Young or old, single or coupled, each of us is faced with the great challenge of learning to love. At the heart of our entire journey to intimacy lie what I call our Core Gifts, the parts of ourselves which are most sensitive to the joys, pains, and nuances of intimacy.
Understanding our unique Core Gifts gives us a key to understanding our entire relationship lives—and ourselves—in a much deeper way. Two simple questions will help you discover your own Core Gifts.
As I describe in my upcoming book Deeper Dating, our Core Gifts are the points of greatest sensitivity in our lives and our relationships. We find them in the things that inspire, soothe, and touch us most deeply—and we also find them in the things which hurt and disturb us most powerfully. Often, we think that we must suppress or ignore these parts of ourselves in order to find love.
Yet the very reverse is true: When we learn to name and understand these profound parts of ourselves, we find a key to a richer future and a much more direct path to real and lasting intimacy. One dictionary definition of the word intimate is “belonging to or characterizing our deepest nature.” Our Core Gifts represent our deepest nature. In my work as a psychotherapist specializing in the search for love, I have found this formula to hold true: To the degree that we treasure our Core Gifts (yes, treasure; dispassionate acceptance of these gifts is not enough):
- We become more attractive—and more attracted—to people who are right for us.
- We lose our taste for people who are unkind or unavailable.
However, the reverse is also true: To the degree to which we are ambivalent about our gifts, we are more likely be attracted to people who can’t love or accept us for who we really are, and we’ll be less likely to find and keep intimate love relationships with people who are essentially available and accepting of us.
The Two Questions for Discovering Your Core Gifts
The easiest way to discover your Core Gifts is to spend time thinking about these two questions:
- In your relationships, which type of interactions move, touch, or inspire you most?
- In your relationships, which type of interactions hurt and trouble you most?
These questions are two of the greatest pathways to understanding the deeper story of our lives and our entire intimacy journey.
Finding Your Core Gifts in Your Joys
The quickest way to access our Core Gifts is by using the small experiences of joy and meaning in our lives as springboards. We can use these experiences in two important ways to speed and empower our intimacy lives.
First, when we open to these positive experiences more fully and stay with them just a bit longer than we might normally do, we actually develop our capacity for love. These moments are more than moments; they are actually portals into the deeper strata of our psyche, and the more we gain access to them, the more our ability to love grows.
Second, when we pay attention to these positive experiences, we discover what types of interactions and experiences inspire us and give us an inner green light to move into deeper intimacy. When we take the time to notice these patterns, it’s like a connect-the-dots game. What emerges is a picture of our Core Gifts.
Each of these moments of inspiration is different, and each moment illumines a different facet of our nature. In those moments, there is a sense of truth, not necessarily a grand, universal truth, but a feeling that says, “This touches me where I live.” Such moments, easily passed over, are portals to our Core Gifts.
In my work as a therapist, I watch for these moments in the course of a session and try not to let them pass. I encourage my clients to stay with their inspiring moment just a bit longer. When they do, something surprisingly deep will often emerge. The more we simply savor our small moments of inspiration, the better we will come to know them—and the more we will be changed by them.
Our Core Gifts and Our Pain
We experience not only joy around our Core Gifts. We also experience our most intense pain around these parts of ourselves, because we intuitively feel that our identity rests there.
The very qualities that we are most ashamed of, the places where we have been most hurt and feel most insecure, all reflect our Core Gifts. For this reason, our past or current relationship pains hold the power to point the way to healthier love. The places where our heart has been broken reflect how deep our bonds can go.
We are most tender and vulnerable in the places we care about the most, so we have the potential of being the most hurt in these places. We are usually more sensitive than most people around our Core Gifts. In fact, one of the ways we know we’re touching a Core Gift is that we’ve repeatedly been told, “You’re too sensitive,” in relation to it.
In all probability, many people may experience us as too sensitive around our Core Gifts, because they don’t have the antennae that we have. We may notice things in our environment and in the interactions around us that other people are completely unaware of. Elaine Aron’s seminal work concerning Highly Sensitive People richly illumines these dynamics.
When we express these parts of ourselves to someone who doesn’t “get it” or who takes advantage of us, it can feel humiliating. Something inside us cringes. We begin to think, "Is there something wrong with me for this quality?" In fact, that’s another way we can recognize our Core Gifts. We’ve been embarrassed by them.
Also, most of us have had minor or major “car crashes” around our gifts, because our deepest immaturities and greatest points of dysfunction usually surround these gifts. Without a good deal of hard work, we will keep making the same two basic mistakes around our Core Gifts: suppressing them or acting out (expressing them in ways that are harmful to ourselves and others) in connection with them. Whenever a gift hasn’t had a chance to mature, there will be a lack of grace in the way we express it, usually shown in behavior that is overly aggressive or unnecessarily timid.
Our tears are a great gift because they reveal what matters most to us. Understanding the pains that were once wordless and knotted within us—and then putting an explanation on them—is life-changing.
Our task in the intimacy journey is to ﬁnd relationships that essentially feel right in the ways that matter most. To recognize what feels right, we need to know what feels wrong—and how to say no to it. In the course of our relationships and our day-to-day interactions, we can learn much about our path to intimacy simply by noticing what feels right and what feels wrong.
As we learn to honor our Core Gifts, the defenses that surround them slowly transform into skills, and we gain strength and capacity in our ability to be in an intimate relationship.
Honoring Our Core Gifts
Whenever you feel a Core Gift inside you, take an extra moment to stay with your experience. Appreciating the feeling will deepen you and allow that same gift to come up more frequently. Love of self and love of another begin with the honoring of our Core Gifts. As we learn to do this, we begin to feel more certain of who we are and what we are meant to do in the world.
I have found that the wisest way to get a handle on our gifts is to stand back a bit and allow a sense of awe for them. I have practiced this many times with my clients as they have revealed the depth of their love, their need, their tenderness, and their hurt. In those moments, I feel like a witness more than anything else.
Imagine standing in front of the vastness of the Grand Canyon. You can’t simply traverse it. You can’t enlarge it or shrink it. But you can stand on the edge of its vastness and feel awe.
Awe disappears when we chip away at ourselves for our imperfections. It returns when we name our gifts and recognize their humanity. Until we learn to name and cherish our Core Gifts, we will diffuse the very attributes which lead us to the kind of love we are seeking.
To ignore our Core Gifts is to commit an act of quiet violence against ourselves. To honor them is one of the most powerful acts of self-love we can achieve.
© 2014 Ken Page, LCSW. All Rights Reserved