We use love for a diversity of meanings, that don’t necessarily refer to love. If love is to be the foundation for healing and personal growth, we need to have a better idea about what we are really talking about.
Misconceptions about love abound, including the idea that romantic love is the only kind that matters. How do we find an Agape kind of love? How do we break past limiting definitions?
To dig into this topic more deeply we will:
- Look at How We Define Love
- Discuss Three Common Misconceptions about Love
- Examine Six Modes Of Loving
This discussion isn’t one of looking to psychology to find research which tell us what to think and feel.* Rather, these are ideas which are meant to bring us into clear ways of seeing our own observations around love and hopefully to spark new insights.
(* Note I am something of an interdisciplinary contemplative, so I love psychology along with all the other insightful studies of humanity.)
What is Love that forms the foundation for healing?
In modern times, confusion about love comes partly from the extremely broad way we use ONE WORD. In earlier times, and in different societies, there were a variety of words to describe love.
For instance, there were multiple Greek Words for love including:
- Phileo – Love As Friendship
- Eros – Physical, Sexual or Marital Love
- Agape – an immense or boundless love
- Agapao – a verb form of Agape, that is chosen and involves the use of one’s will.
- Storge – Family love, between members of a family
- Xenia – Hospitality
All but the last word appears in the bible (storge appears as its opposite astorgos), including the Hebrew word for love AHAB. Yet most were translated as one word, making you wonder what meaning is lost when you turn 5 or more words into only one.
In modern times, we could say ‘I love you, but only as a friend.’ However, for some people that seems like a cop out. “Your trying to get out of hurting my feelings, because you want to let me down easy. ”
What if you could say… I Agape You?
What if you could turn to my friend and say “I Phileo You”
You could put the same feeling you would have when saying ‘I love you’ to a romantic partner. Your friend could perhaps feel the truth of your love for him or her, because you don’t have to some qualification about what your love is not.
What is Agape Love?
The contemporary definition of Agape is slightly different than how the ancient Greeks defined the word. I saw definitions that said it was a boundless love from God, and that it was a word of love between people. I think our current sense of the word is ideal when you’re talking about Love that forms the Foundation for Healing.
In modern times, the infinite and unqualified are emphasized when discussing Agape love. There are no limits to this kind of love, there are no conditions that mean you qualify for Agape love or that you do not qualify for it. Agape implies a love that has an intensity, and a certain type of power.
Love As Wholeness
I believe that when love is a healing love has a type of wholeness. One person doesn’t get more love than another person. One person isn’t empty, giving all the love to everyone else. When you really are in a state of love, you don’t want to have MORE than the person you are loving. You don’t want to keep all the love for yourself so you can get ENOUGH.
Yet even when people are broken, or hurt and some way, the love can still be there. Parents who has difficulty expressing their love, may still love their child. However, the intensity of the love is impeded by a lack of wholeness. The metaphoric damn which is blocking an individual’s ability to love is not allowing that love to be present with fullness or in way that inhabits both the parent and the child.
Love therefore, is the most healing when it can be expressed with a wholeness. Love becomes an AGAPE kind of love, when an individual develops a greater capacity to love with wholeness. In other words, without limiting the love trying to keep control over it.
This isn’t simple.
There are many reasons we have to wish to control love. You may have been hurt in life in such a way that you are understandably reluctant to be hurt again. However, the natural limitations that come with being human, don’t have to limit us from examining love in more detail. Nor do they mean we can’t attempt to move in a direction that deepens our capacity to love with wholeness, using increased awareness to find a new starting point for love.
Three Common Misconceptions about Love
In order to circle closer to a clear understanding about agape love. It’s a good idea to look at some of our misconceptions. These misunderstandings are embedded in our society, and because our understanding is interlaced with these from a very young age. They are worthy of some serious reflection.
- Confusing Love with the Fear of Losing Love
- The Concept of Love as a Marketplace
- The Difference Between Selfishness and Self Love
The Fear of Losing Love
Not everyone realizes that the fear of losing love is visceral. It is tied to our survival.
A child crying in his crib, cannot get food on his own. If no one answers her cry, the hunger pains are all she can feel. The animal in us understands, in a non-verbal way, that our survival is tied to those humans coming to feed us. If they don’t love us, they won’t come, and we will die.
Babyhood may seem like a distant event, and making this connection could seem like a stretch to some. However, this aspect of the need for love is a piece in our motivation to find love. It is the reason we can feel so desolate when we face situations of abandonment. If you have wondered how to find your way out of the desolation of a romantic break up, the ending of a friendship, or the despair you feel after calls with a sibling or parent, you want to be looking for books on the topic of abandonment.
No… when we broke up with our romantic other, we weren’t actually abandoned. We are now adults who can feed ourselves, but some of the intensity of the feeling comes from this pre-verbal survival place. Why does the pain of the loss feel like it might kill us? That is because, in a way, we think it really might.
This isn’t the only reason that break-ups suck. As humans, I believe that love is part of having a full life and is important to our health. It is natural to feel pain when love is absent. Grief is a very real feeling that comes when love is lost. I don’t want to trivialize the complexity of grief, or the pain of loss.
However, the feelings around abandonment are talked about less often and its something people can become more aware of. It illuminates a human tendency to confuse love and the fear of losing love, because these two feelings became melded early on in our lives.
Is It Love or Fear?
Much of the time, especially in romantic love, we use the term love when we really are taking about the fear of losing love.
- “But I love her, I can’t live without her…”
- “If he doesn’t love me, I don’t know what I will do.”
- “I want a love that will last a lifetime, and beyond.”
The concept that you can’t live without someone, isn’t about the person you love.
It’s about you.
In the moment you talk about not being able to live without someone, you are talking about the fear of losing them. This is different than a time when you are filled with FEELING your love for that person. Your state of being is tied to health and healing. When you’re focused on losing love, that’s not a good foundation for healing.
The fear over losing a loved one can be intense.
I believe that this intensity is sometimes mistaken for passion. It’s hard to be truthful with ourselves around fear. We are adults and we aren’t supposed to be afraid of things anymore. Maybe we just don’t like the feeling fear, and want it to go away. It can be more appealing to name a feeling of desperation or fear with the moniker “love” than to really acknowledge (by giving name to) a feeling that makes us feel so helpless.
I’m not criticizing feeling fear around losing love.
That feeling is entirely natural.
However, we need to get clear on this, so we can identify what we are actually feeling and whether its love that is a foundation for healing.
In the podcast at the top of this article (Reflections on Healing – EP01), I talk about how my father dying at an early age, led me to be overly focused on wanting a soul mate in my 20’s. Who wouldn’t want a soulmate? Later in life, I realized that the intensity of that desire was my fear over re-experiencing the terrible pain I felt when my father died. I was looking for a guarantee. Dating someone who might not be right for me held the potential for pain.
I would have said at the time, that I desired a soul mate. Now I’d say I was afraid of the risk of loving someone who could hurt me. I was afraid of loss, so I was mainly focused around the fear of losing love. This is the type of thing we want to become more clear about if we are to begin to recognize agape love.
Love as a Marketplace
Erich Fromm, an astute humanist psychologist from the 20th century, talked about love as a market place in his book The Art of Loving. Fromm’s clear sighted analysis about love illuminates many of the ways we confuse love with other things, and he explains some key ways we struggle to become proficient at the art of loving. In particular, when we apply a materialist viewpoint to love, participants in a relationship begin to look at themselves in terms of their exchange value. What is it that I’m bringing to the table? Do I merit a valuable love partner in return?
Two persons thus fall in love when they feel they have found the best object available on the market, considering the limitations of their own exchange values.
Erich Fromm, The Art of Loving
As we mature we learn that external factors such as how I look, whether I own a car, and did I fix my hair just right, aren’t what determines whether we can love and be loved in return. However, issues around “what we bring to the table” can be pervasive even for the most self-aware individuals. The belief that we have to do something, or make ourselves worthy of love can persist.
Recently, I was listening to a mother who felt she had no value to her children.
“I have nothing to offer them anymore. They don’t need me, there is nothing I can do for them.”
What about the joy of being with you? Why is it that we feel we have to do something in order to be loving?
Partly, we want to offer things from our heart.
We want to feel that we can tend to our loved ones in ways that make a difference in their lives. Anyone who loves wishes to find a way to express how much they feel. However, the concept that you have nothing to offer, seems to me to be tied to the marketplace concept. It’s one of the ways we look to the external as the sign of love, rather than also valuing the quality of our inner state when loving.
Self Love and Selfishness Are Opposite Things
In Western society, we have strong moralistic teaching against selfishness.
- “It is better to give than to receive.”
- “Happiness can only be found through selflessness.”
Selfishness people don’t have self love.
- Love, including self love, is a state of fullness.
- Selfishness is a state of emptiness.
The reason a selfish person can never be satisfied, is because they are looking to the external to fill an emptiness inside. There is never enough. External fixes don’t fill an empty place up for long. Time spent with other people only fills the void temporarily.
On the other hand, when you are full of love, when you are brimming with it… You find yourself singing songs, giving hugs, and… well… WANTING to help others.
Self-love works the same way.
If your are in a state of agape fullness about your self, you feel a joy or a sense of contentment with yourself. The love of the self, is just as filling as the love of another person. In fact, it can be difficult to love another when you have no love or self care. If you have no self love, you can only find love outside yourself. Your relationships become about demand and need.
One of the ways to tell if your state is coming more out of selfishness then love, is to ask yourself whether you are trying to get one your needs met. Is there something missing that you are trying to get from another person? Or are you brimming with love so that it flows easily from you in the form of work, attention, or other expressions of connection?
Here’s the thing.
We are never going to be all one way, or all another.
We are going to have moments of loving. We are going to have moments of selfishness. The key area for growth here, is to figure out when we are one or the other, and to begin to be honest with ourselves about it. In this way, we know when we are in a state of love that can serve a foundation for healing.
Six Modes Of Loving
To begin examining our state of love, it is easiest to look at love in terms of how we relate to others. I talk about this in more detail in the podcast, but will give you an overview here.
I am using six modes of loving that were identified by Eric Fromm. He wrote The Art of Loving in 1956, and while many of his observations feel contemporary, and his model is a good one for understanding love, don’t get confused by his use of gendered terms. Every person is capable of loving in the any of the modes, although you may find you are more skilled in one or another.
We will briefly discuss these six modes of loving, and the ways they may or may not be expressed with fullness.
- Motherly Love – Universal Love for someone in your care
- Fatherly Love – Love which provides boundaries
- Brotherly Love – Loving other people as if they are family
- Erotic Love – Love that includes both the sexual, and love of the particular
- Godly Love – Love involving the Divine or the Infinite
- Self Love – Love of the Self 😉
Each of these pair off with each other, as you will see.
Motherly and Fatherly Love are modes of loving when you are responsible for another person in some way. Parent’s who aren’t fully capable in terms of loving may not exhibit either form of love. These modes can be seen between friends, and in mentorship situations.
Motherly love is often idealized as one that should be unconditional. We don’t want to confuse the wide range of mothering behaviors, with being in a true mode of loving unconditionally. A caretaker who is meant to be mothering may be coming from a selfish place, even if he or she appears to be exhibiting motherly love. In some cases, the care taking activities may be about appearance or about doing thing that make the caretaker feel good about herself.
These are limitations which keep this type of parental love from being in a state of wholeness. When an individual has developed their capacity around this type of love, he will love without qualifications. You are loved just the way you are. She will even be willing to bear separation because of wanting the best for you as her loved one. This type of love doesn’t have favorites, all are loved equally.
Father love is a love that imposes conditions. At its best, these conditions are about empowering the loved one. Alternatively, it can be more about father figure “getting what he or she wants” without regards to the needs of the “loved one.”
If an individual in the role of a father or an authority is coming from a selfish place, the boundaries are there so you will become what I want. Rules are about conformity, and pleasing the rule maker.
When father love is at the most positive, you impose conditions on another in order to provide boundaries in which to learn, and to create safety in which to explore the world. The ultimate goal is to model boundaries until the child or mentee is able to create boundaries for himself and to grow beyond needing you. This can be a thankless job. It requires a deep love, and an ability to recognize the true needs of another individual, as well as a willingness to be disciplined around providing structure.
Love of Equals
Like parental love, love of equals (non-caretaking) has both universal/unconditional types of love and love that involves the specific. Brotherly or a family feeling of love is universal. Erotic love is love of the specific, and doesn’t have to be sexual.
When fully expressed, brotherly love gives you a feeling of love for your fellow humans, without stipulations. You don’t need to “be something” to be allowed to be loved. The term brotherly love implies that you love another person as if she is family.
However, when the concept of family turns into us-against-them, we aren’t talking about an Agape form of brotherly love. Everyone is not included, and therefore the love is not in a state of wholeness. While it isn’t realistic to expect yourself to be in a state of unconditional love 24/7, our fellow people have so many ways to drive us crazy to the point where we may wish to seek an isolated mountain top upon which to grow old… we are missing out if we never have moments where we can feel an abiding love and fellowship with strangers.
For example, a group can serve as a place to safely learn how to love strangers. You can then begin to apply this skill outside the group. On the flip side, group affiliation can become the reason you go to war with people who “aren’t one of us.”
Fromm doesn’t limit the erotic mode of loving to the sexual, and I agree. While sexual passion can be the ultimate expression of this form of love, it also shows itself in other passions. A synergy can exist between you and another person, another activity, group of animals or anything that lights you up. These are the things you find endlessly fascinating, enjoyable, and love to share or talk about. They are the people or things that most fill you.
In the case of fatherly love, there is specificity because boundaries are created that keep the needs of an individual in mind. In the case of the erotic, the specific is in the very nature of the thing, it is the unique qualities of the person that make you feel more alive.
When this love takes a unhealthy character, it becomes obsessive. Having a passion in life should spill over into other parts of your life, because of a fullness or vitality found in a state of erotic love. Erotic love becomes obsessive when the person or object of love becomes the only thing that can make you happy. There is also sexual relations or physical interaction that feels erotic, but do not contain love and therefore leaving you feeling empty.
Love of the One
Love of God and Self Love involve love of one thing in a sense. In the Love of God You love outward, into the universe. In love of the self, you love inward, into your inner universe.
Love of God
Examine different beliefs about how to love God, or how God loves you is an interesting way to gain insight into your own or another’s beliefs around love. Limiting beliefs in the other forms of love can show up in definitions around God. Is your God a father who will only love you if you do everything he wants? Does your God have a favored group that is the “in crowd” for spiritual salvation.
You don’t have to humanize the divine in order to understand the potential of Love of God. The ultimate experience of this love is when your boundaries dissolve and you don’t feel any separation with the universe, called an ecstatic or unitive experience. In this way, you and the universe are one thing. You are the same. In the moment you feel it, you are filled with a boundless Agape love for all of creation.
While you can’t maintain this experience all the time, it can support you in feeling that you are not quite so alone in your daily life.
Properly constructed ceremony that includes a unitize experience, such as what I would teach in a shamanic workshop, can help you begin to embody agape love on a day to day basis and feel that you are more intimately connected to the universe. A proper ceremony is designed to both provide you with an experience, and give you a way of grounding it afterwards. When you become better at allowing this love to infuse your life, the ecstatic experience of oneness is a powerful Foundation for Healing.
Love of the Self
Ultimately love of the self is a prerequisite for all the other loves.
If you don’t know how to love yourself, it is difficult to come into relationship with other people from a state of fullness. If you examine the other modes of love, you can see where selfishness (i.e. a lack of self love) is a major barrier to loving effectively in those modes.
If you struggle with this, you may find that its easier to move into a state of love when you have opportunities to help others. However, if the “others” don’t have need of you, you are stuck with no way to feel love.
Some of you will have been taught to put everyone before yourself. That you have no right to put yourself first. This can make it difficult to learn how to get into a mode of self love. However, its important to remind yourself that loving yourself is not selfish. Selfishness is not love.
Avoid judging yourself when you struggle, and that could be your first step in being more loving with yourself. Find others who are a few steps ahead of you in this journey to share their wisdom. Books on mindset, and self care can give you ideas on how to grow in capacity around self love.
The premise of the Reflection on Healing Podcast and this article is that all growth and change begins with awareness. The purpose of learning about love, isn’t to judge yourself on whether your love is at the level of Agape love or not. Can you begin to truthfully recognize your state of love in different situations?
Your first step could be to pick one of the modes of loving, or one the barriers to love and try to pay attention and observe yourself. Simply realizing your own truths can be very helpful. For some of you, reading this article and having something you already knew validated, may be all you really needed at this time.
I have a workbook on Love as the Foundation of Healing if you want to explore these concepts more deeply.
You can also find more articles at my website: https://www.earthbliss.com/blog/
Lauren Torres – Lansing, IL
Copyright © 2019 [Lauren Torres]. All rights reserved
Do not reproduce with out express written permission.