the following is my analysis of Dr Peck's book, I am pretty sure he won't
mind me promoting his book as although there following is a reasonable
summary, you really need to read his book to fully understand what he is
getting at, and if you haven't read it, and this makes sense to you &
you overcome any misconceptions of the good doctor, then I'm sure you will
want to check it out.
the author concedes that love is too large, too deep ever to be truly
understood, measured or limited within the framework of words, and that it
has been divided into various categories (eros, philia, agape, perfect love,
imperfect love, etc), but decided to define his "genuine love"
which I have paraphrased as:
"the will to extend one's self for the purpose of nurturing
the personal growth of the object of the love whether it be one's self
he goes on to distinguish "will" as being both a desire and
an action, as just the desire is not genuine love and implies effort
when we love someone, our love becomes demonstrable or real only
through our exertion - love is not effortless
everyone desires to some extent to be loving, yet many are not in fact
loving - desire to love is not love itself
love is an act of will and will also implies choice - we do not have
to love, we choose to love
genuine love is not dependency, two people love each other only
when they are quite capable of living without each other but choose to
live with each other. Whilst we all have dependency needs or feelings,
dependency - the inability to experience wholeness or to function
adequately without the certainty that one is being cared for by another
in physically healthy adults is pathological, an illness, one of the
most common of all psychiatric disorders - 'passive dependent
people with this disorder are so busy seeking to be loved, that
they have no energy left to love and always have an inner emptiness,
never being fulfilled or having a sense of completeness. They
tolerate loneliness poorly and define themselves in terms of their
relationships. The relationship is more important than the persons
within the relationship. When a relationship breaks down, they will
often say "I am nothing now", and will rapidly seek a new
relationship to replace the old.
this condition arises from a childhood where there is parental
failure to fulfill the needs for affection, attention and care and
thus the child fails to develop a sense of inner security and
lovability. They then feel the need to scramble for love, care and
attention wherever they can find it, and once having it, cling to it
with desperation that leads to unloving, manipulative, Machiavellian
behaviour that destroys the very relationships they are trying to
preserve. They lack the basics of self-discipline,
are impulsive, dishonest, cling to outworn relationships when they
should give them up, and lack a sense of responsibility for
themselves. They passively look to others, even their children as
the source of their happiness and fulfillment, and thus when they
are not happy or fulfilled, they feel that others are responsible,
consequently they are endlessly angry as expecting another person to
make you happy will result in being endlessly disappointed.
dependency is not concerned with the other person's growth but
only their own nourishment. They desire to be happy but don't desire
growth, nor are they willing to tolerate the unhappiness, the
loneliness and suffering involved in growth.
dependency may appear to be love because it is a force that causes
people to fiercely attach themselves to one another. But in
actuality it is not love, but a form of anti-love. It has its
genesis in a parental failure to love and it perpetuates the
failure. It works to trap and constrict rather than liberate and
grow. It ultimately destroys relationships and people.
genuine love is not about control or demanding obedience:
many people are capable of only "loving" things that
they can control or are obedient to them such as pets, infants,
"war brides" who do not speak their language, but as soon
as the situation changes, the infant starts to assert his own will
or the war bride learns the same language and can assert her will,
the relationship breaks down, and they lose interest in their infant
or bride, perceiving them to be only a nuisance, whilst at the same
time they develop the overpowering urge to find a replacement, such
as another baby. The children grow without love into a depressed
and/or passive dependent adult.
such people are not interested in the growth of their
genuine love is not simply giving:
it is judicious giving and judicious with-holding as well. It is
judicious praising and criticising, arguing, struggling,
confronting, urging, pushing and pulling as well as comforting. It
it thus requires judgment & judgment requires more than
instinct, it requires thoughtful & often painful
genuine love certainly is not mothers pushing food onto their
overweight children, parents who buy roomfuls of toys or clothes for
their children or parents who do not set limits and deny no desires
and fail to teach responsibility and self-discipline.
Such behaviour is destructive nurturing that ignores the personal
growth needs of the other person, usually to meet certain needs of
genuine love is not a feeling but an action:
the feeling of love is the emotion that accompanies cathexis
or the experience
of cathecting - the process by which an object becomes important to
we may cathect with any object, animal, person or even a hobby and
often multiple simultaneously, but the fact that we have cathected
does not mean we care for that person's development.
genuine love implies commitment and the exercise of wisdom. In a
successful marriage, partners must regularly, routinely &
predictably, attend to each other and their relationship no matter
how they feel.
this misconception of the "feeling" being love results
in all manner of self-deception such as the alcoholic, whose wife
and children desperately need his attention at that very moment,
sitting in a bar with tears in his eyes, telling the bartender
"I really love my family".
genuine love is a form of work, and the principle form of work that
love takes is attention:
love is work, the essence of non-love is laziness.
for example, being patient or being a good listener requires work
in concentration but is imperative to genuine love.
we can only love that which we allow to become important to
us. But if something becomes important to us, there is a risk we
may lose it or be rejected. Love anything that lives and it will
die. Trust anybody and you may be hurt. Depend on anyone and you
may be let down. The price of cathexis is pain.
to avoid this risk means doing without many things - getting
married, having children, the ecstasy of sex, the hope of
ambition, friendship - all that makes life alive, meaningful and
move out or grow in any dimension and pain as well as
happiness will be your reward. A full life will be full of pain.
But the only alternative is not to live fully or not to live at
the essence of life is change. Elect life and growth, and you
elect change and the prospect of death.
when we shy away from death, we inevitably shy away from life.
awareness of death, helps us realise how precious our time is
& the need to make the most of it.
risk of independence:
one cannot grow and take the leap into the unknown of total
selfhood, and be free to manifest love in its greatest
dimensions if one does not take the step of total independence
from one's parents and society.
while important life decisions such as marriage, career or
having children are made to satisfy one's parents or the
expectations of society as a whole, the commitment by its very
nature will be a shallow one.
the highest forms of love are inevitably totally free choices
and not acts of conformity.
risk of commitment:
commitment is the foundation of any genuinely loving
initially shallow commitments may grow deep with time, if not,
the relationship will likely fail or be chronically frail.
frequently we are not aware of the immensity of the risk
involved in making a deep commitment.
couples cannot resolve in any healthy way the universal issues
of marriage - dependency & independency; dominance &
submission, freedom and fidelity, for example - without the
security of knowing that the act of struggling over these issues
will not itself destroy the relationship.
problems of commitment are a major part of most psychiatric
character-disordered individuals tend to form shallow
commitments as they do not basically understand what commitment
is all about.
neurotic people are frequently paralysed by the fear of
risk of confrontation:
possibly the greatest risk of love is the risk of exercising
power with humility, the most common example of this is the act
of loving confrontation.
criticism or confrontation made impulsively in anger or
annoyance does more to increase the amount of confusion than the
amount of enlightenment and reflects arrogance which is rarely
for a truly loving person, criticism or confrontation does not
come easily, it is evident that the act has great potential for
arrogance by assuming a moral or intellectual superiority over
the loved one. But at times one person does know better and is
then caught between loving respect for the beloved's own path of
life and a responsibility to exercise loving leadership when the
beloved appears to need leadership. The dilemma can only be
resolved by painstaking self-scrutiny examining stringently the
worth of his "wisdom" and the motives behind this need
to assume leadership. 'Do I really see things clearly or am I
making murky assumptions?'. "Do I really understand my
beloved?'. 'Could it be that the path my beloved is taking is
wise and that my perception of it as unwise is the result of
limited vision on my part?'. 'Am I being self-serving in
believing my beloved needs redirection?'.
meekness in itself is nothing else than a true knowing and
feeling of a man's self as he is.
genuine love maintains the distinction between oneself and the
other as totally separate identities - separateness:
failure to perceive & respect this separateness is extremely
common & the cause of much mental illness & unnecessary
the most extreme form of this failure is narcissism where
individuals are unable to perceive their children, spouses or
friends as being separate from themselves on an emotional level and
thus perceive others' emotional state as being the same as their
many parents do this to a lesser degree by always comparing
their child with themselves rather than allowing the child their
own identity, worse they push the child into hobbies or careers
similar as their own without respecting the child's different
capabilities or needs.
spouses often define the purpose & function of their
partner in terms of their own needs and not respect the
partner's separate identity. "The purpose of my wife is to
keep the house neat and me well fed".
genuine love not only respects the individuality of the other but
actually seeks to cultivate it, even at the risk of separation or
loss. The ultimate goal of life remains the personal growth of the
individual, the solitary journey to peaks that can be climbed only
alone. Significant journeys cannot be accomplished without the
nurture provided by a successful marriage or a successful society.
of all the misconceptions about love, the most powerful and pervasive is
the belief that "falling in love" is love or at least one of the
manifestations of love.
it is a potent misconception because falling in love is subjectively
experienced in a very powerful fashion as an experience of love.
the experience of falling in love is specifically a sex-linked erotic
we do not "fall in love" with our children even though we do
not love them deeply, nor with our friends, even though we may care for
we "fall in love" only when it is consciously or
subconsciously sexually motivated
no matter whom we "fall in love" with, sooner or later, we
"fall out of love" if the relationship continues long enough
as the feeling of ecstatic lovingness always passes and the honeymoon
always ends, the bloom of romance always fades.
to understand this one needs to examine the nature of what
psychiatrists call ego boundaries
the perception we are loving when "falling in love" is false, an
falling in love is not an act of will, it is not a conscious choice. No
matter how open and eager for it we may be, the experience may still elude
us. Contrarily, the experience may capture us at times when we least expect
it and certainly not seeking it, even when it is inconvenient and
undesirable. We are as likely to fall in love with someone who we are
obviously ill-matched as with someone more suitable, indeed, we may not even
like or admire the object of our passion, yet try as we might, we may not be
able to "fall in love" with a person whom we deeply respect and in
whom a deep relationship would be in all ways desirable. This is not to say
the the process of falling in love is immune to self-discipline.
falling in love is not an extension of one's limits or ego boundaries but
a partial and temporary collapse of them. The extension of one's limits
requires effort, falling in love is effortless. Lazy undisciplined people
are as likely to fall in love as energetic & dedicated ones.
falling in love has little to do with purposively nurturing one's personal
development. If we have any purpose in mind when we fall in love it is to
terminate our own loneliness and perhaps ensure this result through
marriage, certainly we are not thinking of personal or spiritual growth.
Indeed, whilst we are "in love" we feel that we have arrived, that
the heights have been attained, that there is no need & no possibility
of going higher. We do not feel ourselves to be in any need of development,
we are content where we are. Nor do we perceive our beloved as being in need
of personal development. To the contrary, we perceive him or her as perfect.
If we see faults, we perceive them as insignificant, little quirks that only
add colour and charm.
falling is love is a stereotypic, genetically determined instinctual
component of mating behaviour in response to a configuration of internal
sexual drives & external sexual stimuli, which serves to increase the
probability of sexual pairing and bonding so as to enhance the survival of
the species. It is a genetic trick to trap the unwary into parentage and in
our modern society, marriage. But without this trick, many of us who are
happily or unhappily married today would have retreated in wholehearted
terror from the realism of the marriage vows.
it is thought the newborn infant during the 1st months of life does not
distinguish between itself & the rest of the universe, when it is
hungry, the world is hungry, etc. There are no boundaries, no separations,
there is no identity.
with experience, the child begins to experience itself as an entity
separate from the rest of the world, when it is hungry, the mother does not
always feed it, etc. The child then experiences its wishes not being met and
thus its will not being its mother's command and a sense of "me"
develops. During the 1st year of life we learn the fundamentals of who we
are and who we are not and that our hand is indeed ours. We know our size
and our physical limits. These limits are boundaries. The knowledge of these
limits inside our minds is what is meant by ego boundaries.
the development of ego boundaries continues throughout childhood into
adolescence and even into adulthood, but the boundaries established later
are more psychic than physical. For instance:
the "terrible twos":
between age 2 and 3, is a time when the child typically comes to
terms with the limits of his power.
clinging to the hope and feeling that his commands may be obeyed,
the 2yr old becomes a tyrant and autocrat, trying to give orders to
his parents, siblings and pets as if they were menials in his army
& responds with regal fury when they won't be dictated to.
by age 3yrs, the child has usually become more tractable &
mellow as a result of an acceptance of the reality of its own
powerlessness. Still the possibility of omnipotence is such a sweet
dream that it cannot be completely given up even after several years
of painful confrontation with one's own impotence. This dream will
continue through childhood by the fantasy world of super-heroes,
until they are usually finally given up by the time of
mid-adolescence. By this time, most will know they are individuals,
confined to the boundaries of their flesh & the limits of their
power, each one a relatively frail and impotent organism, existing
only by cooperation within a group of fellow organisms called
society. Within this group they are not particularly distinguished,
yet they are isolated from others by their individual identities,
boundaries and limits, within which there is loneliness.
because of unpleasant, traumatising experiences in childhood,
schizoid people perceive the world outside themselves as
unredeemably dangerous, hostile, confusing & unnurturing. Such
people feel their boundaries to be protecting and comforting &
find a sense of safety in their loneliness.
"falling in love":
most of us feel our loneliness to be painful and yearn to escape
from behind the walls of our individual identities to a condition in
which we can be more unified with the world outside of ourselves.
The experience of "falling in love" allows us to escape
temporarily, as it creates a sudden collapse of a section of an
individual's ego boundaries, permitting one to merge his or her
identity with that of another person. The sudden release of oneself
from oneself, the explosive outpouring of oneself into the beloved,
and the dramatic surcease of loneliness accompanying the collapse of
ego boundaries is experienced by most of us as ecstatic. We and our
beloved are one! Loneliness is no more!
in some respects (but not all), falling in love is a regression,
with the merger echoing the time when we were merged with our
mothers in infancy, and we re-experience feelings of omnipotence
which had been given up in childhood - all things seem possible and
united with our beloved, we feel we can conquer all obstacles, the
future will be all light. The unreality of these feelings are
similar to those of the 2yr old, but just us reality intrudes on the
2 yr old's fantasy of omnipotence, so to it must intrude upon the
fantastic unity of the couple who have fallen in love. Sooner or
later, in response to the problems of daily living, individual will
reasserts itself, he wants to have sex, she doesn't, she wants to go
to the movies, he doesn't. So both of them in the privacy of their
hearts, begin the sickening realisation that they are not one with
their beloved, that the beloved has and will continue to have his or
her own desires, tastes, prejudices & timing different from the
other's. One by one, gradually the ego boundaries snap back into
place, and gradually or suddenly, they "fall out of love"
and again become separate individuals. At this point they may begin
to either dissolve the ties of their relationship or to initiate the
work of genuine loving.
when we extend our limits through genuine love, we do so by
reaching out towards the beloved whose growth we wish to nurture, in
a process of cathexis (a process of attraction, investment &
commitment to an object outside ourselves). When we cathect an
object outside of ourselves, we also psychologically incorporate a
representation of that object into ourselves and by so doing his
self has become enlarged and his ego boundaries extended.
the more and longer we extend ourselves, the more we love, the
more blurred becomes the distinction between the self and the world,
we become identified with the world & begin to experience the
same sort of feeling of ecstasy that we have when our ego boundaries
partially collapse when we "fall in love". Only,
instead of being merged temporarily and unrealistically with a
single beloved object, we have merged realistically and more
permanently with much of the world.
it is obvious and generally understood that sexual activity and
love, while they may occur simultaneously, often are dissociated,
because they are basically separate phenomena. In itself, making
love is not an act of love.
nonetheless, the experience of sexual intercourse, and
particularly orgasm, is an experience also associated with a greater
or lesser degree of collapse of ego boundaries and attendant
ecstasy. It is not uncommon for an individual to shout "I love
you" to a prostitute during orgasm, and moments later when the
ego boundaries have snapped back into place, feel no shred of
affection, liking or investment. This is not to say that the ecstasy
of orgasmic experience cannot be heightened by sharing it with one
who is a beloved, it can. But even without a beloved, the collapse
of ego boundaries in conjunction with orgasm may be total, for a
second we may totally forget who we are, lose track of self, be lost
in time and space and one with the universe, but only for a second
to serve as effectively as it does to trap us into marriage, the
experience of "falling in love"
probably must have as one of its characteristics the illusion that the
experience will last forever.
this illusion is fostered in Western culture by the commonly held myth of
romantic love, which has its origins in our favourite fairy tales, wherein
the prince and princess, once united, live happily forever after. These
notions were promulgated by the French troubadours who altered historical
facts and romanticised the behaviour of the knights who were in actual fact
opportunistic rapists and adulterers.
the myth is a dreadful lie and implies the following dangerous
for every young man in the world, there is a young woman who is meant
for him & vice versa
worse, that there is ONLY ONE man meant for the woman and vice versa,
and that this has been predetermined by the stars & when we meet
this person for whom we all the heavens intended, recognition comes from
the fact we will fall in love & since the match is perfect, we will
be able to satisfy all of each other's needs forever and ever, and
therefore live happily forever after in perfect union and harmony.
should it come to pass, however, that we do not satisfy or meet each
other's needs & friction arises and we fall out of love, then it is
clear that a dreadful mistake was made, we misread the stars, we did not
hook up with our one and only perfect match and nothing can be done
about the situation except to live unhappily ever after or get
the confusion and suffering this myth fosters results in millions of
people wasting vast amounts of energy desperately and futilely attempting to
make the reality of their lives conform to the unreality of the myth instead
of confronting the inevitable issues within all relationships and realising
that to make their relationship work requires true acceptance of their own
and each other's individuality and separateness so that genuine
love can grow.
Reference: The Road Less
Travelled. Dr M.Scott Peck. Arrow Books 1983, reprinted 1998.