In my upcoming book “Healing Your Heart – A Journey Into Wholeness”, I am offering a new psychology of love. To create a psychology of love that lays a solid foundation for understanding how we work emotionally and cognitively, as well as providing a clear pathway to healing our hearts and becoming whole people, we must start with the most important question: what is love?
Let’s start with the dictionary. According to Webster’s, love is:
1. strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties
2. attraction based on sexual desire
3. affection based on admiration, benevolence, or common interests; an assurance of affection; warm attachment, enthusiasm, or devotion
4. unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another
And then there is the defintion of love given to us by the Greeks, who defined love in four categories:
1. Agape : love is unconditional love. It is love by “choice” even if you are not pleased. A good example is “God loves us with our faults.”
2. Philia: love is the dispassionate virtuous love, guided by our likes or our healthy or unhealthy needs and desires.
3. Storge : family love and the physical show of affection, the need for physical touch. Sometimes the love between exceptional friends.
4. Eros : the physical sexual desire, intercourse. It is the root word of erotic and eroticism.
All of the definitions above share a positive common aspect: that we are consciously connected with each other in the present moment, by choice, in a way that enhances our mutual well-being. And in general love is held as an ideal we strive for, and there is nothing wrong with that. But these definitions also share a denial or an ignorance in that they don’t pragmatically address the most important problem that love is meant to and ultimately has to address: emotional dysfunction, and how to resolve it.
The truth is that there is still so much dysfunction in individuals, relationships and families. The divorce rate and the amount of anti-depressants being prescribed paint a clear picture that this is true. Emotional dysfunction can compromise, break down and even destroy the love in our lives and when that happens, how can love even begin to address what has damaged it so much? The truth is, until we do the emotional healing work to regrow our own self-love, our love won’t be strong enough to reverse the damage done by emotional dysfunction.
So I want to offer a new, realistic and non-idealized definition of love which addresses the fact that so many people, trapped in dysfunction, are trying to find love and build their lives, relationships and families from a weakened and wounded place:
Love is the commitment to become conscious people – to do our emotional work, discover the ability to bring conscious emotional skills to the dysfunction that blocks our lives, and to resolve it.
This is love in action on the journey into becoming more conscious and whole in ourselves. It is our ability to love, learning and recovering through one conscious choice and step at a time as we journey into and through our emotional healing. This is love in healing and recovery, a work in progress that can be measured in real results through greater levels of feeling awareness, improved communication, fewer arguments, better boundary consciousness and improved emotional skills. In other words, becoming more conscious.
Using the right emotional skills and healing processes we can regrow love for ourselves and each other. Once we do our own healing work and transform our ability to love ourselves we can establish healthy patterns in our relationships and explore the wonderful possibility of passing these successful emotional and love skills on to the next generations.
In other words, if we really want to love each other consciously and successfully, we need to invest our hearts in doing the emotional work that breaks the cycles of Inherited Generational Dysfunction and establish a true, functional love that knows how to resolve emotional dysfunction.
When this kind of love is working in our lives, all of the other forms of love that we normally think of – unconditional, affectionate, loyal and erotic love – are greatly enhanced. They simply work better, rather than being used to mask or suppress the dysfunction that keeps us from connecting as consciously as we can.
Loving each other on top of emotional dysfunction will always take a toll on us. I see it every day in my clients. Clinging to unhealthy loyalty and codependency as the glue that tries to eventually create a successful relationship, too many people are loving each other in spite of emotional dysfunction, loving each other with all of the compensating patterns that allow us to “accept” that we won’t ever really resolve emotional dysfunction.
These compensating patterns – such as minimising, compartmentalizing, rationalizing and denying the dysfunction – take a toll on us. Why? If we live in these compensating patterns to just hang in there and survive in dysfunctional relationships, there is a core self-denial of our need for conscious, healthy love. That self-denial keeps us from being fully conscious of who we can really be. Over time, as self-denial in the face of emotional dysfunction limits the quality of love that we are giving and receiving, we become less and less conscious. We put on weight, drink, act out negatively on and with each other, have affairs, become suicidal, get depressed, lose our sex drive, isolate and hide from life, become our mothers, become our fathers, get divorced and generally suffer – and don’t really know why.
With each new conscious step into greater emotional awareness and skill, we grow a new ability to love and the symptoms I listed above gradually resolve. Everyone is different and will face a unique challenge given their family history and the dysfunction they inherited, yet I know that this new definition of love and the approach to healing, based in regrowing our ability to love ourselves and each other through the right emotional skills, works.