A short definition of love by Roberto Assagioli from his book Psychosynthesis Typology:
“Everybody is interested in Love. It is one of the most-used words in the language, — probably the most frequently used after “I” and “money”. Nearly everybody either has been or will be in love. Love-songs fill the air; thousands of authors write love-stories which are read by millions. People love many kinds of things; sweets and children; the opposite sex and their own country; flowers and paintings; books and God.
It should be obvious that we know what love is. But if we pause and really try to think about its meaning we soon discover, to our embarrassment and humiliation (if we are honest with ourselves) that love is incomprehensible to us, contradictory and mysterious; and if we ask ourselves to make an exact and full definition of it, we are quite at a loss.
This surprising and embarrassing discovery helps us to understand the important psychological truth that experience and true knowledge are two very different things. Usually, in order to know, we must experience. For example, we can perceive a tree and in so doing we not only see it but also have a sense of its beauty. But we remain ignorant of its internal structure, the natural laws that made it grow and the qualities of its wood.
In order to gain true knowledge we need to make a sound and systematic inquiry and then an intelligent assessment of the facts. In Natural Science, knowledge can be acquired at second hand without direct personal experience by looking at the results of research work carried out by others. For example, when studying a treatise on astronomy, we can gain a precise knowledge of the chemical composition, size, weight and distance of stars we have never seen.
In psychology, on the other hand, knowledge can only be gained by direct, personal experience. This is because only information quantity and objective facts can be conveyed by means of words and data; information about quality and subjective impressions cannot be conveyed in this way. Nevertheless, direct experience, however necessary, does not provide a sufficient sense of meaning on its own.
It only gives us sensations and feelings; if these are to be truly “known”, they must be assimilated with the help of the intellect. Beyond this process of simple assimilation, synthetic knowledge, which brings true understanding, further requires the intuition.
Because of this it should not surprise us that the experience of being or having been passionately in love does not provide us with a proper understanding of the true nature of love. Such an understanding is very difficult to gain because there are varied and contradictory elements in the various experiences of love. We find a mixture of lust, greed and possessiveness on the one hand, and of generosity, altruism and self-giving on the other; we find instinct and intuition, active impulse and passive feeling, body and soul, matter and spirit.
However, there is another fundamental characteristic or quality that constitutes the essential nature of love through which its various and contrasting elements can be understood and, to some extent, reconciled.
If we examine the many varied manifestation’s of love, we invariably find that they express the law of attraction, of the tendency towards approach, contact, unification and fusion. But this general – possibly universal – tendency operates in various and sometimes conflicting ways.
1 Unification can be achieved by actively attracting to ourselves the object or person we “love” and taking possession of it. We do this in particular with the food we like that we literally swallow and assimilate; but we do the same with money and all kinds of material goods and try to do likewise with our husbands and wives, our children and friends. Fortunately for the objects of such a voracious and absorbing love, we often do not succeed in possessing them as we would like. In all too many cases, however, we do succeed in possessing and turning them into more or less consenting slaves and, in the case of children, into real psychic invalids.
- Unification can be the result of an opposite process: that of surrendering and abandoning oneself to something that we love and letting it possess and absorb us.
- Unification can also be the result of a reciprocal attraction, leading to approach and contact. This attraction can lead to the fusion of two or more beings who thus form a greater whole.
This analysis gives us some idea of the structural and functional aspects of love from an objective viewpoint and can also be helpful in arranging its many aspects into a coherent shape that reveals their relationship at various levels of human life.”
The following text is from The Act of Will, by Roberto Assagioli, p. 91-96.
To treat the subject of love as fully as we have discussed the will would require another book. But a brief consideration of some of the most important meanings of the word is necessary if we are to understand the relationship between love and will.
Types of Love
The first love is love for oneself. Mention of this may occasion some surprise, as love directed toward oneself is generally considered to be synonymous with egotism or narcissism. This kind of self-love does of course exist, but it is not the only kind; here, as always, the great complexity and multiplicity of the human being must be taken into account.
In the case of self-love, all depends on what we love in ourselves and how we love it. It is truly egotism if we love the egocentric and separative aspects in us, the craving of pleasure, possessions, and domination. But if we love what is higher and best in ourselves, what we are essentially, if we love our potentialities for growth, development, creative ability, and communion with others, then this love, devoid of egotism, urges us to live a life of higher quality. This love is then not only not an obstacle to loving others in the same way but, rather, a powerful means for doing so. As with all the types of love, self-love can be helped to regulate and direct itself by the will.
Love for other human beings is qualified by its object.
Maternal love (The terms “maternal” and “paternal” are used here to indicate specific types of love. In most cases, both types will come from each parent, although in different proportions.) may be considered the first and fundamental human relationship. In its initial form, it has an ablative quality, manifesting the mother’s willing devotion to the protection and care of her infant, a devotion in which the self-denial entailed is accepted joyously.
However, the growth of the child is accompanied by the development of a healthy independence, which puts the purely maternal aspect of her love to a severe test. Her very devotion and sacrifice in the early days of the relationship now can turn into attachment and possessiveness.
The son or daughter realizes this, even if unconsciously, and resents it. The more possessive and exacting the love of the mother, the more vigorous the rebellion of the child. Conversely, the more oblative the love, the more durable and deep is the loving relationship. Again, the wise use of will can make all the difference.
Paternal love presents a parallel process, although with certain differences. Here, too, the father’s basic love for his children has an oblative quality. But this initial eagerness to provide them with material and other help often gives place later to an urge to assert his authority and demand their obedience. Or else he may identify himself with a child to the extent of trying to mold him in his own image, an image which frequently is not particularly commendable! In other cases he may bring heavy pressure to bear upon his child to achieve what he himself has failed to accomplish, an unfair and usually unrealizable demand.
The result in most instances is rebellion; when instead the child submits, he does so unwillingly, and his feeling of frustration can not only hinder his development but may damage or even kill the previous loving relationship.
Love between man and woman is another area in which much semantic confusion prevails. It is the cause of frequent, I would say incessant, misunderstanding and subsequent conflict. Some writers call love for a person of the opposite sex “erotic love,” but the different meanings attributed to the word erotic render it ambiguous.
In common parlance, as well as in much literature on the subject, eroticism is understood in a purely sexual sense, sometimes being employed virtually as a synonym for pornography. On the other hand, some philosophers and psychologists, harking back to the Eros myth and the meanings given to it by the Greeks, regard Eros as the attraction of one sex for the other, generated by a desire to unite and merge with the other personal all levels, particularly the emotional one.
In reality, love between men and women comprises a mixture of physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual attractions in proportions that differ substantially for every relationship and also change in the process of time. This explains the great difficulty two human beings experience in understanding one another, and in harmoniously uniting and integrating. Hence, the suffering and conflicts that ensue.
The most familiar and general aspects of this love are passionate love, sentimental love, and idealistic love. No less important, though generally given scant consideration in the choice of a partner, is the love founded on intellectual understanding and that born of spiritual communion.
Let us now turn to the class of love relationships other than those between people of opposite sex. Here we have fraternal, altruistic, and humanitarian love. While they can be aroused and intensified by a feeling of compassion for human pain, they derive fundamentally from a sense of essential identity with one’s brothers in humanity. In some cases, such as “Franciscan love,” it embraces all living creatures. A full treatment of these love relationships is contained in P. A. Sorokin’s book The Ways and Power of Love, and in Martin Luther King’s The Strength to Love.
There is also an impersonal love, a love for ideas or for ideals. In this, too, various components and aspects are present. Fascination with an ideal, or the beauty of an idea, often gives birth to a dedication and self-sacrifice of a high order. But it can also lead to fanaticism and the ideefixe: a man may become obsessed by an idea or an ideal to the point of being blind to all else, incapable of understanding and cruel to those who do not share it or who oppose it.
Then there is a love so distorted that it might be called a caricature of love. It is the idolatrous love that takes the form of blind, fanatical admiration of the idols of the day, the stars of stage and screen, champions of sport, dictators and other leaders.
A sense of awe, wonder, admiration, and worship, accompanied by the urge to unite with that Reality, is innate in man. “Present in every age and every country, it has given birth to the many varieties of religious and spiritual traditions and forms of worship, according to prevailing cultural and psychological conditions. It reaches its flowering in the mystics who attain the lived experience of union through love.
Relationships of Love and Will
All these kinds of love have specific relationships with the will and its different aspects. The working out of these various relationships in the particular circumstances that each individual finds himself in is, obviously, one of the basic tasks of each of us. Much remains to be discovered in general and also in each individual case. Here I will make some observations only about the general nature of the most important relationships between love and will.
Love and will are generally present in individuals in inverse proportion. That is to say, those in whom love is predominant tend to possess less will and are little inclined to use what they have, while those endowed with a strong will often lack love or even exhibit its contrary. But this personal imbalance between love and will can be further accentuated by the essential differences in the quality, nature, and direction of the two aspects themselves.
Love, being attractive, magnetic, and outgoing, tends to link and unite. Will, on the other hand, being “dynamic,” tends by itself to be affirmative, separative, and domineering; it tends to establish a relationship of dependence. And clearly, these differences can lead to a real opposition.
Love is normally considered to be something spontaneous and independent of will, something indeed that “happens” in a manner that may run counter to our will. However true this may be at the beginning of an affective relationship, to cultivate human love that is satisfying, enduring, and creative is truly an art.
Human love is not simply a matter of feeling, an affective condition or disposition. To love well calls for all that is demanded by the practice of any art, indeed of any human activity, namely, an adequate measure of discipline, patience, and persistence. All these we have seen to be qualities of the will. If, as is commonly recognized, they are indispensable in mastering an art, be it playing an instrument, for example, or singing, or painting, or performing any other creative activity, whoever aspires to perfect himself in his chosen field will naturally be willing to devote to the required practice all the time and energy demanded. As yet, the necessity for the same degree of application in the sphere of love is largely ignored, or, if not denied, recognized only with reluctance.
The widespread incidence of misunderstanding and conflicts between those who enter into affective relationships provides ample evidence that “falling in love” and merely sexual and emotional attraction are insufficient for achieving successful loving. The establishment of a successful love relationship entails the possession, or acquisition, of an adequate amount of physical, psychological, and spiritual knowledge paralleling, and in large measure the same as, that required for good willing. Thus goodwill and good love are closely related.
As with good willing, the knowledge relevant to good loving concerns the structure of the human being, his various functions and the laws governing them; and general differential psychology in all its aspects (see Appendix Five, page 248)”
“The tenth group of symbols is that of love. This human love, looked at from one point of view, is a desire or attempt, conscious or otherwise, to move out from oneself, to transcend the limits of one’s own separate existence, and then to enter into communion and merge with another being, a ‘thou’. Devout people and mystics of all ages have told of their experiences of communion with God and with higher Beings using the symbolism of human love. We need only refer to the Song of Songs in the Bible and to the at times surprisingly bold phrases used by St Catherine of Siena and St John of the Cross.” (Assagioli in Transpersonal Development)