Love is Progressive Part 26: Of Love, Freedom, Potatoes and Sunflowers
Carl Rogers, the originator of Client-Centered Therapy and the concept of self-actualization, wrote in his book "On Becoming a Person," that had an epiphany when he was a child living on a farm in Illinois. He saw a potato growing in a cellar -- a long tendril growing unerringly toward the one small hole in the cellar through which proceeded the blessing of sunlight. At this point, he realized that all creatures are driven to self-actualize, to become the best they can be if they possibly can. Like Sunflowers, we are all drawn to the light -- the light of love. http://www.organicgardening.com/learn-and-grow/sunflowers-growing-guide
When I learned about Carl Rogers' Client-Centered Therapy while in high school, and more later on in college, the technique -- designed to aid a person's self-actualization -- seemed very natural to me. Basically, one is unconditionally supportive of another person, but honest, and also open with one's feelings and reactions. One listens well and makes sure that the other person knows that by mirroring the other person's language. And lastly, one is empathetic toward the other person, also meaning compassionate when difficulties arise. I quickly realized that this is essentially a technique designed to make a person a good friend, or romantic partner. With some personalization and intimatizing of the technique, it can lead to successful personal friendships and even love lives. This is essentially how I have tried to treat my friends over the years, and love interests, most particularly my wife of course. And I thiink I have become better at it over the years, as natural as this way of being might seem. Practice works even with what comes for the most part, naturally. Also, being consciously aware of what one is doing, helps. It does not make a relationship any less genuine. In fact, if anything, it makes a relationship more intentionally special. Relating to someone becomes not a matter so much of unplanned reactions to seemingly random events, but rather, more of a purposeful walk together along a path toward ultimately better relations. In terms emotional intimacy, I would call it "conscious coupling" to use the flipside of a recently popularized phrase.
I have found that my way of relating to people doesn't work with everyone I wish to be close friends with, although it works with the large majority of people. Some people are emotionally stuck in some dysfunctional way, such that unconditionality may be lost on them. One reason is psychopathology such as schizophrenia. A person with a broken reality detector tends to have a broken unconditional love detector too. Schizophrenics usually make horrible marriage partners, and even friendships are lacking; loneliness usually prevails. Truly relating to other people is a daunting chore for them. Other psychopathologies can also make appreciating unconditionality difficult. Severe ones such as Bipolar Disorder, among others, are often too debilitating and all-consuming, to allow a person to really listen to and appreciate the efforts of another person. Addictions also tend to distract a person to the point of not really seeing other people as they are. Personality Disorders can distort a person's worldview to the point of not perceiving others even halfway accurately, either -- perhaps focusing a person with such a disorder, on how to manipulate others rather than being friends, or perhaps resulting in paranoia to such an extent that nobody else is seen as trustworthy despite one's complete honesty. Other people may not respond to unconditional positive regard well, because of biases of perception. Two people might just not "hit it off," by having rather incompatible personalities and lifestyles, or the person might have a problem with anger, even rage, which is dificult to quell. The specter of prejudice may enter as a problem as well; a person who is prejudiced against Hispanic immigrants, isn't likely to be receptive to the efforts of a person from a Hispanic immigrant family, for instance. Yet, even people with such issues, tend to respond to unconditional caring -- albeit more slowly or in a more limited capacity than a more emotionally healthy person. And therapy can help people with emotional problems to respond in a more normal manner emotionally. When clear transgressions occur, correction of another person is possible, but to be approached with caution. Rogers' attitude toward destructive behavior was to continue having faith in the person, while critiquing the mistake. Otherwise, let people be free to develop themselves -- to self-actualize -- as long as they were learning and making progress without leaving a path of destruction.
Apparent to me also, is that what unconditionality does, is give people freedom, yet love and security at the same time. The entire technique, in fact, is designed to give a person a safe and caring atmosphere in which to explore options and make wise decisions, as Rogers envisioned it. In personal relationships, it works somewhat differently, but not greatly so. It gives a friend or intimate partner, freedom to be him or herself, while having a sense of being cared for, protected. It calls for reciprocity of affection and unconditionality, but does not demand it. (In psychotherapy, the relationship between therapist and client is necessarily unequal, hierarchical and of limited emotional and no physical intimacy.) It calls for reciprocity of commitment to the relationship, but does not demand it. What the other person gives, is given freely and is a gift to be appreciated, as is your gift of unconditional caring. It is an egalitarian relationship in which equality prevails. Unconditional support needs to be tempered with honesty, however, and perhaps attempts at guidance, even.. Although I give advice or criticism sparingly, there are occasions when my "gifts" are surely not what the other person hopes for, but there are times when I am compelled to do this. And of course I make mistakes sometimes, too; I don't always follow my own advice successfully, but I generally try to.
In fact, I find that unconditional love tends to work best, at least for me, with people who have a distinct need for freedom. Perhaps they weren't given enough freedom -- or perhap abused -- by their parents while younger, or by significant others later on. Perhaps it is in their constitution -- the artistic, free spirits of the world for whom conventional thinking and work seems like a prison. Most often but not always, such people are women -- I suspect due both to the relative emotional sensitivity of most women, and to so many women having been mistreated and restricted in life, primarliy by men. I am reminded of research on Erik Erikson's theory of psychosocial development, which found that women tend to be stuck in the identify formation stage, the one which involves exploring who one is and excercising one's freedom as a person learns to separate from the parental nest. This is the stage where the need for freedom is most salient. Men, on the other hand, tend to be stuck in the previous stage, which focuses on learning to be a good competitor.
Every person needs freedom to be oneself. And we need to grant it to ourselves, to become the best you you can be, something which tragically far few people allow themselves -- as though this were a luxury rather than a necessity for well-being. People are caught up in a cycle of conformity- the rewards of which are considerable, especially to the insecure. People trade their individuality for security. If we would only give people the security they need, instead of demanding conformity, or as former chairperson of the Federal Reserve Alan Greenspan famously quipped, workers need to be insecure so that they can be hired for less -- also known as "the race to the bottom" -- people would be so much more free to be themselves. Both capitalism and culture collude to make insecurity prevail in the minds of most people. What capitalism and culture fail to finish, many people do to themselves, when they build their own mental prisons, for true freedom at its core is mental.
Everyone also needs to be trusted, loved and have a sense of goodness and purpose, no matter how life may mask these fundamentals in certain individuals and make their attainment difficult. Ultimately, having faith in humanity shall prevail for all of us; while being alert to and responsive to abuses, starting from a position of trust and faith should be the default position. Tragically, for all too many people, the opposite is the case. Such a cynical and fearful world view, has been wrought in far too many people's hearts and minds by capitalistic greed coupled with human frailties and ignorance. When this predominates, it can only lead us together down a path of destruction, just as it does individually to the fear-possessed cynic. But this pandemic of cynicism and distrust cannot last.
The necessary paradigm shift which I see for humanity, involves us giving ourselves the freedom to self-actualize, and granting those around us the unconditionally caring atmosphere which potentiates the same in others. This is at the core of the new humanity which must spring forth, in my view. This is how we love our best and get the best from others. as the path of history is toward knowledge and enlightenment -- technologically, socially and spiritually. The path of humanity's brilliant future, leads toward the light of love -- to which we are inexorably drawn.