What's Love Got To Do with It?
February 14, 2023
According to Pierre Teilhard de Chardin*, “Love is the most powerful and still most unknown energy in the world.” I would add that it is also possibly the most misunderstood energy in the world. According to Greek philosophers, the emotion of love requires at least six variations to explain its complexity. Certainly, the grand experience of love encompasses much more than the heart emoji shorthand we have come to rely upon.
While the word love most commonly conjures tender images of hearts and flowers, romantic or sexual love are but a part of what the experience of love embodies. So, what could love possibly have to do with the work of therapy and healing?
Early in my work as a therapist, I read one of the most influential books of my career, A General Theory of Love**. Written by three UCSF professors of psychiatry, the book explores the neurobiology of love in human experience and explains how our early experiences in relationship form the basis of how our notions of love are wired into our brains.
For those whose early experiences in relationship are deeply wounding, the therapeutic relationship can form an ideal relationship to allow a kind of deep relational healing that is an expression of love and humanity that literally re-wires the human brain. In this way, love changes who we are and who we can become.
This healing kind of love is borne from the deep respect and caring a therapist can have for the client through the course of their therapy. Holding unconditional positive regard and acceptance for the whole of a client’s experience, most especially for the parts of their experience that is too painful or shameful for the client to accept, is nothing short of an act of love and can be a profoundly healing experience.
This kind of healing is abundantly evident through the process of group therapy with survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Speaking the unspeakable in the presence of others who know the pain of abuse brings about an opening that can let love in. Although the words may never be spoken aloud, the process of group members bearing open hearted witness to each other’s journey of pain opens a space of unconditional loving acceptance that is transformational. What I often refer to as the magic of group is actually the magic of loving presence.
As it turns out, love is a profound and profoundly human agent of change. In the relationship of therapy, as in all relationships, beneath our modalities of understanding and reason, love is the ancient and trustworthy method of change. How we are seen and held by another gradually changes how we see ourselves.
De Chardin’s words remind us of the possibility and hope that exists in our common human experience;
“Love alone is capable of uniting living beings in such a way as to complete and fulfill them, for it alone takes them and joins them by what is deepest in themselves.”
On this Valentine’s Day and every day, let us hold open a space for love for ourselves and for others.
*French Jesuit paleontologist who worked to understand evolution and faith.
**A General Theory of Love, Thomas Lewis, M.D., Fari Amini, M.D., Richard Lannon, M.D.
Holding unconditional positive regard and acceptance for the whole of a client’s experience, most especially for the parts of their experience that is too painful or shameful for the client to accept, is nothing short of an act of love and can be a profoundly healing experience.
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