Dr. Dinorah Nieves: When Giving and Receiving Love Feels Uncomfortable

Updated: Oct 8, 2020


Photo Credit: Tim Mossholder

We’ve all heard it before, “You can’t love others before you learn to love yourself.” While this may sound like a worn out cliché, the truth is, we all know it’s not. Self-love plays a vital role in your relationships with others. Whether it be romantic relationships, professional or friendships, the view you hold of yourself reflects in the quality of your relationships.


“When you treat yourself without respect or love, you give others permission to do the same.”


To understand the role self-love plays in the ability to give and receive love, and foster healthy relationships, I had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Dinorah Nieves, PhD, behavioral scientist, personal development coach and consultant for OWN’s “Iyanla Fix My Life”, and the author of Love You: 12 Ways to Be Who You Love & Love Who You Are and Love You: The Latina Edition.


In our discussion, Dr. Nieves “draws upon her personal experience, counseling women and girls on how to untangle limiting beliefs,” to live healthy, balanced and loving lives.


BJB: What is the biggest internal block to giving and receiving love?


DN: There are two very important pieces to this.


First and foremost, I don’t think people think they’re worthy of love just by being who they are. I think we are well-meaning individuals, who are taught by individuals around us how to be safe and what they believe will keep us safe. But, unfortunately, it means that we don’t always develop our inner voice and we are conditioned, instead to “play it safe” by being what others want. That conditioning keeps us thinking, ‘I have to be this or I have to be that,’ as opposed to thinking, ‘I am already perfect just as I am.’


Being taught to “play it safe” sends the message that we are not necessarily lovable for who we are, but for what we do and that we need to do things differently from how we might want to do them.


So, if you don’t feel worthy of love, then you can’t receive, exchange or emanate love. You can’t live inside of love because love is not a comfort zone for you.


The second piece to this is that love doesn’t feel safe to a lot of people.


Although people seek and crave love, they can’t fully participate in love because they don’t know how to be vulnerable. They don’t trust themselves or others to overcome any challenges presented by emotional attachment. When emotional and romantic love feels so unsafe, there is only partial participation.


BJB: Can you talk about the negative thought patterns, limiting beliefs and fears which contribute to a pattern of on-and-off again romantic relationships?


DN: One thought pattern which contributes to unhealthy relationships is the quest for control.


For example, ideas such as: ‘I have to control things. I can’t be happy if I let go. I have to constantly be in power if I want things to go my way,’ are all built on the belief, ‘The only way I can be safe and happy is if I’m in control.’


People who want to be in control may have had early experiences of feeling unsafe. That is why there is a need to be in control. When we don’t feel safe, there is a need to focus externally on changing other people without an acknowledgment of who the person really is.


That is a real danger for relationships.


BJB: What are the signs a relationship is connected in fear instead of love?


DN: The simple answer is, “Can you breathe?”


You know the difference between a relationship in which you can breathe and one in which you hold your breath. When you feel yourself tensing up in the presence of another human being, there is a lack of health to the relationship that has to be examined.


The more freely you can breathe in the company of another human being, the healthier that relationship will be.


Questions to consider:

  • Do you respect and admire each other?

  • Do you have a communication style that honors what the other person needs and wants?

  • Can you breakdown in a way that lifts each other up?

Photo Credit: Fabian Moller