Is Selfless Love Realistic?
For centuries, philosophers have told us that ‘self-less’ love is the ideal love. Self-less meaning, you love another without any self-interst.
If you’re interested in having love in your life and you adopt self-less loving as your goal, you’ll never really get there. It’s as unrealistic and lopsided as a life of total self-interest.
Self-less loving tells you to give it all away to another. And self-interest tells you to selfishly keep some for yourself. How can you get out this conflict? The answer is, we have to redefine the goal.
The goal is not to get to an exalted state of self-less loving without a trace of self-interest. I don’t think that’s possible or even healthy. The goal is to balance these two ‘states of heart’ in your love-life. What this means is, you’ll be able to love another and yourself in the same love-life.
When these two motivations are more balanced, you have a chance to rejuvenate the heart before and after giving love. If you take good care of yourself you can take good care of others without ‘burning out.’
Over the years I have treated many different individuals who were emotionally and physically burned out because they’ve been trying to live a lifestyle of ‘total giving’ to others. Whether it be a husband or wife and children, or dependent family of origin members and friends, the point is they gave and gave with nothing coming back for years in some instances until they couldn’t do it anymore. The end result was some form of emotional illness usually depression but sometimes anxiety disorders and psychosomatic illness.
Treatment usually consisted of helping the person become aware of the lopsided emotional life they’ve been living, and make the necessary corrections while avoiding debilitating guilt. This usually involved learning how to set limits on the needs of others and determining when those needs were manipulative and dysfunctional.
Being able to say ‘no’ and tolerate the emotional reactions of dependent persons is an important step in the recovery of a more balanced giving and receiving lifestyle. The next step of course is relearning and practicing the ability to receive love again. It’s very hopeful, given the fact that we come into this world knowing exactly how to receive love, mother nature makes sure of that.
For some people, the self-sacrifice that they’ve learned forms over over time, commonly a derivative of having to take care of dependent family members. Relearning how to limit self-sacrifice and be more open and receptive to love, whether it comes from others or oneself, always involves disrupting the guilt feelings that inevitably accompany this change. Of course, you also have to live with whatever people in your life can realistically give you without making painful demands for more.
The last step in this recovery process is to learn how to take care of yourself. Sometimes for the very first time. Taking care of yourself means, letting a healthy self-interest have a place in your lifestyle.
This usually boils down to making sure your own needs are a part of what you pay attention to in the course of daily living. Again, this is one way to ensure that you replenish your emotional life. Remember, when you take good care of yourself, what you have to offer others is healthier for them and you.
If you don’t take care of yourself and you don’t let other people give you love when you need it, you’ll burn-out over time and silently suffer feelings of frustration and resentment until your unhappiness turns to symptoms. I strongly recommend you make these changes in the way you’re living before getting to that point.
Comments? Welcome. Dr. Tom Jordan
Thank you for your insight.