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50+ bell hooks Quotes to Read to Your Inner Child

Updated: Mar 27

"Love and abuse cannot coexist." - bell hooks

If you’re healing from any kind of childhood or relational trauma and you haven’t added the grounded wisdom of bell hooks to your healing toolkit, get excited because your life’s about to change. bell hooks is to self-parenting as sunshine is to daisies.

If I had to name five people who’ve been the most influential to my work on painful mother-child relationships and the mother wound, bell hooks would absolutely be on that list. Just reading her words leaves me feeling nurtured and cared for in a way that’s hard to describe. I hope you’ll find that extra something you’ve been looking for in her words, too.

1. Family is the first school of love

“We learn about love in childhood. Whether our homes are happy or troubled, our families functional or dysfunctional, it's the original school of love.” - bell hooks

2. Children can’t be loved by parents who don’t know how to love

“We like to imagine that most children will be born into homes where they will be loved. But love will not be present if the grown-ups who parent do not know how to love.” bell hooks

3. Punishment isn’t loving parenting

“Until we begin to see loving parenting in all walks of life in our culture, many people will continue to believe we can only teach discipline through punishment, and that harsh punishment is an acceptable way to relate to children.” - bell hooks

4. Abused children still love their abusive parents

“Being hurt by parenting adults rarely alters a child's desire to love and be loved by them.” - bell hooks

5. Punishment creates confusion

“There is nothing that creates more confusion about love in the minds and hearts of children than unkind and/or cruel punishment meted out by the grown-ups they have been taught they should love and respect.” - bell hooks

6. Love and abuse are mutually exclusive

“One of the most important social myths we must de-bunk if we are to become a more loving culture is the one that teaches parents that abuse and neglect can coexist with love. Abuse and neglect negate love.” - bell hooks

7. Calling abuse “love” doesn’t make it so

“No one can rightfully claim to be loving when behaving abusively. Yet parents do this all the time in our culture. Children are told that they are loved even though they are being abused.” - bell hooks

8. Love isn’t compatible with abuse

“Love and abuse cannot coexist.” - bell hooks

9. Children regard how they are treated by their caregivers as love even when it’s not

“Often, children will want to remain with parental caregivers who have hurt them because of their cathected feelings for those adults. They will cling to the misguided assumption that their parents love them even in the face of remembered abuse, usually by denying the abuse and focusing on random acts of care.” - bell hooks

10. The longing to be loved by one’s parents is not limited to youth or to healthy parent-child relationships

“Among grown-ups who were wounded in childhood, the desire to be loved by uncaring parents persists, even when there is a clear acceptance of the reality that this love will never be forthcoming.” - bell hooks

11. Men often don’t recover from childhood trauma

“Many men in our culture never recover from childhood unkindnesses.” - bell hooks

12. Dysfunctional families are not rare

“An overwhelming majority of us come from dysfunctional families in which we were taught we were not okay, where we were shamed, verbally and/or physically abused, and emotionally neglected even as were also taught to believe that we were loved.” - bell hooks

13. Our culture stigmatizes survivors of childhood abuse & neglect

“In my case, the more successful I became, the more I wanted to cease speaking the truth about my childhood.” - bell hooks

14. Power over is the antithesis to love

“A commonly accepted assumption in a patriarchal culture is that love can be present in a situation where one group or individual dominates another. Many people believe men can dominate women and children yet still be loving. Psychoanalyst Carl Jung insightfully emphasized the truism that ‘where the will to power is paramount love will be lacking.’” - bell hooks

15. Children are full people, not property

“When we love children we acknowledge by our every action that they are not property, that they have rights—that we respect and uphold their rights.” - bell hooks

16. Childhood trauma isn’t a function of poverty

“Adults across lines of class, race, and gender indict the family. Their testimony conveys worlds of childhood where love was lacking—where chaos, neglect, abuse, and coercion reigned supreme.” - bell hooks

17. Children are at the mercy of their caregivers

“As absolute rulers, parents can usually decide without any intervention what is best for their children. If children's rights are taken away in any domestic household, they have no legal recourse. Unlike women who can organize to protest sexist domination, demanding both equal rightts and justice, children can only rely on well-meaning adults to assist them if they are being exploited and oppressed in the home.” - bell hooks

18. Loved babies don’t always become loved children

“At the moment of my birth, I was looked upon with loving kindness, cherished and made to feel wanted on this earth and in my home. To this day I cannot remember when that feeling of being loved left me. I just know that one day I was no longer precious.” - bell hooks

19. Childhood trauma has long-lasting implications for future relationships

“When individuals are wounded in the space where they would know love during childhood, that wounding may be so traumatic that any attempt to re-inhabit that space feels utterly unsafe and, at times, seemingly life-threatening.” - bell hooks

20. Abusive parents are loved by their children, too

“Children from all classes tell me that they love their parents and are loved by them, even those who are being hurt or abused.” - bell hooks

21. Being loving isn’t an instinct

“Everyone assumes that we will know how to love instinctively. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, we still accept that the family is the primary school for love.” - bell hooks

22. Messages about our lovability in childhood often play out in adulthood

“So many seekers after love are taught in childhood to feel unworthy, that nobody could love them as they really are, and they construct a false self. In adult life they meet people who fall in love with their false self. But this love does not last. At some point, glimpses of the real self emerge and disappointment comes. Rejected by their chosen love, the message received in childhood is confirmed: Nobody could love them as they really are.” - bell hooks

23. We want to convince ourselves that “it wasn’t that bad”

“Too many of us need to cling to a notion of love that either makes abuse acceptable or at least makes it seem that whatever happened was not that bad.” - bell hooks

24. Recognizing the lack of love in one’s family of origin is intensely painful

“For most folks it is just too threatening to embrace a definition of love that would no longer enable us to see love as present in our families.” - bell hooks

25. It would be much easier to love if we knew what love is

“Had I been given a clear definition of love earlier in my life it would not have taken me so long to become a more loving person.” - bell hooks

26. Some of us never experience genuine love

“Those of us who do not learn how to love among family are expected to experience love in romantic relationships. However, this love often eludes us.” - bell hooks

27. We choose partners who are familiar to us

“Those of us who were wounded in childhood often were shamed and humiliated when we expressed hurt. It is emotionally devastating when the partners we have chosen will not listen.” - bell hooks

28. Seeing our childhood for what it really was takes committed effort and work

“Usually, it requires some therapeutic intervention, whether through literature that teaches and enlightens us or therapy, before many of us can even begin to critically examine childhood experiences and acknowledge the ways in which they have had an impact on our adult behavior.” - bell hooks

29. Children know punishment isn’t loving

“In early adolescence when we were whipped and told that these punishments were "for our own good" or "I'm doing this because I love you," my siblings and I were confused. Why was harsh punishment a gesture of love? As children do, we pretended to accept this grown-up logic; but we knew in our hearts it was not right. We knew it was a lie.” - bell hooks

30. The thought that we haven’t experienced love scares us

“Initially, I did not want to accept a definition of love that would also compel me to face the possibility that I had not known love in the relationships that were most primary to me.” - bell hooks

31. We try really hard to forget and deny the abuse

“Like many adults who were verbally and/or physically abused as children, I spent a lot of my life trying to deny the bad things that had happened, trying to cling only to the memory of good and delicious moments in which I had known care.” - bell hooks

32. For childhood trauma survivors, “peer pressure” takes on a whole new meaning

“Since we choose our friends, many of us, from childhood on into our adulthood, have looked to friends for the care, respect, knowledge, and all-around nurturance of our growth that we did not find in the family.” - bell hooks

33. “Tough love” isn’t love at all

“Most of us find it difficult to accept a definition of love that says we are never loved in a context where there is abuse. Most psychologically and/or physically abused children have been taught by parenting adults that love can coexist with abuse. And in extreme cases that abuse is an expression of love. This faulty thinking often shapes our adult perceptions of love. So that just as we would cling to the notion that those who hurt us as children loved us, we try to rationalize being hurt by other adults by insisting that they love us.” - bell hooks

34. Dysfunctional families aren’t dysfunctional 100% of the time

“My family of origin provided, throughout my childhood, a dysfunctional setting and it remains one. This does not mean that it is not also a setting in which affection, delight, and care are present.” - bell hooks

35. We aren’t “doing it for the attention”

“Often, critics of self-help literature and recovery programs like to make it seem that far too many of us are eager to embrace the belief that our families of origins were, are, or remain dysfunctional and lacking in love but I have found that, like myself, most people, whether raised in an excessively violent or abusive home or not, shy away from embracing any negative critique of our experiences.” - bell hooks

36. Families with lots of money can be flat broke when it comes to love

“One of the myths about lovelessness is that it exists only among the poor and deprived. Yet lovelessness is not a function of poverty or material lack.” - bell hooks

37. We can’t heal without love

“Only love can heal the wounds of the past.” - bell hooks

38. Love often isn’t like what we’re told in fairytales

“Several couples I talked with who have found true love enjoyed telling the story of how one of them did not find the other at all appealing at first meeting even though they felt mysteriously joined to that individual. In all cases where individuals felt that they had known true love, everyone testified that the bonding was not easy or simple. To many folks this seems confusing precisely because our fantasy of true love is that it will be just that—simple and easy.” - bell hooks

39. Loving people for real takes time

“The practice of love takes time. Without a doubt, the way we work in this society leaves individuals with little time when they are not physically and emotionally tired to work on the art of loving.” - bell hooks

40. We can’t grow without discomfort

“There is no change that does not bring with it a feeling of challenge and loss.” - bell hooks

41. Love is a verb

“The word "love" is most often defined as a noun, yet all the more astute theorists of love acknowledge that we would all love better if we used it as a verb.” - bell hooks

42. Sexism erodes our ability to love

“To know love we must surrender our attachment to sexist thinking in whatever form it takes in our lives.” - bell hooks

43. We can start by admitting how much we have to learn

“To open our hearts more fully to love's power and grace we must dare to acknowledge how little we know of love in both theory and practice.” - bell hooks

44. Good relationships aren’t “good vibes only”

“We learn compassion by being willing to hear the pain, as well as the joy, of those we love.” - bell hooks

45. Healing is often painful, especially at first

“In some cases when we are making the slow journey back from lovelessness to love, our suffering may become more intense.” - bell hooks

46. Love happens when respect happens

“There can be no love without justice. Until we live in a culture that not only respects but also upholds basic civil rights for children, most children will not know love.” - bell hooks

47. We weren’t taught what we needed to be taught about love

“We must face the confusion and disappointment that much of what we were taught about the nature of love makes no sense when applied to daily life.” - bell hooks

48. Generosity is an expression of love

“Generous sharing of all resources is one concrete way to express love. These resources can be time, attention, material objects, skills, money, etc. Once we embark on love's path we see how easy it is to give.” - bell hooks

49. Listen to the pain of lovelessness

“Getting in touch with the lovelessness within and letting that lovelessness speak its pain is one way to begin again on love's journey.” - bell hooks

50. Your parent’s failure to love you is not about you

“Years of therapy and critical reflection enabled me to accept that there is no stigma attached to acknowledging a lack of love in one's primary relationships.” - bell hooks

51. Love isn’t without pain or struggle

“False notions of love teach us that it is the place where we will feel no pain, where we will be in a state of constant bliss.” - bell hooks

52. We can’t love our romantic partners better than we’ve learned how to love ourselves

“We fail at romantic love when we have not learned the art of loving. It's as simple as that.” - bell hooks

53. Loving someone means hearing the hard things

“When we are committed to doing the work of love we listen even when it hurts.” - bell hooks

54. Healing necessitates looking at what we think we know about love

“And if one's goal is self-recovery, to be well in one's soul, honestly and realistically confronting lovelessness is part of the healing process.” - bell hooks

55. Many of us need to do the work of learning how to love as adults

“In order to change the lovelessness in my primary relationships, I had to first learn anew the meaning of love and from there learn how to be loving.” - bell hooks

56. Love requires action

“Love is an action, a participatory emotion. Whether we are engaged in a process of self-love or of loving others we must move beyond the realm of feeling to actualize love. This is why it is useful to see love as a practice.” - bell hooks

57. When we understand what love really is, we stop making excuses for abuse

“When we understand love as the will to nurture our own and another's spiritual growth, it becomes clear that we cannot claim to love if we are hurtful and abusive. Love and abuse cannot coexist. Abuse and neglect are, by definition, the opposites of nurturance and care.” - bell hooks

Looking for more from bell hooks? Check out these resources:

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