An AI generated image with a hand with hearts and question marks coming our of it, symbolizing the question what does it mean to love someone. Captures the themes of love, connection, and emotional depth with soft, warm colors and abstract elements.

What Does it Mean to Love Someone: A Personal Lesson on Love

Written by: Kelsey Elizabeth Matthews

I think all human beings have one deeply rooted core desire in common: to love and be loved in return. The severely broken world we live in complicates this simple and straightforward task. Thus, many of us wonder, “What does it mean to love someone?”

Having been raised in a home where narcissism, codependency, and substance abuse ran rampant, I now understand that my entire view of people and the world around me was tainted.

One of the most bitter pills I have ever had to swallow was that for the first 25 years of my life, I lived in constant abuse. I had a severely distorted view of what love truly is.

It is only now, shortly after my 26th birthday, that I got a lesson in love and understand what loving another person is truly about. It is nothing like what I learned during my childhood.

Growing up, I learned to equate love with selfishness, control, greed, materialism, fear, dependency, attachment, abandonment, and many other negative—and potentially harmful—things. 

The author as a baby.

A Healthy Relationship After Toxic Parental Love is Almost Impossible

When raised in dysfunction, you have nothing else to compare your upbringing to. It is only natural to feel as though your experiences are “normal.”

It isn’t until you have experiences that expand beyond your own little world that cognitive dissonance kicks in. You scratch your head and say, “Hmmm… wait a minute.”

This has been true for me. Sadly, like many of us, I took the negative patterns of behavior and conditioning that I learned into the world.

Looking back, I can’t help but wonder how much pain I caused others—people whom I honestly cared for.

Not out of malice, but simply out of ignorance. I genuinely didn’t know better. My experiences with interpersonal relationships did not include healthy modeling. I didn’t understand what love looked like.

This realization has been painful and has challenged me to forgive myself for what I didn’t know or understand. Now, I ask myself how many people have moved through life with a distorted perception of what love is truly supposed to look and feel like.

A photo of the author when she was a toddler.

The Biblical View of the Word Love

The Bible tells us that love originates in God. In the English language, the word love is overused and misunderstood. We “love” everything, making it complicated to define love.

The Bible does an excellent job of defining love for us in the New Testament. 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, says:

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

Corinthians 13:4-8

However… if we are honest with ourselves, how often do we see these things lived out in our day-to-day lives? I would say that most—if not all—of the issues in our suffering world stem simply from a lack of love.

I LOVE to love people. It is my favorite thing in the entire world. In fact, I always say that loving people is my superpower.

An image of the author in a red dress with a yellow cape drawn on behind her. The quote from her regarding what does it mean to love someone reads: I love to love people. It is my favorite thing in the entire world. In fact, I always say that loving people is my superpower.

However, it is one that I have had to learn how to use safely and effectively through a lot of trial and error. The love that I have felt for people in my past was always true and genuine.

Unfortunately, it sometimes became misguided and distorted because of my own unhealed wounds and patterns of codependency, which I have since done the deep and difficult inner work with God to heal.

Learning What Love Means: Separating Real Love From Passionate Desire

How do you describe love? The American Psychological Association defines it as “a complex emotion.”

As someone with a very pure heart and sensitive soul, I have constantly struggled to live in an environment where love has become so romanticized, sexualized, and capitalized.

Ironically, even though I grew up without a true example of what genuine love looked like, I have always had an overwhelming amount of love in my heart for humanity.

I often find myself deeply moved by the suffering of people and animals and the amounts of evil, cruelty, and oppression that exist.

While many have been taught to equate love with things like sexual desire, sexual attraction, and the intense feeling of romantic love, I have never been one to function that way.

Others see people’s bodies and appearances. I peer into their hearts and souls. Depending on what truly lies beneath the person’s surface, that is a beautiful or frightening experience.

I love in a deep and pure wayit often scares people or gives them the wrong idea.

As much as I have tried to change and “tone myself down,” if you will, I just haven’t been able to. I don’t know how to be anything other than authentic, which can be difficult and very lonely.

In relation to this, though, I always feel it is essential to clarify that my kindness is not a weakness. As much as I love people, I will also hold them accountable, especially when injustice or mistreatment has the potential to harm others.

I believe in fighting for the little people—those who are most vulnerable and cannot fight for themselves—and I have learned that this, too, can be an act of love. 


Learning What Selfless Love Looks Like

When I look back, it hurts my heart to see that some of the most unloving people I have ever encountered were in church. This cultural phenomenon is becoming all too common.

What should be a place that helps define love and compassion is the place where a person experiences toxicity, selfishness, and other negative feelings.

Even after coming to know and accept Jesus, my spirit would still become disturbed by how cruel, judgemental, and just overall unloving some of these people wereand what was even worse was when I began emulating them.

In fact, I realize now that some of these toxic religious settings actually encouraged my codependency further and fostered a sense of learned helplessness that only kept me stuck in these unhealthy patterns.

Some of these settings made me into a version of myself who I didn’t like and wasn’t meant to be.

However, since removing myself from these environments, seeking to truly love God, and allowing Him to go deep into my woundedness, I have become whole in a way I never thought possible.

I have become a version of myself that I honestly can say that I love. In turn, I can love others so much better.

It Was Not an Easy Path to Learning This Important Aspect

God has often brought people to me and told me to love them. He has assigned me to specific people–women in their 50s and 60s who have been through substantial trauma and abuse in their own lives–and instructed me to meet them where they were.

This means sitting with them in their pain and simply showing them love. This always started well, but it often took a huge turn in the wrong direction when my ego and unhealed wounds got in the way.

Suddenly, loving them turned into a deep desire to want to fix them, ultimately leading to a devastatingly codependent relationship in which I ended up on the receiving end of a lot of abuse and mistreatment.

Our Relationship With Our Parents Effects Who a Person Believes They Are

This stemmed from my childhood experiences around being made responsible for my mother’s well-being as I watched her substance use ultimately end her life.

My inability to set healthy boundaries and my bad habit of projecting all of my best qualities onto others have definitely led to some painful outcomes.

God has often had to comfort me after the fact as I ask Him how things could have gone so wrong when my intentions for them were so pure.

“I told you to love them, not try to fix them,” He has said to me more times than I can count. This uncovered the savior complex that existed beneath the surface, among many other undesirable things I have had to sit with and work through.

An artistic AI generated image of a woman gluing a heart she cut back together. It symbolizes the growth of the author and her journey to answer what does it mean to love someone.

Coming face to face with your own toxicity is painful. To say that I have gone through a massive ego-death these last six months would be an understatement.

The Friendships I Had With These Women Taught Me So Much

I now recognize my role in these scenarios and never meant to harm these women. I truly loved and cared for them deeply, and my intentions were always pure, even if they were misguided in my ignorance.

Ideally, I would like to think that I had some kind of positive impact on each of them.

But a loving relationship with them was not possible because I hadn’t come to truly love myself in a healthy way and allow God to fill the voids and cracks in my heart.

You cannot model what you do not possess. I have learned that our relationships with others often directly reflect our relationships with ourselves.

Only since I truly surrendered everything to God and became secure with Him have I been able to become secure within myself.

The closer I have drawn to God, the more I understand what Jesus meant when He commanded us to love others as ourselves.

That truly starts as a deep, inward process of healing, self-awareness, personal accountability, and emotional intelligence.

I am Still Learning to Practice Love

In just a few weeks, I have undergone yet another spiritual awakening and a huge transformation.

Even as I write this, the gentleness and compassion that I feel flowing for myself and others sharply contrast with a blog post I wrote not too long ago that was still full of hurt, bitterness, and unforgiveness.

Upon reflecting on this, I recognize that this change in me was directly linked to another woman—a dear friend—that God recently sent into my life and has given me the honor and privilege of getting to love.

This time, I can thoroughly say that I understand the assignment.

This beautiful soul showed up in my life five months ago in the most unexpected way. Through her, God has shown me what it truly means to love another person.

This lesson in love, and subsequently in selflessness, has undoubtedly changed me forever.

Learning to Recognize Attachment

Throughout this process, I have truly understood the difference between love and attachment. Attachment is rooted in the ego and often based on fear and selfishness.

However, while attachment revolves around the self, love is the exact opposite.

Love, in contrast, prioritizes others… Sometimes, the most loving thing you can ever do for someone is to let them go. It is one thing to want someone in your life, but it is another to try to keep them there when that may not be what is in their best interest and highest good.

Through this, I have learned that finding the balance between loving yourself and loving others is crucial to the health and success of any relationship.

Giving someone the choice to walk away if they need to is one of the purest, most genuine acts of love you can ever extend to someone, no matter how much it would break your heart to watch them go.

The Deep Feeling of Love Encompasses Other Emotions

Most of us have heard the quote, “If you love someone, set them free. If they come back, they’re yours. If not, they never were.” However, I would add that you actually have to give them a chance to return.

Giving someone a choice and free will to stay in or exit your life is an act of love. If you strangle them to death in the process because you’re still acting out of fear and trying to control the narrative, everyone loses in the end.

The what-ifs will eat you alive.

I learned this lesson in the most painful, destructive way possible. In that process, I lost someone that I know I will never truly get over because of both of our own mistakes.

This begs the question: if insanity is caused by doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result, isn’t it safe to say that peace can be found in learning from our past mistakes and making a conscious decision to do it differently moving forward?

Embracing Imperfection: The Power of Love and Healing

All the experiences I have reflected on here have humbled me to the point of realizing that we are all wounded in our ways and can be toxic and cause harm to others, even unintentionally.

At the end of every day, we are all flawed, imperfect individuals who do our best to navigate the world as best we can.


I am sad that the world around me is in shambles, and so many people are suffering. I don’t know why some people choose to heal and do the work while others don’t.

Or why some people turn cold while others choose to keep their hearts open?

There is freedom in accepting that I will never have all the answers.

As much as I wish I had the power to swoop in and fix everything for everyone, I know I do not.

However, I am reminded of the gift—the superpower—of love that God has given me.

Now, I understand the assignment. I know that love truly is the answer. I may not save the world, but I can change it, one person at a time. 

5 thoughts on “What Does it Mean to Love Someone: A Personal Lesson on Love

  1. Barb

    To realize that we don’t have the power to fix everything, to move past the want or need to control a situation for others by our actions, is so powerful. I struggle with this also, but am learning. I consider it a superpower. My belief is that dawning creates more kindness.
    Thank you for sharing your story.

  2. Anne

    So heartfelt. I relate to this so very much and you clarify everything so well. Thank you so much for your words of inspired wisdom. Your testimony will bless everyone who reads it. Just like God catches every tear, He uses your seeds to further His kingdom.
    I’m so proud of the amazing woman God called you to be.

    1. Danielle Dahl

      Thanks so much for leaving a comment. We agree, Kelsey is pretty amazing! We are thankful she chose to share her story with us! We hope you take a moment and read through some of the other inspiring content on the site, too.

  3. Melissa Keefe

    As someone with an extensive trauma history who has done the work I always find myself asking similar questions. Why do some rise above their hurt while others perpetuate the cycle? I have always led with an open heart-I’m empathic and intuitive. I was a social worker for 15 years and always worked from a place of love and respect regardless of what led a client to me(I worked in child protection). I prefer to think of myself self as spiritual be religious because I have encountered some of the biggest hypocrisies within institutions. I think your story has the ability to have an impact on many people.

    1. Danielle Dahl

      Thank you so much for leaving a comment. We appreciate Kelsey’s willingness to share her story and also believe it will inspire many people! We hope you take a moment to read some of the other inspiring content on the site, as well.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *