The Art of Loving
Here we are again. Another Valentine’s Day. The time of the year when people think about who they love, who loves them, and whether or not they are lovable.
Thinking about love today, I was reminded of the book The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm, first published in 1956. A client of mine gave it to me in 2006. I was touched by this gift, as it was an acknowledgement of how she saw how much I value love.
Fromm says that love is “the only sane and satisfactory answer to the problem of human existence.” He wasn’t speaking of the romantic love we idolize on Valentine’s Day. Instead he spoke to an attitude that determines how one relates to the world as a whole. Not simply the object of one’s affection.
Lately I have been pondering the meaning of love as I witness so much hate in the political and social justice arenas. I often think–what if we let love lead? Seems so simple, yet somehow it eludes.
Fromm explains that love is active, and involves more giving than receiving. He states that care, responsibility, respect and knowledge are the main qualities of loving. What is it that keeps us from living out those characteristics daily and consistently?
My research with the neurobiology of shame has taught me much about fear and the autonomic nervous system. When an individual doesn’t feel emotionally safe, behaviors such as competition, deception, self-loathing, anger, rage, judgment, and hatred can take over.
When feeling emotionally threatened and alone, shame responses can create unloving behaviors as defenses seeking safety.
So what does it mean to be emotionally safe? Let’s start with what it means to be unsafe by looking at the definition of shame. Researcher Brene’ Brown defines shame as the “intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.”
When repeated circumstances in life leave us wondering if we are lovable, we may feel emotionally unsafe. Every action is a reaction that is seeking safety and survival. So many unloving behaviors are the result of the fear of being alone and unlovable.
Learning to love and trust oneself is the best way to override external circumstances that threaten emotional safety. This allows for compassion and empathy to grow. That is how we conquer shame. Wouldn’t the world be a much better place if we let love lead? Extending a hand to someone in need is love in action, according to Fromm.
This year be your own Valentine. Write a love letter to yourself promising to bring more care, responsibility, respect and knowledge into your life. Describe the ways you can do those things for yourself. Then share that love with all those around you.
“You were an expression of love before you were born,
you will return into love when you pass.
Between your first and last breath,
your true mission is to remember the love that you are
and to extend this love to all those around you.”