David van der Want
MA Clinical Psychology (RAU)
Your work is to discover your work and then, with all your heart, to give yourself to it - Buddha
Is love enough: Into the darkness or Why is this so sore?
Yes but is love enought?
I believe that psychologists and the loosely cohesive body of mental health professionals, in addition to being steeped in the practices and methods of science, should draw on the understandings offered by great poets, dramatists and novelists. To my mind, narrative and literature offer far richer and more nuanced comprehension of the drama of human being human; the intra and interpersonal struggles, triumphs and tragedies that we experience in our lives and loves.
Uncle Siggy Freud knew this. His theories drew on the ancient stories of Greek myth. Another therapist who knows it is Thomas Moore, a retired monk and practising psychotherapist and author of Care of the Sou/. He says that love is a turbulent experience, one that often invites us into an experience of darkness, our own and that of our partner. In his book, "The dark night of the soul" he refutes the popular idea that darkness, by which he means experiences akin to depression and significant emotional pain, is something to be avoided. He believes that darkness is necessary at times in our lives when we are attempting to grow, to know more of ourselves. For him, the gift in the dark is a more complete knowledge of ourselves. He echoes Theodore Roethke who famously said "In a dark time the eye begins to see".
I like this framing of love. It offers a pleasing understanding of the pain we often experience in relationships. It opens an avenue for us to accept rather than resist any pain we may experience in love relationships.
And |’m interested in how love does this. How is it that love can take us to giddy heights of excitement, joy and ecstasy, fling us into an experience of oneness with another person and then sometimes, just as powerfully, drop us into despair, rage and immense difficulty. What makes love hurt?
One idea about this is that when we love, it leads us to form a partnership with another person and, more specifically to create a family unit with or without children, we create a context for ourselves to reexperience the drama of our early encounters with love and family. Love is the impetus and energy that impels us towards an encounter with ourselves through an extended encounter with the other. ln the loving of another person in this way we get reflected back to us an image of the way in which we love and of the love which grew us through childhood and into adulthood.
When love leads us into pain and anger towards our partner whether it be because we perceive them as inconsiderate or dependent and passive or wilful for example, it may be that this is a reflection of our own callousness or passivity or wilfulness. Or perhaps even our own experiences of being so treated in the first love-space of our family of origin.
The implication here is that when we gaze at another in this space, a significant part of what we see is our own drama, the imprint that our own life and love stories have left on us thus far. When love leads us into pain and anger towards our partner whether it be because we perceive them as inconsiderate or dependent and passive or wilful for example, it may be that this is a reflection of our own callousness or passivity or wilfulness. Or perhaps even our own experiences of being so treated in the first love-space of our family of origin.
Perhaps love serves us by showing us these things and sometimes when they are difficult to accept or acknowledge they cause pain. We become stuck in the drama of our own wounds, recreating the injury with our partner. And so we fight and bicker and withdraw or beg and plead with our partners, attempting to change something that we perceive they are doing to us. We are desperate to create a different experience. But very often, the more we attack or cajole or reject the behaviour of our partner, the stronger and more painful the reflection becomes. We do not easily realise that the anger and frustration and desperation we feel towards the other in situations like this is possibly anger at ourselves or our history.
And perhaps this is love’s great service to us — it keeps hurting until we can own and recognise the part of us that it is trying to reveal to us. As Antoine de Saint-Exupery wrote "Perhaps love is the process of my leading you gently back to yourself". The violence of love lies in our unwillingness to be so led.
Now this is not in any way an encompassing understanding of love but it can be a useful frame for images of love that cause us pain. It is perhaps a less mature form of love that sees us locked in angry and painful embraces. I‘m interested in knowing what a more mature love may look like. Antoine de Saint- Exupery also said "Life has taught us that love does not consistin gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction" and this is a love worth looking at in writing still to be done.