Podcast #4: Thoughts About Love


If you prefer to read rather than listen, here is a transcript of the podcast.
(Also available in PDF format.)
Note: portions of the text may be slightly edited for clarity in written form.

Dr. Jerry: Good morning. This is Dr. Jerry at WGCH 1490 AM on your dial in the Psychotherapist’s Corner. This morning, what I’d like to talk about is, if you recall, I mentioned last week that if we’re going to be happy with ourselves, getting through this experience we call life, we have to be able to love, work and play. Let me just mention briefly, when I say play, the old Greek philosopher Aristotle said, “Play is the thing we do when we are free,” okay? So I’m not talking about just games. I’m talking about a level of experiencing life where we’re not constrained. Just to touch base for a minute on what we talked about last week, before I get to the question of love, which is what I’d like to talk about this morning. We spoke last week about anxiety and depression. In one of my future programs I’ll show you how we understand depression and anxiety. It’s really two sides of the same coin. But anxiety, as we know, interferes with all three issues: love, work and play. Yet we have to experience all three if we’re going to feel alive.

Anxiety, just to summarize a little bit from what we said last week, anxiety can make a husband or a wife or a parent dissatisfied with themselves, overly demanding with themselves or with their partners, their fellow workers or their children. When we’re caught in that kid of noise of anxiety, or on the other side of the coin, the absolute silence of depression, when they have a strangle hold on us, we find it difficult to love, work and play.

Let me go to the issue of love. Many years ago, some of you may remember, the psychoanalyst Erich Fromm wrote a very popular book entitled “The Art of Loving”. It was a huge success. Clearly, it was a huge success because each of us wants to be able to love. We want to experience ourselves as loving and, perhaps even more important, to experience being loved in return. That’s a truism, but it’s worth noting. Although many early psychoanalysts thought we were just pleasure-seeking creatures, including early Freud, and I respect early Freud. I studied that tradition very intensely. Although many early psychoanalysts thought we were just pleasure-seeking creatures, we know today that we are primarily love-seeking. We want from our earliest life, to be related and connected to each other, particularly our parents. That’s really what makes us feel fulfilled. Of course we have bodies. Of course we seek pleasure. It’s obvious. On an emotional level, we are truly community creatures.

It is obvious that we are sensual creatures, as I have said, and enjoy physical pleasure. But more basic than that is the need for connectedness, for being valued, for being held. It’s the lack of such a need for connectedness that is a sign of significant pathology. I’ve worked with people over the years who, although they yearned to be connected, had no idea how to be connected, could not sustain a relationship with almost anyone. They would work, they would go home, they would be by themselves essentially, reading or just watching television, and yet they knew something was wrong and very frequently, were not able to articulate about what was wrong. Basic to being alive is our need to feel valued and cared for. That’s the reason why we are so vulnerable at our early age to how our parents and our environment treat us. You’ll notice in these talks I keep going back to early childhood.

Again, I want to reiterate something I mentioned in the first program. Our history is not history until it’s forgotten, so to speak. History, as we know, is doomed to repeat itself unless we know it. Once we know it, then we can let it be history. Sometimes people say, “Oh, the talking cure. You’re spending so much time talking about your childhood. What does all that mean.” Well, if it’s really resolved, there’s no sense in talking about it. With most of us our history tends to live on, except we don’t recognize it.

As children, we have to be held with care, both physically and emotionally. I am reminded of a fact that came out of World War II and I may have mentioned it before. They did studies after the war on children of London. Many children, particularly the more affluent people in London, got their children out of London during World War II during the bombings and got them to the country or many of them sent them over here to America. After the war was over, Anna Freud’s clinic, which was a very big clinic in England, did an extensive study. What she found out was quite interesting. The children who fared the best emotionally were the children who stayed with their parents in London, even during the bombing. That somehow the connectedness, even with the threat of eminent death with the missiles flying down on them, they were able to handle that. Whereas those who were sent to America or out to the country and were separated from their parents, although they were safe, they were emotionally deprived and came away with a certain amount of emotional scars. That’s interesting. I’m not suggesting we should keep children if people are bombing on us. But we should note the fact that human beings need a sense of connectedness.

We are so vulnerable when we are young. What we experience goes deep, very, very deep. As we’ve said before and as I keep returning to, we may choose to forget, as Barbara Streisand’s song reminds us, what has happened to us. But, if I may put it this way, what has happened to us doesn’t forget us. That’s really what we mean by what’s repressed inside of us, what’s suppressed inside of us, what has happened to us doesn’t forget us. Therefore, that’s the benefit of going back at times and trying to remember what happened to us. In America in particular, I think, it’s very hard for most people to accept that at times we are had by forces or memories that we’re simply not aware of. I do not mean that negatively. It can be both. It can be positive and negative. The care we receive is positive.

When we’re able to love as adults, it’s because we were loved and were cared for, in some manner, as children. However, the anger or the self-preoccupation or the conflicts we may have been exposed to are not always helpful. Yet, again, it’s been my experience that once we uncover these, once we recognize them, once we revisit them emotionally, not just intellectually, once we allow ourselves the time, almost a playtime in a sense, the talking cure is a form of play. It’s not a task. It’s playing with creating ourselves. Once we recognize that something has had an influence on how we are handling love, work or play, actually, it’s tremendously liberating. We gain a little more ownership over our life. That is really the goal.

When I spoke about and when I do speak about the talking cure, when I talk about chimney sweeping, what am I trying to say? I’m trying to say that the goal of one tradition, one school of psychotherapy, is to give us ownership over who we are and where we are so we have ownership of our life. We live life, not that life lives through us. Not that we’re just tossed around by what happens to us. When we get depressed or overly anxious, of course, that’s what we feel: we’re just being tossed around by life. Or the world doesn’t care for us anymore or our environment doesn’t care for us anymore. An important point in those situations is to regain a sense that we have ownership over who we are.

Now, getting back to love. We all want the world to smile back at us, to have our self-worth recognized and praised. Of the three, love, work and play, we are most vulnerable, I think, in the area of love. I joked with Tony before the show started, if any of you heard me, that people have been trying to define love for at least 2,000 years and that this morning we were going to define it in 28 minutes. Here we go. There are many definitions and ways of talking about what love is. For myself, I like to think of it as wanting good things for another. Love is a gift of oneself we want to give. Wanting to make another person smile. Wanting to make them happy with themselves. That’s what I mean by willing them good.

Remember the fairy tale of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs that we’ve talked about repeatedly on the shows? The Queen in the fairy tale was not able to love Snow White because she experienced her white innocence as a judgment against her, the queen. Not as something she could recognize, celebrate and enjoy. One’s children’s talents are not a judgment about parents. Ideally, a parent should want their child to go beyond them. That is really a source of comfort, not envy or resentment…that you might have a momentary twinge, that’s okay. That’s just being human. But to resent a child or to so discipline them that they have no more creativity left in them is really to fall in the arena of the Queen’s actions. The Queen didn’t want Snow White to be happy with herself. Why this might be, I don’t know.

The fairy tale simplifies life a great deal: bad Queen, good Snow White. We don’t know the Queen’s childhood. We have no clue as to what she might have been exposed to, or to what she might have forgotten that is repressed. But to be that narcissistic, to be murderously narcissistic, as we have mentioned before, means she was either greatly, grossly overprotected and spoiled or, paradoxically, undervalued. Given the fact that the fairy tale speaks of her as the queen, one suspects that she was grossly over-praised.

When we recognize another person’s needs and not just our own, when we help in whatever way makes sense, and sometimes it doesn’t always make sense to help, but when it does, we remind ourselves, without a word, that we are all connected. In willing good, and that’s my definition of love, and not continuously looking at our own reflection in the mirror so to speak, we can see ourselves in the smile or the recognition of the other person. I mean, love, you hold the door for someone and they smile at you and say, “thank you.” That’s like a little act of courtesy. It’s also like a little act of love. Even the loss of someone through death brings home to us how much we are connected to each other.

We are not just independent agents, so to speak. Individuals have to remember that. And, I submit, societies have to remember that…. our total connectedness is reality. It’s even confirmed, if I may, by quantum physics. For example, quantum physics talks about entanglement. Entanglement means, in simplified language, we are all connected. The whole universe is intimately connected with each other. One a very prosaic example, I was speaking to someone this morning about connectedness in the Black Forrest Bakery Shop across the street. She mentioned that her grandfather had a favorite tale saying, “Of course we’re all connected. But we lost that, a little , because we’ve lost front porches and we can’t see each other anymore.” Well, there’s a certain amount of everyday interesting wisdom in that.

Lewis Thomas, I don’t know if any of you have read any of his books, was the former Dean of Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. He wrote a number of books, Lewis Thomas, and one of them is called “The Lives of the Cell”. He uses an image which is rather interesting. He says, “Imagine yourself looking down on Grand Central Station and all the people moving in different ways.” He compares that to an ant colony. As you know, if you can look at an ant colony, they seemingly are going all over the place, yet they all have a task and they are all serving a community function. He uses that analogy. He says, “Of course, this is true with human beings as well. We just don’t always recognize it. We tend to think of ourselves as isolated creatures.”

Now, of course connectedness is pretty obvious in most parents’ love for the young children. When children become adolescents it seems, not infrequently, that sense of connectedness is a little more difficult to experience. One, because of the adolescent’s need to separate. Humorously and realistically, I say the parents need to allow the separation and to survive it. The most important thing for parents of adolescents is really to survive. If all has gone well enough, as children become adults they can usually recognize the love they received. One sign of which is, as adults, they are able to give love.

Now marriage, ideally, is a basic place, as we all know, to find love and, paradoxically, to live out one’s childhood experiences both positive experiences and negative life experiences. What does that mean? It means that we bring both conscious and forgotten, that’s all I mean by unconscious, memories, expectations of our mates, our children and ourselves to our relationship with our mates and our children. The love we give one’s partner, the love we give one’s children, can go a long way in a life task to making us real. In a close relationship, love between adults, need and desire are present, along with willing good to another person.

Sexual needs can help us understand ourselves and our partner’s better. How one lives out his or her marriage frequently mirrors how they were treated as children. How one’s parents interacted with each other, what example they set and whether a person experienced relative harmony or a fair amount of disruption because of their mother or father’s personality. Let me have a break for a second and then I will come back and discuss this a little further. …

Dr. Jerry: Here we are, back at The Psychotherapist’s Corner. 1490 on your dial. WGCH. Dr. Jerry speaking. I was mentioning before the break how our childhood experiences affect our relationship particularly in marriage. Just to continue for a minute, an angry or a rejecting father for example, might make it difficult for a wife to experience her husband’s normal moods. In other words, if the wife had an angry, rejecting father it might make it difficult for a wife to experience her husband’s normal moods without experiencing them as personally rejecting of her. The same is true, of course, for a boy or young man who might have had a rejecting or overly critical or distant mother. He’s might very well live out those kinds of expectations with his wife.

Relationships are much more complicated, but those primal experiences we had are very formative in how we interpret our experience. It isn’t just a matter of knowing our parents’ psychological makeup. It’s allowing oneself to recognize how our reactions might, unbeknownst to us, be affecting our behavior and how they’re interfering with willing good to another person and, implicit in that, willing good to ourselves. Love, I think, a little more than work and play, helps to make us real.

As I have mentioned many times, it seems to me that the goal of life is to be real. There’s a wonderful children’s book that perhaps some of you remember. It’s called, “The Velveteen Rabbit”. I read it to my children. I read it many times as an adult. I just thought I would summarize it because it has a wonderful section on really what it means to be real. It’s a childhood story about a velveteen rabbit who is a stuffed, everyday toy and he’s in someone’s home amidst many, many very expensive toys and how, eventually, the little boy is tired of playing with all the fancy doodad toys and somehow is connected with the velveteen rabbit stuffed with sawdust.

All the other toys, of course, it’s a childhood story, all the other toys are making fun of the velveteen rabbit because he was an everyday common toy. His only friend was the skin horse, a very old toy who had been through a lot of battles with youth, so to speak.

At one point, the velveteen rabbit innocently, and we can all identify with that, it’s obviously a children’s story, but sometimes children’s stories have such remarkable wisdom in them that it’s worth reading them over and over again. At one time, the velveteen rabbit asks the skin horse, he wants so much to be real, and he doesn’t understand what real is. The old skin horse who has lost his whiskers, his tail is gone, some of the skin is all work off, turns to him and tries to explain what real is. Of course, the velveteen rabbit thinks being real is being shiny and new.

The skin horse says, and I’m going to be reading from the book, and as I’ve said before, the book is called “The Velveteen Rabbit”, “The skin horse answers, “Real isn’t how you are made,” said the skin horse, “It’s a thing that happens to you when a child loves you for a long, long time. Not just to play with, but really loves you. Then you become real.” “Does it hurt?,” asked the rabbit. “Sometimes,” said the skin horse, for he was always truthful, “But when you are real you don’t mind being hurt.” “Does it happen all at once, like being wound up?,” he asked, “Or bit by bit?” “It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the skin horse, “You become real. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily or have sharp edges or have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are real, most of your hair has been loved off and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all because once you are real, you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

Let me just stop for a second. In that little paragraph, it’s one little part of life. But in that paragraph, look at the wisdom that’s contained. That, of course, one tries to keep oneself well, but love means without depletion. Love means that I’m willing to will good to another person; I’m willing to put myself out, particularly if one happens to raise children. But it doesn’t have to be children. One can be dedicated to teaching one’s students. One can be dedicated to one’s art. One can be dedicated to one’s garden. One can love nature and plants and take care of it on a very deep level. The issue is to recognize our connectedness and the fact that if we’re very fussy about ourselves, if we have sharp edges, if we’re overly-narcissistic, to go back to the Queen and Snow White, if any of those things are around, it’s very hard for us to become real.

Sometimes when we get overly anxious, we think the goal of life, and I’m not knocking success…oviously, we have to live, we have to have food on our table, we have to have covering, and we have to try to provide well for ourselves and our family. I’m not questioning that. But sometimes the anxiety blinds us to what being real is. Being real is, in a sense, being used up by life. But there’s a profound paradox here. In being used up by life, and although we have our own ears and I’m not second-fiddling our own needs. Of course we have our own needs. But in being used up by life, we discover what it means to be alive, what it means to be connected to another human being. That experience helps us enjoy our life. It helps us understand what real is all about. But if we are seriously depressed we forget that.

One of the signs of depression is that somehow the complex community world that we live in has collapsed and instead of having the community of voices and needs and even anger and joy around us, we live in great internal silence. That’s what we’re talking about here, that the velveteen rabbit, in speaking to the skin horse, finds out that he has a community.

Let me go on and I have just a few more minutes here. I’ll finish the story for you of the Velveteen Rabbit. The little boy gets sick, he gets scarlet fever…the velveteen is with him all the time. He’s hugged and the little boy loves his velveteen rabbit, takes him and plays with him. But when the little boy gets better, the doctor says to the nanny, “Now you have to burn all of his toys because they’re infected with scarlet fever.”

So the little velveteen rabbit is thrown out among all the other toys and he’s set to be burned the next day. He looks back at the house and the little boy that he loved and a tear falls from his eyes. The tears fall on the ground and a lovely flower blooms. Out of the flower, this is of course a childhood tale, …then the nursery fairy comes to him. The nursery fairy says to him, “Why are you crying?” and he says, “Because I want to be real. I’m not going to lose the little boy.” The fairy queen says, “No. You are going to be real.” She touches him and, of course, in the fairy tale, he becomes a real rabbit.

She puts him with the other rabbits and instructs the other rabbits to help him. Because, after all, he doesn’t know how to be a rabbit and he needs some help. The story goes on. I’ll just summarize it for a minute or so. The springtime comes and he’s romping around. He finds out that he is a rabbit and he truly has hind legs and he can jump through the fields. He comes through a field and the little boy is playing with a friend. He’s there with another rabbit. The little boy looks over and looks at him and says to this friend, “My, that rabbit really looks like my old velveteen rabbit, doesn’t it?”

The story ends there…the recognition of an old love and the happiness. Childhood tales usually end well. That’s one of the joys of reading these to our children. But it’s a charming story. I would recommend it because of the message. I’ve summarized the story considerably. It’s a short book. You can read it to your child or you could read it to yourself at night, when you’re tired of all the dour news that we’re constantly bombarded with that makes life seem very difficult.

Read it to yourself, particularly that section on what it means to be real. When we feel edgy, when we feel rejected, when we feel we’re not really being appreciated, take a look at that section on what it means to be real and how we are sometimes used. That is, if we’re used by life in the service of another, when we give ourselves to another, we are not depleting ourselves. That’s the trick about love. To give oneself to another is to increase yourself.

I want to thank you for listening this morning to The Psychotherapist’s Corner with Dr. Jerry. As you know, this is 1490 WGCH. I invite you to listen next week when we will talk more about work and play. Thank you again.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Skip to toolbar