want to give up on her. Hard lesson.

      I get what you’re saying about a chess game. When you learn some of the clues of the game, the tricks, etc.. you can slow things down, detach and create distance. I’ve found that being up front is usually a bad idea. They are ego based, so they don’t take kindly to that kind of rejection. They will often get aggressive, make you an enemy, and it is not worth it. A normal person will say okay, sorry it didn’t work out. Not these folks. It works when it’s their idea.

      Nuisances and joy thieves, I like that. I’m shocked just how many sadists there are in the world.

      It didn’t/hasn’t happen(ed). She kept making threats, do this or I’ll end the relationship….
      I sent my last email offering support via working with her therapist (not with her), outlining the behavior and attitudes that were harming me (zero-sum thinking/behaving) and told her she was an adult now and I love her and wish her well.

      I think she wanted this to be her idea/on her terms. The last threat was if I didn’t cave on the boundary I set, that I can’t come to her wedding. A lot of emotional blackmail.

      I’m pretty sure she heard about the stroke (the neighbors daughter is on facebook and they are in contact at some level b/c they knew she was getting married.)

      She had my niece text me a couple of weeks ago- using her as a flying monkey- I didn’t respond.

      Who knows, maybe she’s done with me as her prop, I’m less useful now. I’m certainly damaged.

      1. Healing,
        I’m so sorry about your stroke and all the stress this situation creates.
        You have some very useful info and some of them are situations I’ve gone through myself. Those threats . . . . they don’t work. They only enhance the fact that this CD is not a person one wants to have dealings with.
        These CDs certainly are damaging. They leave their mark on us. It’s hurtful. Forces us to communicate (or not communicate) in planned out, deliberate ways that go against our nature and experience in life in normal dealings. That’s why I say a chess game. Any communication has to be thought out before it’s communicated , trying to figure out what they’re up to. It’s a time waster, an emotional drainer, a stresser. (I’m going through one now. A so-called friend is in town and she’s been covert, underlying is she wants a free place to stay again. I can see exactly what she’s doing. I’m no rookie at this, lots and lots of experience, as you have. She stayed at my home for 11 days, never bought groceries, no thank you gift, no flowers, no nothing. She gracing me with her presence. She actually gave me two seed packets a friend gave her, a tiny dish a friend gave her she didn’t want, and a bar of soap.
        You’re so right about how to end a relationship, you do it by backing up silently. You can’t outright say you’re ending it for whatever reason because, as you say, they will not accept that.
        Lesson learned, again, tread carefully when letting new people into my life. Vet them and go slow. My impulsive nature just lets people in, then I’m sorry I did.
        Will you ever feel peace? I sure hope so. The less I’m around people such as this the better I feel. There is always that hurt and damage, but so much good in life out there.

        1. Lucy,

          Thanks, me too. I’m still wrapping my head around it. Trying my best to take everything in stride and not get stressed. My heart is damaged so I am not going to add more to it.

          You’re right, those threats don’t work (any more). When I didn’t understand their purpose, I took them seriously. I shake my head at how naive I was. But, as you say, now it’s just a tip off to their Mo and someone you don’t want to be around.

          That feeling that you have to be three steps ahead of them, strategic is another tip off! Exhausting.

          Sorry about your not friend. It feels terrible to be used. What a freeloader!
          What are you going to do/tell her?

          I get that. Like you, am treading carefully with new folks. It’s a challenge when you natural inclination is to be warm and friendly.

          I feel a peace of sorts now. Don’t know how to describe it. I’m at peace with my decision. And I feel relief as well as loss.

          Don’t think she’ll let it go. Hope I’m wrong.

          Isn’t it amazing the difference you feel when you’re away from them?!

          Would love to meet a normal, kind, healthy man and spend the remainder of my life enjoying simple pleasures and each other.

          That’s a great attitude, go get that good out there life has to offer!

  6. Healing,
    I’m grateful to you and other on this site for sharing your experiences. We learn a lot from each other.
    Glad to hear you feel a sense of peace and relief. You’ve come to terms with it and accept it for what it is. That is a great relief.
    This “friend” of mine, I’m treading lightly, not responding to all texts but I am to some of them and I just keep putting her off while she’s in town because I don’t want to visit with her. I can’t come right out and say, hey, you’re a liar, you stress me out, your energy is bad, you intentions are bad, I don’t trust you! Can’t do that with her, it will be a never ending battle, and she surely spread discourse all over town to whoever will listen. I know her type. My ex BF did that. And ex husband.
    I’m trying to back off quietly, but she comes back even harder. She’s relentless. She will be in town for another week. I told her that I’m focusing my attention right now on my sister, who was hospitalized with a blood clot in her entire leg (truth), and that she’s staying with me and I won’t be available to get together. I’m helping her recover. But she keeps texting, wanting to see me. Like now she’s desperate. She’s a nuisance. and get this. She texted last night, I didn’t answer. She said she was four minutes from my house and was going to drop off the key. (I forgot to get my house key last time she stayed with me.) I quickly closed the shutters. My car was in the garage. My sister locked the door. I said if she comes don’t answer. I’m getting in the shower.
    She came to my home, didn’t knock, didn’t ring the doorbell, she unlocked the door and walked in! My sis was at the top of the stairs, and she says I’m just here to return the key. My sis says I’m in the shower and don’t feel well.
    Can you believe that. So intrusive. So brazen and rude. She easily could have left it in the mailbox, anywhere. I am very uncomfortable now. And I don’t want to call her out on it because there will be a backlash. Who knows what she’ll do.

    1. Lucy,

      Thanks. I’m grateful to you too and the posters here. We do learn from others experiences and get some much needed feedback and reality touchstones. I owe my sanity to this site.

      Holy cow! Who does that!?! She crossed all sorts of boundaries and common decency with that. Seriously troubling. Didn’t bother knocking, just let her entitled rear end in! That.Is.Bold.

      It’s understandable that you’re very uncomfortable. That brazen, who knows what else she thinks is okay. That what is yours is mine, and what is mine is mine attitude. Glad you got the key back. And glad your sister is there with you.

      So glad she doesn’t live nearby.

  7. Healing,
    yeah, no one does that. That’s it. Entitled to me and my home. I wish she’d leave and go back home. I park my car in the garage real fast and shut the door. I have an uncomfortable feeling that I may be watched.
    I’ve decided to ghost her. I won’t answer texts or calls or anything. I don’t want to confront her and go through all the issues that go along with a confrontation. I just want to quietly go away.
    This site also gave me my sanity. So much useful information and so much support from you and others.
    Thanks again.

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