How to be loving?

I can’t teach a person to feel loved by me, if I don’t feel loving towards him. That’s a simple fact. But can I feel loving towards every person with special needs, and doesn’t being a professional caregiver mean that I should keep some emotional distance between me and the person?


Use of the words ‘loved and loving’ related to care for people with special needs, is the source of many disputes. Many people think these words should be restricted to the private domain of the caregiver and should not be part of his or her professional relationship with the ‘client’.


In the early years of gentle teaching, we didn’t use these words, perhaps to avoid endless discussions. We used words like ‘respect’ and ‘unconditional valuing’. But we also realized that these words, however true, don’t express the real essence of the relationship the special person longs for and which is the primary focus of gentle teaching: companionship.

So now we do use the words ‘loved and loving’, and we want to explain why.

With the words ‘loved and loving’ we give words to the personal engagement we feel with the person and that from this engagement you do whatever you can for the wellbeing of the person. The essence of this engagement are the warm feeling we have for the person.


So loved and loving has nothing to do with ‘being in love’. It’s a universal/spiritual way of love, described for instance in most religions. This doesn’t mean however that you have to be religious to feel this kind of love for other people and to express it in the relationship you develop and the help you offer the other when he needs your help. Love and compassion are the core qualities of every human being.


We all know moments in our life when someone near to us suddenly got sick, got an accident or for some other reason became sad, fearful or insecure. When that happened, without hesitation, we felt deep compassion with this dear one and did whatever we could do to help.

We didn’t help to get a compliment or thanks, but just to help the other; fully out of altruistic feelings.


Should we develop this love towards every person?

Of course it’s too much to ask to have this love towards every person you meet. Probably nobody is able to do that. And is isn’t necessary, because most likely every person has a loving relationship like this with one or two relatives. They can give him what he needs.


But what about the people with special needs you are serving. Do they really feel unconditionally loved by their caregivers?

The reality is that many people with special needs don’t feel unconditionally safe and loved, they don’t feel companionship. Not with other special people and not with their caregivers. For people with special needs it’s even more important to feel companionship with every caregiver; not with just one or two members of a team. They needs to feel safe and loved every day, regardless who is on shift.

For the caregivers this means that they should learn to develop loving feelings towards every person they serve, and not only towards the persons they like anyway.


Can we develop loving feelings for all the people we serve?

These loving feelings and actions arise spontaneously towards people we feel personally connected with and with whom we have a loving relationship. That is a prove that we all have the quality of unconditional love inside us. So actually we don’t have to develop it. 
We have to find out why it arises spontaneously with some people and not with others. If we find out what this is, we can learn to let go what it is that block our loving feelings.

There are several ways to do this:


See the other person as your brother or sister

See the other as someone dear to you, like a brother or a sister, or you children if you have. For your dear ones you get loving feelings spontaneously. You can use this to develop the loving feeling also for the person you serve. Now imagine this person is your dear one; what would you wish for him or her? Even if his or her behavior is harmful, what do you think he/she needs the most: punishment of loving support?


Learn to let go

The second way to develop loving feelings for a special person begins with learning to let go. In our mind we hold on to all kind of concepts, expectations, judgments, values, moral standards, etc. When a person does something which is not in line with our convictions, it may irritate us, disappoint us, make us angry, etc. Holding on to our convictions means that we are too much busy with our self and not with the other person. It’s better to focus on how he feels and what he needs. That doesn’t mean that our convictions are not important, but that they are not relevant for this moment.

Jeffrey has a severe intellectual disability and autism. When he gets nervous he can start hitting other people. For the caregiver it is clear: you should not hit another person. With this conviction he sends Jeffrey to his room.

Of course hitting is not good, but the reality is that Jeffrey can’t help doing it. Our social standards have no meaning for him and due to his stress he can’t control his acting out behavior. If we can realize this, we can let go our negative judgment on the behavior and see what Jeffrey needs to calm down again.


Arousing positive feelings

It’s not only for the benefit of the special person, but also for our own benefit, if we have warm feelings toward the person. We can arouse these feelings intentionally.

We can identify five different feelings towards a person:

  • Joy
  • care
  • love / compassion
  • irritation / anger
  • fear
  • powerlessness


The first three feelings are positive feelings; not because they are better than the other feelings, but because of their result. These feelings help you to relate with the person and they give you satisfaction.


The last three feelings are negative feelings; not because they are worse, but also because of their result. They stand between you and the person, and they cost you a lot of energy.

The more positive feelings you have and the less negative for a person, the easier it is to develop companionship.


Working with your feelings means that first you have to be aware of the feelings a person  calls in you and why. Then you try to increase the positive feelings and decrease the negative ones.

Increasing joy is possible by looking more explicit to the positive qualities of the person. You may also ask others, like parents and colleagues, why the like the person. By looking to these aspects, you may feel more joy in the presence of the person.


Care you get when you look at the problems a person is faced with. Don’t look at his behavior and the harm it may do to others, but look at the emotions and feelings of the person which are the source of this behavior. See how vulnerable he actually is. This will almost automatically open you heart and evoke concern towards the person.


Care is the ground for love and compassion. From realizing that actually the person is suffering and that he needs you, your heart will open further and feelings of love and compassion will arise.


Working with your negative feelings is more difficult. The first rule is that it’s not good to ignore or suppress these feelings. This will only harm yourself; it costs you a lot of energy, and it won’t help you in your relationship with the person. On the other hand you don’t have to express these feelings in behaviors like shouting, hitting, running away, talking about your frustrations, etc. There is a middle way.

First examine what causes these feelings

  • why are you getting angry?
  • why are you afraid?
  • why do you feel powerlessness?


Of course it’s difficult to examine these feelings at the moment they arise. So in the beginning you do this afterwards.  After an incident which made you emotional, in your imagination you play back the movie and look what really happened. What did the person do what causes your emotions? Than look deeper, could the person help doing what he was doing, or didn’t he have the insight or inner control to behave otherwise. By doing this kind of reflections / visualizations often, you get more experienced and there will be a time that you can do it ‘on the spot’.


Anger is usually caused by only looking at the behavior of the person and not at his vulnerability and the emotions which are the inner cause of the behavior. We think the person ‘knows better’, or that he intentionally wants to hurt others, while actually he feels emotional and he has no inner control over his actions. By looking at the aspects, our anger usually fades away, and the energy of the anger can be transformed in the energy of love and compassion.


Fear can be very realistic when the person is aggressive and may harm us. But if we let the fear control our actions, the situation will only get worse. Out of our own fear we may react in a way that will only make the other person more afraid himself and so also more aggressive.


We have to be realistic. What damage can happen to us and how can we protect our self? How can we get help? And even more important; how can we - at the moment itself - make contact with the vulnerable aspects of the other person. Then maybe from our love towards him we can reach him where he needs our support; even at this stressful moment.


The feeling of powerlessness is probably the most difficult feeling to deal with. It means we really want to help a person, change a situation or prevent things to happen, but we can’t. No matter how hard we try. Usually we have three options to deal with the feeling of powerlessness:

  1. we get angry at the person who causes the problem
  2. we think negative about our self; we should be better caregivers
  3. we start complaining about the circumstances we have to work in

Neither one of these three options is very helpful. They cost a lot of energy and won’t change the situation at all.


The fourth option is the best one. We have to accept that we can’t change the world. We can only do our best, but some things are beyond our control. We are only humans. This doesn’t mean that you just let go everything. You do whatever you can do – and you are proud of doing this – and you accept that nevertheless you can’t fully control the situation.  

There is a very wise saying: 

If you can solve a problem, don’t worry about it.

If you can’t solve a problem, don’t worry about it.

Only when we can fully accept our own limitations, we can be open for companionship with the person.