December 12, 2022

5 Not-So-Good Reasons it’s Hard for Some People to Say “I Love You.”

“It is hard.”

Those were the words my mother told me on her hospital bed. She had been diagnosed with cancer a month before, and there was no time left.

I was 26. I was wordless. I had nothing to say to reassure her—to help her go through her transition. A blank page. An uncomfortable silence.

We were raised atheist, so there was no belief in a promised afterlife that was going to be heavenly. There was no “it is going to be okay” possible in this moment.

Of course, I could have said “I love you.” Those words seemed like the appropriate, natural ones to express at that time. However, those words were not coming to me naturally; they could not come out of my mouth, even though I loved my mother so much. We did not say those words in my family, although we did love each other; there was simply an invisible fence around those prohibited words.

So, yes, I wish I had been able to say, “You are loved, I love you, go in peace, surrounded by love—mine and all others who love you, even the ones who passed before you.”

I often ask myself why I could not say those words to my mother.

And as I coach clients, I hear the same story—an inability to communicate love, at least verbally.

So, I ask, why is this so hard to say? To our own sisters and parents, family? Even when they are dying?

1. We learn how to express love from our family.

If those words were not said in our community, this is how we would program ourselves on how to love.

What did you learn from your parents? How did they love themselves? How did they love each other? Were they able to express their love? How? To you?

Are you living in the same model of the world?

2. Fear of rejection from your people.

There might be a fear of rejection coming from childhood, and the ultimate rejection as a child is to be rejected by his or her own people. So that might be one reason. We say “I love you” to our parents and they don’t say it back because of the intergenerational way of not saying those words. As a child, we interpret the lack of word as a lack of love and take it as “I am not lovable.” As a protection, we just don’t say it. It is too risky.

And we keep this programming throughout our adult life, which comes back to play in romantic relationships where it might be hard to express those feeling verbally by fear of being rejected or mocked.

3. Playing it strong.

Vulnerability has been equated to weakness for many generations. For many, saying those words shows vulnerability; it shows our heart, our true self. And chances are, this was mocked when we were young. We were told not to be too emotional, not to show emotion, as it made everyone uncomfortable.

For me, this was the biggest part of why I could not say “I love you” to my mother. Had I said those words, I would have cried, bawled, and let it all out. I would have crumbled in front of my dying mother. I would have upset her. I felt the strong need to play it strong—for her, for my sisters, and my father.

There was no crying for me at that time. I had to play it strong. I could not crumble. The task and stake were too high, keeping the family together in this hard time.

4. Having low self-esteem.

A fear of rejection and playing it strong are both signs of a low self-esteem level. The lack of self-esteem “syndrome” that comes into play where it is hard to think of ourselves as lovable, and therefore it is hard to receive or give love.

Unfortunately, it seems that a deeper feeling of not being worthy of love—or not being enough—is something we all experience or have experienced at some point in our lives.

So it is important to establish an unconditional self-esteem and a strong sense of self—independent of external things like accomplishment, what other people think, or what society or your community is expecting of you.

5. A love language that is nonverbal.

Chances are that if the love language in our family was not verbal, we might have learned another love language, such as quality time, physical touch, acts of service, or sending gifts to our loved ones.

My love language had developed more as quality time with the people I love.

For others, it could be doing something helpful, like putting gas in our car when it is low, cooking dinner for us, showing up to our birthday party, calling us to tell us about a happy or sad news, asking our advice, showing up to our yoga class, sending a birthday card or gift, giving us a hug, going for a walk with us, stopping for a chat and a cup of tea, and so many more.

So not being able to express love verbally might be all okay if we have other ways to express love…until we wished we had expressed love verbally—or any other way—like I did. All because of fear. This is when inner work would be helpful to discover what was blocking it.

As I gained confidence through my developmental and spiritual work, I became comfortable with giving and receiving love. I became confident to be able to say “I love you” to the people I love, without expecting it in return.

I tell my kids, husband, sisters, father, and my friends that I love them on a daily basis. And I also show them love with hugs, quality time, and my presence.

And while I get the words back from my kids, husband, and some friends, I often don’t get an “I love you” back. My family still does not say it. It is hard for them. And that is okay. Everyone has to go through their own journey at their own time to be able to receive that love and maybe find ways to express it. I have learned to give and feel the love through other languages without expecting anyone to express it back the way I would do it myself.

I know even though I did not say those words to my mother at that crucial time, I was there. Every day. Holding her hands. And my presence was love. And she felt it.

I know that she did not die in pain. I know she felt surrounded by love—mine and all my family and all her family that passed away before her. I know she felt the warmth of love as she transitioned as I felt it myself.

Love and gratitude to all.


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