Thoughts on Love

There are psychological preferences as expressed through type, and then there are moral behaviors. A person’s type may determine how she expresses her values, but it does not determine the values themselves. A person’s type contributes to how he gives his gift, but the decision about whether or not to give the gift is a moral one.

Psychoanalyst and author Alice Miller writes that people who grow to adulthood without ever having been truly loved as children are similarly unable to truly love. In that case, “we can only try to behave as if we were loving. But this hypocritical behavior is the opposite of love,” she writes. Only “a loved child learns from the beginning what love is.” Others have to learn what love is in adulthood if they learn it at all.

A person’s psychological type doesn’t determine whether she makes the choice to learn love in adulthood, or instead follows her natural but hypocritical inclination to act as if she were loving. Making decisions about whether to learn to love or not, whether to search for God or not, whether to seek out and develop one’s own true self or not, and whether to keep one’s word, commitments, and obligations or not are all moral choices. Not one of these choices is determined by personality or psychological type.

Excuse Me?

I think that growing up unwanted and unloved are good excuses for being a psychological mess upon reaching adulthood. But there’s no good excuse for failing to really learn to love rather than acting as if you love, no good excuse for failing to love someone with all your heart, with passion and sincerity, by desiring and acting in ways that serve the needs of the beloved in addition to serving yourself. I see no good excuses for receiving good in one’s life and hoarding that good rather than sharing it. There’s no good excuse for being given the chance to heal–perhaps many such chances–and refusing it or betraying your healer, as Judas did Jesus.

Jesus told a story about a wealthy landowner who prepared to go on a long journey. Calling three of his most trusted servants to him, he explained that he’d be gone for a very long time. “I’m leaving you three in charge,” he said, “so you’ll need this money I’ve budgeted. Make good use of it and when I return, we’ll have an accounting.” The first servant received one talent, which was worth nine years’ of skilled work–$20,000.00 in 2004 dollars. The second servant was given two talents, equivalent to $40,000.00, and the third servant was given five talents, equivalent to $100,000.00.

When the master returned, he learned that all but the servant who’d been given one talent had doubled his money for him. The one-talent servant had buried his $20,000.00 in the ground and returned it unharmed to the master. The master was shocked! “What?! You buried my money in the ground when you could have at least put it in the bank and earned me interest?! Why did you do that?!”

The servant replied, “Oh, it’s your fault, sir. Everyone knows what a hard-hearted man you are. I was afraid of your anger; it’s your fault I buried the money.”  Not fooled by the servant’s blame, the wealthy landowner considered the fact that two of his three trusted servants had valued something greater than their own skins. They’d been willing to overcome their excuses and fear to profit from the trust and generosity their boss had showed them.

“If you had really believed I am the hard-nosed bastard you say I am,” the rich man replied, “You would have put that money in the bank rather than risk having it dug up and stolen. You would have at least earned me the interest that money would have earned had I never placed my trust in you. As it is, you used me to excuse the smallness of your own heart. You’ve broken my trust and failed to return anything on my investment. You’ve just proved that you’re not the sort of servant I want in my business.”  The boss then took the $20,000.00 back from the hoarder and gave it to the servant who had doubled his $100,000.00. “Get that lazy servant who buried his money in the ground out of here!” he cried.

And there was weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Love Gives

Love is not a Scrooge McDuck. Love is a giver. Isn’t that the gospel? “For God so loved… that He gave…”. Love is a constant yielding in the back of one’s mind, all the way to and beyond the boundaries of one’s heart. Love makes me always aware of the yield sign.

It’s not easy to love. Love doesn’t come naturally to us. If love came naturally, we’d all do love like we do whatever else comes naturally: urinating, defecating, fornicating.  That love with its giving, yielding, believing, hoping, patience, and kindness isn’t natural to us is obvious. People are natural-born takers, doubters, demanders. We’re impatient and unkind. We give up, we don’t run the race to the end; we let people down.

It’s all so jolly as we go along loving those who are easy to love, our friends, the ones similar to us, those who agree with us and think our plans are just grand. But just let a disagreement occur, a difference of opinion. It stops being such a fine, jolly frolic when our differences draw blood. Then the stakes are serious.

When people are willing to give up their right to have their own way, I know that they are truly awake and alive to love, regardless of their psychological type. Extraverts and introverts alike are able to love. Extraverts may do it with a lot of words and production, and introverts may do it quietly without drawing much attention to themselves, but the character of the love will be constant.

Love Yields

Love yields. Because love yields, it’s not possible for love to have its way in a conflict in which one person wins at the other person’s expense. When my loved one demands his own way and I yield to him, one of us has loved and one of us has not. Love has a concern for each person in the exchange, each person in the relationship.

“Love hurts, love scars, love wounds, and marks,” Nazareth sang, but love doesn’t have to achieve its ends through suffering. A person can always try to choose the path of love, a path that says, “I don’t want to win at your expense. I’m more than a vampire, sucking your blood; I’m more than a leech or a parasite, always taking and giving nothing in return. I hear that I’m causing you pain, and I’m sorry. What solution can we arrive at that will serve our mutual interests? What can we do to achieve peace between us?”

That kind of caring doesn’t arise from personality type; it is rooted in good character.

12 responses

  1. I am new on your website. still trying to figure it out, and also how to communicate with others on various topics

    • Oh, lordy. I’m sorry about your cat, too. 😦

      Yes, the whole quote at the end is Alice Miller’s. I read her “Drama of the Gifted Child” about once a year and benefit from it every time. It reminds me of how much suffering people do when they grew up unloved.

      I’ll probably keep harping on this, but you’re going to have all these grief reactions for awhile. You had about 18 months of a real life, and now that’s been taken away from you. You haven’t even been able to fully sort out your marriage, which was no doubt spent largely raising a challenging child. I know what that’s like, because every wounded child we’ve taken into our home and hearts has taken an incredible amount of energy, time, and effort. You practically sweat blood most days. That one needy family member takes almost everything the parents have; everyone pays. It takes gargantuan effort to maintain some kind of health in the face of that kind of need.

      This is multiplied when your child has a disability. Our daughter was mentally and physically disabled and there’s an entirely different set of challenges for parents facing that. You have the ongoing grief, trying to accept this reality of an always-dependent child. There are many other griefs and many fears.

      So of course you’re sad. And of course nobody in their right mind would want to have to suffer through that.

      I, too, sometimes think I would like to only feel happiness. But then I’d be a sorry writer. ;o)

  2. The agency did betray our trust and did not allow us to participate in the decision to move Katie out. They did it again when they talked to the social worker about placing Katie in a respite group home, without discussing it first with us. A respite home in which Katie had a terrible experience and that child has the memory of an elephant. They did it again when they changed the rules of in home support, without first telling us, without ever telling us actually, we found out by chance.

    It’s normal for children to leave home and I want that. The problem with Katie, as you know, is that she’s not an adult and never will be. Last night at supper we discussed with our son what we want to happen should her father and I die. If Katie should ever be diagnosed with cancer, we don’t want any treatment for her, except to keep her comfortable. This is not a normal supper conversation in most families I’m guessing but it is in our household.

    Nothing’s normal in our house and for the year and a half that Katie was gone I could convince myself otherwise but we’re not a normal family and we won’t have a normal life. I’m sad about that too.

    I’m sad about everything today. I love that last paragraph you’ve written, is that also by Alice Miller? It’s true, I would prefer to only ever feel happy but that’s not real life. In reality, all emotions are present in varying degrees throughout a day, a week, a month or a year. They come and they go, including anger.

  3. “If our actions will bring harm to others, even in the severice of some”good”, they are almost certainly deluded. If our actions do not come from a kind heart, from loving courage and compassion, they are deluded. If they are based on a distinction between “us” and “them”, they stem from delusion. Only to the extent that we act from the wisdom of no separation, understanding how we are woven together, will our intention bring benefit.” Jack Kornfield, The Wise Heart

    Pretty much what you said. And that’s the really hard part, stepping back and asking myself, “Why am I really doing this?”

    Yesterday I packed up most of Katie’s stuff at her house. We provided pretty much everything to get the house up and running because the other girl’s parents didn’t have any money and we do. I was fine with it. But I stripped the house yesterday, not just because it was Katie’s stuff but because I was angry. Not a good intention. I even knew it as I was doing it and still did it.

    The group home has known for a month that Katie is leaving and that most of the stuff would be going with her and they’ve done nothing. That’s how I justify it to myself but in truth, what I did was done out of anger and a desire for revenge. I’m still so angry at how things were handled and how things turned out.

    I’m trying to believe that things will turn out for the best. Last night as I wrote in my journal I asked myself “Do I really love Katie as much as I claim too, or am I lying to myself?” My words and my actions don’t always match. I love her but don’t want to spend that much time with her.

    It’s like my dogs. I loved them but I don’t miss having dog shit all over the back yard. I laid in bed this morning thinking, this will be my last morning to lay in bed without feeling tense for a very long time.

    I’m rambling now. Thanks for listening.

    • Deb, under stress I find I’m not very kind to myself or others; but I am particularly hard on myself. I wonder if you’re sometimes similar?

      I ask because I think it would be normal to be in your situation with Katie and to feel angry. That stuff from the group home is yours (that’s a fact); if you find another place for her, she’ll need it there (that’s a fact); the group home let you down (that’s a fact); and it’s normal and healthy to have all kinds of feelings about being let down and having to bring your daughter home.

      You were let down in a big way, here. You had launched your handicapped child and now your beloved but very difficult child is coming home to live. I doubt there’s anyone who knows you who doesn’t have some idea about how difficult and terrible this is for you!

      You love your daughter deeply. But because you don’t want to live with her any more, you question your own love. Come on now, my friend; think about that. I’m happy I have three kids coming off the top of my family this year. I can hardly wait to get all of them out on their own! Do you think, when I write that I’m glad they’re launching, that my husband and I don’t love them? Of course not. You’d probably say that we’ve done our time as parents and gone over and above the call of duty for some of these kids. Our happiness about having them move on in life doesn’t mean we don’t love them, and nor does your being upset over Katie moving home mean that you don’t love her.

      My point is that it’s natural to want your child to live apart some day, even when your child has a disability and can’t live on her own except in a sheltered environment. It’s also a given that anger is part of grief, it’s part of suffering loss. Negative feelings are just as real and important as the positive ones.

      We tend to think our negative feelings are wrong because we had a parent who found only some feelings acceptable, or live in a “don’t worry, be happy” culture. An “as if” parent of the type Alice Miller wrote about would want us to believe such feelings are evil. Any feeling that doesn’t support the bad parent’s way is 100% wrong. Any perception that’s “negative” would be bad, in that sort of a family dynamic. This is how people get the idea that any negative feelings they have about their children or other loved ones are “wrong” or somehow “bad.” This is how we begin to feel that we are bad people.

      I suspect this is some old tapes playing, telling you that being angry and taking your stuff with you is “wrong”. I suggest you turn the tapes off if you hear them. You would tell your best friend that it’s OK and normal for her to feel her feelings as she goes through the grief of a big loss. Your handicapped daughter having to move home is a big loss. You’re going to go through all those stags of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.

      I’m not suggesting that there was no vindictiveness or anger in your action of taking back the stuff you put in the group home. I’m sure there was plenty of anger. I’m suggesting that it’s likely that your anger is appropriate, real, and predictable.

      But what about the vindictive action of taking back the stuff? Is that wrong? Was it even truly vindictive? Vindictiveness is punishment, not consequences. If my kid drives drunk, I’m going to take away his car. Is that mean? Vindictive? No, it’s the logical and needful consequence of that kid’s dangerous behavior. Maybe you were being vindictive by taking Katie’s stuff back, or maybe you just happened to be angry while you were doing it. The anger alone doesn’t make it wrong, and taking the stuff back isn’t necessarily wrong. It all takes some sorting.

      Deb, the group home didn’t do their job. You had an agreement with them, an implicit and explicit agreement. You kept your end of the deal, but they didn’t keep theirs. They failed to protect your vulnerable daughter AND other disabled in that home. This is a broken covenant or promise of sorts that might even be actionable (not that one would want to go to court over that, but I’m just saying… it was a breach of promise).

      I’m going to leave my very long [and now edited] response with a quote by Alice Miller, from “The Drama of the Gifted Child:”

      If a person is able, during this long process [of psychotherapy] to experience the reality that he was never loved as a child for what he was but was instead needed and exploited for his achievements, success, and good qualities–and that he sacrificed his childhood for this form of love–he will be very deeply shaken, but one day he will feel the desire to end these efforts. He will discover in himself a need to live according to his true self and no longer be forced to earn “love” that always leaves him empty-handed, since it is given to his false self–something he has begun to identify and relinquish.

      The true opposite of depression is neither gaiety nor absence of pain, but vitality–the freedom to experience spontaneous feelings. It is part of the kaleidoscope of life that these feelings are not only happy, beautiful, or good but can reflect the entire range of human experience, including envy, jealousy, rage, disgust, greed, despair, and grief.

  4. True love yields, yes, but as a mother, a feminist, a lover, I wonder if the self gets sacrificed in the process. Is there a point where love say yes, I yield, but no further because this is where self-sacrifice starts?

    • Charlotte, great question. Yes, of course there’s a point or line at which love says “no more” for the human being. I’ve been thinking about that. A long time ago I read a book called “Love within Limits.” I don’t remember much about the book except for the title, which I thought was very good. Love does have boundaries.

      What I wrote in the “Excuse Me?” section above was this: “… acting in ways that serve the needs of the beloved in addition to serving yourself.” There’s a mutuality in love, the need to care for oneself at the same time one is caring for the other.

      There are great people such as Ghandi or Martin Luther King, Jr. (etc.) who are called to give up that boundary, I think. I think that at some point before they were called to do that, though, they must have learned to care for themselves also.

  5. My therapist told me that real love, mature love, is when you wouldn’t even think of doing something that you know would hurt your partner. I’ve got a ways to go, both of us do. We know so well how to hurt each other and neither of us is yet able to trust the other to not hurt us.

    It’s all about intention, isn’t it? What was our intent when we performed an action? Was it to hurt? To hinder? To wound? To heal? To Love?

    • Deb, wow, great therapist! Yes, it is very much about our intentions.

      You asked “it’s all about intention, isn’t it?” I was going to say “yes!” but then I thought about it for a moment, and I had a little hitch there. There’s the old saying, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” I never liked it much, but I do see some truth in it. I know some people who are always talking about their good intentions; but they don’t act on their intentions. They act “as if” they are loving, but they don’t really love. So I have a hitch, a little caveat in there.

      Where I have the hitch is that if my intention is to do no harm, and to do good, then I must find ways in which I can communicate my intention (faith, belief) through my actions (behaviors). It isn’t enough if my husband, for example, means well. He must do well, too. Otherwise, he may inadvertently hurt me. Certainly he’ll hurt me if he ignores what I tell him about myself and persists in “meaning well.” Does that make sense?

      Supposing my intention is to help someone. I make a decision and take action, but my friend doesn’t perceive help. My friend says, “Hey, what you did makes me feel controlled!” Hmm, a problem. I intend “help,” but my friend receives “control.” Why is that?

      Maybe my way of helping seems controlling to others because the roots of my “help” are in my childhood with a truly controlling mother who lied to me and said her control = help. Or maybe my way of helping truly is help, but my friend’s upbringing taught him that this sort of help = control.

      See? Either one of us, or both of us, can have a complex, an emotional knot, over something, and that knot can cause problems in our relationship. If we don’t persist in unraveling the knot, the knot can become part of a noose that kills the relationship or one of the partners in the relationship.

      This isn’t true only in marriage, of course, but in any relationship, for every relationship is a partnership.

      This is a very long response, but I just had to comment. I also really love this: “real love, mature love, is when you wouldn’t even think of doing something that you know would hurt” your parnter [another person]. Oh yes, I really like that. I know that’s true.

      True love doesn’t keep hurting the beloved.

    • Gianna, it’s not easy to yield. I find it one of the most difficult (if not *the* most difficult) of all spiritual disciplines, because I am just so stubborn, so willful.

      I imagine a Yield sign. Over the years I’ve learned to carry it with me. I feel what I feel, think what I think, and usually share both with the people I love; but in the end I know how to yield and I know that they often don’t and so I’ll have to be the one who does it. And I do it. I’ll yield , but I can’t say that I like it.

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