Chapter 3 of Love is a Choice, by Drs. Hemfelt, Minirth, and Meier, is so packed with knowledge that I’ve decided the take it in chunks. The first portion of the text speaks about “Love Tanks”, and this idea lit up so many bulbs for me that I think it is worth pausing and reflecting upon in detail. It reads,
“Imagine being a newborn child possessing a heart-shaped love tank deep inside yourself. Were the tank to have a gas gauge, it would be nudging empty at the beginning.
Now picture above that tank two other tanks, your biological parents. Over the course of years they fill your tank from their own tanks. Fifteen or twenty years later, as you wean yourself from the original family and go forth to build a family of your own, your tank is pretty well filled. Now an adult, you’re primed and ready to fill the tanks of your own children, who in turn will be able to fill the tanks of their children. Thus in a normal, functional family, love is transmitted from generation to generation, poured down from parents to children.”
The authors then go on to explore what happens when your heart tank is not adequately filled due to an absent parent, dysfunctional family relationships, or unhealthy mindsets. What occurs is, you begin to search for things to complete the void, to erase the feelings of emptiness or “lacking”.
Personally, this hits home hard. I grew up without a father since birth. Though my mother, being the amazing woman that she is, raised me in a life where I didn’t want for much, my heart tank was only half full from the beginning. To be honest, it was probably even less than that because my mom grew up without a male figure in her life as well. This totally explains the “emptiness” I’ve felt throughout my life that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.
So I tried to substitute my missing parental love with external “love”. I started dating at a young age, thinking a boyfriend would solve all of my problems. The first real relationship I had was with the son of a very prominent figure at the church I was attending. That’s where I first felt like I found my worth. He, the boy who was coveted by all the girls at school and loved by everyone in our religious community, picked me. That had to mean I was special, right? When he finally asked me to be his girlfriend, I was complete. I could die right then and there, and I would feel as though I had accomplished everything in life. So when he broke up with me because God told him that I was a distraction, my whole world crumbled. I felt as though the very air was being sucked from my lungs and there was no point in living another day. I was a mess.
From then on, I bounced from relationship to relationship, terrified of being alone, so much so that I would take almost anyone who passed my way if it meant they would have me. Thus, I found myself in some extremely unhealthy relationships. I dated men who cheated, lied, were addicted to hard drugs, stole, and were physically aggressive simply because I needed someone to fill my heart tank. But I couldn’t…no, REFUSED…to see that truth in the moment. Recognizing that a relationship could potentially be harmful was a ridiculous notion to me for a long time.
The problem was, all of those guys that I dated clearly had lacking heart tanks as well; theirs were just as empty, if not emptier, than mine was. So, even though they filled my tank for a little bit, they quickly ran out of fuel, and it was just never enough to fully satisfy my need. THAT’S the important thing that I learned after reading this chapter – when you have empty heart tanks, the only person who can fill it is you (with the help of your Higher Power in whatever form you believe). Being aware of the void that has resulted in your heart because of the ugly curve balls life can throw is the first step. After that, it takes intentional steps of recovery and growth to slowly refill one’s tank. Only after you have worked on yourself can you maintain healthy relationships.
This just refueled my fire to “refill my tank”. Even though I am in a commitment right now, I feel like I found a man whose heart is overflowing. Thus, if I’m not careful, I will drain him to complete emptiness with my needs. I want to be able to contribute to his tank just as much as he does mine and hopefully one day, our children’s’ too. But even more than that, I want to feel full. I want that satisfying, lean back and unbutton the top layer of your jeans type satisfaction that comes with knowing I have taken care of myself; I have refilled my tank; and I have finally gotten to a place where I can outpour into the hearts of others who may need a little extra love.
I know it will be a long, intentional journey, but it will be worth it. I am worth it….simply because I am.
How’s your heart tank today?