08 Jan

Lasting Change, Not Temporary Relief

“The human heart cries out for help; the human soul implores us for deliverance; but we do not heed their cries, for we neither hear nor understand “ – Khalil Gibran

People talk about changing themselves, whether just some minor aspect, perhaps a habit, annoying trait, or particular behaviour, or even revamping their entire personality and approach to living.

But most people who care enough to actually make the effort to change, do so without a proper appreciation of how to actually go about properly doing this.

Wanting to change is a good thing, it’s just not at all easy.

One of the complications that arises is that we have become grossly confused with the proper understanding of what change is about.

At one level, change seems rather easy.

When people want change in their life because it doesn’t feel right, they often take vacations, drink alcohol or take drugs, seek new relationships, or try any one of a number of different avenues in an effort to create differences with the ultimate goal of  making themselves feel better.

This is not surprising, and factually speaking, creates changes.  Each of these activities, or combinations of them, not only change how I think and feel about myself, they also usually create differences in how I feel about the people I am with, and how I perceive the world I live in.

Occasionally, these (self-coping) actions provide periodic relief from pain and distress. But often they only prolong the problem or the pain,  and occasionally, make the situation worse.

Furthermore, these are the easy ways, the superficial ways.  They are made available to us through the society in which we live should we choose them.  Furthermore,  whether we realize it or not, we choose these options because one way or another,  we are actually encouraged to use them, by the society in which we live.  Most people at one point or another have tried them.

The type of change process I am referring to involves much more than a mood alteration, or finding momentary relief.

I am not talking about change by putting something into my body, or looking to the outside world or someone else to solve my problem.

My primary interest and therapeutic approach is with changing the fundamental nature of our “self”.  It is directed towards and concerned with the process  of our emotional and  psychological development, maturation, and evolution.

More than this, it is also an approach designed to effect change so as to potentially become a positive and constructive force for others and for the world around us.

Problematically for many, there is nothing easy about this process. Every person I see has their own unique challenges and tasks.  But there certainly is a path, and this level of change is absolutely possible.

Contact me if you are interested in finding out more.

06 Feb

Relationship Anxiety (Conclusion)

In a previous post, Relationship Anxiety, I discussed why and how interactions with others can introduce anxiety into our lives, and under certain conditions, can generate remarkable levels of stress.

While it is often difficult enough for adults when their interactions with other adults threaten their sense of reality and security,  it is even more disturbing when this happens for children in their interaction with adults, especially when it is with their parents.

Indeed, it is here that the origins of why some of us feel fundamentally secure while others do not begins to develop and unfold. And it is those experiences that will define the quality of every subsequent experience we have, and influence the many ways we will learn to respond to every personal interaction we encounter.

This fundamental insecurity generates anxiety, and with our all too common human tendency to minimise pain which stems from anxiety almost all of us have a wide and complex variety of  avoidance based strategies and defences created across the many years and stages of our psychological  development.

So it is is that some of  our reactions in times of relationship stress are reasonably mature and productive, while others can appear childish and are destructive.

These historically rooted developmental avoidance strategies help explain why many people don’t like to argue with those around them, why they don’t like to stand out from others, and why they can be so easily persuaded to surrender their beliefs and alter their behaviour if it allows them to feel like they belong or fit in.

Coupled with the fact that our defensive avoidance reactions are primarily unconscious to us also help explain how two people can begin a relationship so in love, and end up fighting and hating each other so completely, without ever really understanding why or knowing what to do about it.

That which is familiar, predictable and controllable is comforting.  That which is unfamiliar, unpredictable and uncontrollable creates anxiety .

Perhaps this explains why, in the larger arena of social relationships,  there is so much distrust and conflict between people who hold different religious beliefs, or cultural values, or even sexual preferences.

It also accounts for why we so quickly criticise those who don’t share our beliefs or ideologies, and why we feel so completely justified in doing so.

What is so odd and distressing about all of this however, is the fact that the very existence of differing realities and values of others can  potentially make our experience of life so so rich and interesting.

It is because there are such difference that we can learn about life beyond our own narrow personal understandings and perhaps begin to learn what it is we need to make this a better world for us all to live in.

It is a shame this opportunity is wasted all too often.

18 Dec

Mindfulness

Over the last 25 years there has been a surprisingly rapid acceptance of “Mindfulness” practices into mainstream culture, including utilization as a therapeutic practice in the arena of psychology.

Mindfulness is now offered to help reduce depression, anxiety, stress, physical pain, relationship conflict, eating disorders, and a wide array of other distressing experiences.

As helpful as this may be, even passing familiarity with the Buddhist teachings identifies that such practices were actually intended for a much larger purpose which can generally be described as helping individuals evolve, emotionally and psychologically.

And perhaps, because mindfulness practices are amazingly easy to misunderstand and immensely difficult to properly implement, it is not surprising that much of what we see today being offered and practiced as “Mindfulness” seems to miss the developmental point of it all.

Mindfulness as a practice is not simply about finding a way to suffer less or to be happy. The natural consequence of proper Mindfulness practice are profound alterations in how we both experience our life, and how we live it.

It is also my contention, that as psychological growth and development occurs, then the quality of our relationships must also transform. Here I am referring to the relationship with my “self”, with the “other”, and with the “world” in which I live. And as this changes, so too does the fundamental basis for my actions and behaviours.

From my perspective, far too many modern Mindfulness orientations seem to be promising peace and happiness as though it were a pill we could take, without clear appreciation of the fact that this practice requires considerable discipline and proper instruction.

My next post, On Mindfulness, will provide greater clarity on the above thoughts and more. I encourage anyone interested to continue reading, and comment if you wish.

20 Nov

On Mindfulness

This article examines what I consider to be one of the primary limits to a richer understanding and utilization of Mindfulness.

Historically rooted in the enlightenment teachings of Buddhism and Taoism, I see the proper practice of Mindfulness as offering a genuine pathway to psychological and spiritual growth.

In terms of its current level of cultural acceptance, Mindfulness has come a long way in the last 25 years. It is also my view however, that today’s mainstream practice of Mindfulness does not yet properly serve as a vehicle for accelerating or encouraging such growth and development.

Let me be clear that after 25 years of clinical practice as a psychologist, I understand that for most people there are much more important and pressing issues than trying to grasp the nature of consciousness,  or to truly appreciate  what it means when we talk about “our self”, or “others”.

Most people do not genuinely seek answers to questions such as “Who am I”? “How do I live my life so it feels meaningful to me”? “Why do I keep doing things that hurt me and don’t stop”? , “Why do I hurt the people I love”? And so on.

So this is precisely why, when individuals do arrive at a place in their life where they are willing to allow someone to help with their concerns, or to find answers to such questions, it seems so unfortunate that the value of Mindfulness in term of teaching them how to nurture their psychological growth is seldom being offered.

There are of course, many issues involved here.  But one of the central challenges I see relates to how  we over-identify our thought processes as being the central quality of our “mind”, and subsequently, our “self”.

This is a widely held attitude most easily exemplified in Descartes dictum “I think, therefore I am”.  Indeed it seems to be a socially accepted assumption that we experience our world through our thoughts ; that we define our self  in terms of such thoughts and those thoughts are the primary drivers of our experiences, and ultimately our actions.

This idea, this working connection between who “I” am and what I do because of what and how I think, seems so ingrained into our culture that it now has the status of an unquestionable truth. The result is that interest in “self” and “mind” is all too often restricted to consideration of thought process,  primarily in terms of how to change them.

Consider this explanation for example,

The core skill of mindfulness is teaching you to recognize your thought patterns. Doing this enables you to break away from the false constructs of your mind; those words which are most troublesome to you. These false constructs are what I call Big Lies that you have come to accept as true in spite of all evidence to the contrary. It is your response to the Big Lies stored in your mind that creates hurtful and painful reactions. When practicing mindfulness you become able to redefine the false constructs present in your mind. To reinterpret how you experience certain psychological events.”

I agree with this notion of “Big Lies”; those false constructs we create in our mind. And I also agree with the description of the manner in which harmful reactions and behaviours effects flow from them.

We certainly do seem to create meaning of our self, our world, and our relationships from our thoughts. And our behaviours certainly do seem to flow from such constructions.  Who would question this?

Indeed, I would support the position that if am depressed and am encouraged to pay attention to the type and quality of thoughts I am having, then my experiences of being depressed will shift. There is enough research evidence to validate this approach that it would seem to be pointless to dispute the evidence. And I am not disputing that evidence.

Part of what I am arguing however, is that strictly speaking, these changes are not occurring because I have changed my negative thoughts.  Rather, it is because through awareness I have altered my relationship with my thoughts such that the fundamental basis and dynamic for the experience of depression in the first place has changed.

Another way to describe this relationship change is to say that in the very act of becoming aware of my negative thoughts, I am now identifying with them, or relating to them, in a fundamentally different manner because  I am no longer struggling with them. Descriptively, I am now interested in them, essentially orienting myself towards rather than away from them.

Likewise, if  I was instructed to pay attention to my breathing rather than paying attention to my depressing thought,  then I would also be altering my relationship to my thinking.

Accordingly, it is  therefore accurate to say that  if  I am absorbed in my thoughts (by definition meaning I have  little awareness) and I am  telling myself how bad things,  then this will affect my experiences.

So in the process of activating my awareness, (regardless of what I am becoming aware of) I am actually shifting my relationship to those experiences.  And in so doing, the fundamental quality of those experience changes. It has to.

Within this  framework of understanding the human process, it is not surprising that cognitive therapy should be effective in helping people  with depression, or anxiety, or almost any other form of human suffering.

Likewise, there would seem to be a real value in a Mindfulness practice in which people are encouraged to identify with their thought processes as a means of effecting changes in their behaviour.

But believing that our thoughts are the primary determinant of my experience, or my behaviour, misses this vital relational connection.

Moreover,  I would argue that over-identification with our thought processes actually creates a form of relationship which disconnects us from our wider experiential self.  The very act of doing so  supports the illusion of an isolated and separate ego,  and potentially reignites and reinforces the very fears and reactive behaviours that cause so much pain and suffering in the first place.

It also creates a relational disconnect between myself and others, as well as a disconnect to the world in which I live.  Since my behaviour towards myself, others, and this world is informed by my experiences,  then my behaviour cannot help but reflect this fundamental disconnect.

With proper mindfulness and awareness practices however, we can do something about this.  With proper instruction in awareness, we can directly see why we need to care about all of these relationships.

When we achieve such understanding through our own direct experiences, we no longer need to be convinced by anyone or anything.  And as this happen, the very basis for our moral code and the actions which flow from it begins to reformulate itself.

It is this theme I intend to explain more fully in the upcoming series of articles. And in so doing, it is my wish that a more useful mode of working with Mindfulness can be achieved.  I also hope that these articles might open a dialogue between others on this notion such that between all of us, we can help bring that horizon of understanding, wisdom and compassion, even closer.

02 Nov

Mindfulness: How am I going to change?

Most people tell themselves (or they are told), that they need to change, somehow control their behaviour, to just get a hold of themselves and simply stop being something (angry, jealous, anxious, depressed etc…).  But the simple truth is we cannot successfully “force” our self into changing.  That is simply misguided thinking and it will only lead, at best, to frustration and disappointment.

It is amazing how many people are trying to become better, and are only making matters worse.  Perhaps 95% of the people I see in individual and couples therapy are suffering from this difficulty one way or another.

We have to want to change.   Of that there is no doubt. But it is not enough to want to change.  If we don’t understand what works and what doesn’t we may be spending an inordinate amount of time, energy, and resources  trying to do things that either take us nowhere, or only make things worse.

It is a powerful and compelling notion that if only I look at my life differently, if only I change how I think about myself and others, then perhaps I can be happy. But it is no simple task to truly alter one’s ways of thinking, feeling and acting. There are so many impediments to change, so many sources of confusion and illusion.

If we do decide to change, where do we start?   What is really going to make a difference, and exactly what kind of difference will it make?  What does it even mean to be a better person?

It is my contention that our common ways of understanding how to change ourselves, what we are trying to change into, and why we are even trying to do this, are misguided.

Most people who feel unhappy with some aspect of their self would like to believe that there is some short and easy way to change themselves if only they knew the secret.  Primarily, the form this takes goes something like this – “If I just think long enough and hard enough about what I am doing wrong, I can find a solution and then act on it”.  It is not surprising people think like this. We are fed this illusion in many ways.

Watch some of the popular  “getting help” shows or read most mainstream advice columns and that is how it is presented.  All you need to do is listen to what someone tells you is wrong with you, how to fix it,  and there you go.

Thus it is that most people I see in my practice think, or hope, that if they come to see me for a short chat they will learn this secret and then poof, they will be able to apply it and the transformation will be complete. Believe it or not, this simply does not and cannot work.  In the article entitled “Mindfulness – Freedom From the Known,”  I will try to explain why.

02 Jan

Introduction: Let’s Talk About Love

As a psychologist specializing in working with couples struggling in their relationships, I often hear individuals tell me that even though they are angry or frustrated with their partner, they still love them and believe they are loved in return.

When I ask them how they actually experience this love within the relationship, they often offer explanations such as, “because we’ve stayed together this long”, or “even though he get’s angry at me he can also be really kind and gentle”, or “because she tells me  she loves me” and so on.

My intention here is not to criticize these explanations, but to use them to reflect something that strikes me as quite remarkable.

My clinical and personal experiences suggests that most people seem to have given very little thought or reflection about this thing called love.

It seems odd to me that something most of us would argue is essential and important for us in our relationships, and which we generally consider to be such a powerful source of motivation in our lives, receives so little consideration on our part.

Without question the experience of love is a complex, powerful, and mysterious process. Many knowledgeable and learned individuals have discussed this topic from innumerable angles, and I am not suggesting that we should be scholars in this area.

In fact I would even argue that it does not matter one bit what one “knows” about love at the intellectual level in order for that person to be loving.

But I would argue that there are many things we do in the name of love, which have nothing to do with love at all, and can even be harmful and destructive.

When we equate love with having security and comfort for example, or when we confuse love with being possessiveness and controlling, it becomes very difficult to see what we are doing to others, or what is being done to us.

I will offer some of my reflections on this complex topic of love over this next series of articles.

My primary purpose is not to enter into an intellectual discussion of love but rather to discuss a particular way of looking at this subject which I hope will provide a clear and useful way of looking at our relationships and our life.

I hope it will also help clarify many other terms which are relevant to relationships such as power and control, discipline, responsibility, and honesty and truth, just to name a few.

I would also hope that this viewpoint will offer some direction and guidelines for parents in terms of caring for their children, and ideally, will perhaps help each of us learn healthier, more productive ways of relating to each other, to ourselves, and to our world.

Unless I am mistaken, it looks like were going to need it.

29 Feb

When Love Fails

My clinical experience in working with couples and individuals over the years suggests a fundamental lack of understanding of what it even means to have a truly loving relationship.

In my previous article “Yes, But Do You Really Love Me,” I referred to a specific type of struggle that arises in relationships when one partner is seeking to establish a more meaningful and connected type of relationship, but the other is unable or unwilling to reciprocate.

This article looks more closely at some of the difficulties that arise under these conditions.

There is one basic struggle that seems to arise repeatedly between couples, especially when the commitment level to the relationship begins to deepen. This conflict occurs when one of the partners is seeking a more connected and deeper form of love from their relationship than the other.

It is often the case that their partner in this relationship believes they are already as loving as they could possibly be, and cannot understand why they are being asked for something to be different.

But the partner who knows, or at least feels,  that something truly important and vital is not happening in the relationship may not even be able to explain to the other why they feel so unhappy.

This can creates much confusion and distress for both parties.

The one who doesn’t understand what the problem is may feel unjustly accused, and wonder begin to resent for even raising the issue.

In response, the person raising the issue may start to believe that the problem is with them.  They may conclude (or even be told) they are too needy or that there is something wrong with them they need to solve by their self.

It is not surprising therefore, that when this struggle arises it leads to almost unresolvable conflict.

As a therapist, when I see couples in my practice there is invariably an imbalance between the two partners in terms of their comparative levels of current psychological development.  What satisfies one partner and makes them happy simply doesn’t work for the other; it is not enough.  The net result is that as one partner is pulling for the relationship to change, the other partner is resisting and often pulling for it to remain the same.

Typically, the central issue for change seems to revolve around the ability of the dissatisfied partner who wants more intimacy to properly understand what they are looking for, and to identify this to the resistant partner. Then the question becomes “To what degree can the resistant partner come on side with the wishes of the one seeking change”.

If the initially resistant partner is able and willing to change, then the transition to a higher functioning relationship tends to be fairly smooth and very rewarding for the couple.

If the resistant partner is unwilling to change or unable to do so,  then some very difficult issues arise and it is here that  challenges begin.

The next article will look at this situation is greater detail.

23 May

Love: It’s More Than A Feeling

“I love you.”

When we use these three little words what do we mean, what are we actually saying?

There have been occasions when working with distressed couples in my practice, when it looks as though all is lost and the relationship may be over.

It is not uncommon at this point for one of the partners, in desperation and confusion, to look at the other and say, “But I love you.”

The response from their partner is often: sounds something like this; “I know you say you love me, but you don’t act like you do.”

Something doesn’t quite fit for this partner. There is a discrepancy somewhere between what the words “I love you” are supposed to mean and the actions that are associated with those words.

In making sense of this confusion what I have come to understand is that, when I say “I love you,” it can mean one of two very different things.

Over on one side of the spectrum it can mean, “I love the feelings I have when I am around you,” or similarly, “I love how you make me feel.”

These type of statements reflect how I feel by virtue of things, such as how you look, or what you are doing, which I experience as pleasurable. I feel good when you treat me well, I have positive experiences when you smile at me, and so forth.

I see this as a quite common meaning of the phrase “I love you”.

On the other hand the expression “I love you”, can refer to a very specific type of action in which I act towards you, and for you, in specific ways and with a very clear intention; to encourage and support you, to be of assistance in your emotional and psychological well-being.

This relational value is less common.

These are two radically different meanings of what it means to love another.

Let’s examine this through a simple analogy.

I can look at an amazing garden and experience such beauty and wonder that I say “I love this place!” This expression is a reflection of how I feel about the garden.

One might expect with this type of experience that the person would look forward to return visits, perhaps bring his or her friends to so see it, spend time walking around it, maybe even write about it.

But I could stand there a long time feeling many wonderful things and still never realize that the flowers and plants need watering.

At some point, in order for me to continue to have this garden, a transition in my thinking and behaviour would have to occur.

I would have to understand that if I actually want to be able to look at this garden, I am going to have to offer consistent care and attention for it to flourish. I will have to expend energy, make numerous choices, allocate resources and so on.

In other words, the object of my attention and the aim of my actions would have to transition from “in here” and how I feel, to “over there”, to the needs of something beyond myself.

Even so, it would still not be not enough to simply provide water, exposure to sunlight, good soil and clean air to this garden. I would need to go beyond that. Different plants have different requirements, some actions that might nurture one can harm another.

If I wanted this garden to not just survive but thrive, I would have to take the time and devote the energy to understanding and learning about the specific needs of each flower and plant.

So what about loving “you” in terms of your have your wishes, needs, desires, and preferences? Proper nurturing and caring for another demands actions in which the other is actively recognized on their own terms, actions appropriate for who they are and what they need, rather than how I feel about them.

So when I say “I love you,” am I primarily expressing how I feel about you, or am I also acting in such a way as to actually demonstrate that?

The issue as I am considering it here, requires more than just feeling love for another. It is more complex than simply acting in kind and caring ways.

It is this theme I will look explore in the series of articles entitled “Love as an Act of Will“.

 

15 Jun

Love As An Act Of Will (Part I)

As a psychologist working with couples in conflict and those trying to improve their relationships, my primary focus is on understanding the specific type of work that needs to be done to promote the best interests of both individuals in that relationship.

This work is always directed at encouraging the ongoing growth and development of these individuals and helping them to see how do this for themselves, in their own relationship.

In this article I want to look at the idea of nurturing one’s emotional and psychological growth within their relationship in an effort to explain what this means in terms of how I see it.

In a previous article “Love: It’s More Than A Feeling”, I suggested that we can identify love in terms of the feelings one has for another, or as an action one takes within the relationship. I explained why I felt that love as a feeling was a limited and often one-sided experience of love, and why it might not be conducive to a healthy or even mutually satisfying relationship.

Scott Peck, in his book “The Road Less Traveled“*, defined love as “The will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s or another’s spiritual growth” (pg. 81).

This is an example of one definition of love in which it is defined in terms of an action rather than a feeling, and it is further qualified as an action we choose for our self and for another for a very particular purpose. I want to use it to anchor this and subsequent discussions because there are many aspects of this definition I like, and think it offers some very clear directions that can be followed if one chooses to do so.

I do not interpret the term spiritual within the standard religious context. Neither do I interpret it in terms of something “out-there”, “psychic experiences, most “new age beliefs”, or any of the many magical/superstitious ideas that often surround the word spiritual.

Rather, I use the term to identify a normal process of psychological and emotional maturation that begins at birth and progresses into adulthood, and which can, under the right circumstances, be continually developed throughout out life.

Physical growth occurs in a predictable pattern throughout our life span. These phases of growth follow a consistent and familiar developmental sequence such that first we are a baby, then a toddler, and on up through the teenager and adult stages.

As any parent knows, we also follow a developmental sequence in terms of emotional and psychological changes. As children get older their ability to think becomes increasingly complex, their emotions become better regulated, they see more clearly how things are connected and related to each other, they become more aware of others, and so on.

Just as there are “average” height and weights for different age groups, so too are there age appropriate “average” levels of emotional and psychological development.

Interestingly, as with height and weight, by the time people reach early adulthood, the rate at which they are growing emotionally and psychologically seems to slow down dramatically. Generally, we do not seem to mature much beyond the level we achieve as young adults even as we get older. Or if we do it is a very slow process.

But there are levels of emotional/psychological growth beyond this average adult level of development which have been well researched and documented by many others (see, for example, www.kenwilber.com). Most people never reach these more developed levels, often referred to as the “spiritual” stages of growth, and so it is not surprising that they are either poorly understood, or perceived in a distorted and often inflated manner.

While there are many remarkable aspects to these higher stages of development, most adults in our population have flat-lined at a mid-level range of emotional/psychological development, and many are functioning below that.

But most importantly, they are staying at those levels. They are not developing further and in a very real sense are stagnating there. This is where the majority of my work takes place because that is where most people are operating.

It is my belief that our greatest source of suffering stems from the failure to develop and nurture our emotional and psychological development, and that the most important task we could undertake is to nurture and promote that growth and development.

What most people don’t seem to understand is that the majority (not all) of the adult population has developed to the point where they actually can nurture their own psychological development given the right direction and guidance.  They just don’t know how to do it.

Furthermore, not only can they learn how to do this with some guidance, one of the most powerful vehicles for effecting this change can occur by including their relationships as the vehicle for that change.

As I will explain in further articles, the failure to identify and promote this development has many unrecognized consequences for us in our life and our relationships. If we cannot identify the source of those difficulties we cannot address the underlying problem.

Worse than that, when we misidentify the fundamental nature of our problem, we spend an inordinate amount of time developing and implementing solutions that not only won’t work, but can often be quite harmful and sometimes destructive.

So what exactly are the ways to nurture our spiritual development???

The answer to this question is very easy to express (many people do it all the time) but very, very difficult to implement.

We grow through awareness, by becoming more conscious of our self, through self-discovery, self-realizations, self-actualization, or, using Peck’s definition, we extend our self.

In the next article, Part II, I look more closely at this notion of extending our self.

06 Jul

Love as An Act of Will (Part II)

In Part I of the previous article, (Love as Act of Will Part 1), I presented a definition from Scott Peck’s book, “The Road Less Travelled” in which he described love as “The will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s and another’s spiritual growth” and briefly explored the meaning of “spiritual growth.”

Let’s look more closely at this action described as “the will to extend oneself…”.

The act of extending oneself can be seen as two movements; one inwards and one outwards. The inward extension can be identified as an ongoing and compassionate inquiry into the nature of one’s self. It is taking a look at who or what one is made of, moving down into one’s being and exploring the psychological space and places that define us –  some of  which we may not even yet be familiar with.

This inquiry is more than simply an examination of our thoughts and feelings.

It includes, for example, making a genuine effort to see how we really, truly feel about our partner, other people, and ourself. It is a sustained attempt to fully appreciate the differences between our many emotional experiences such as pleasure, pain, envy, anger and how we move through the world and make choices on the basis of those feelings. It is an interested inquiry into our memories, images, sensations, dreams, hopes, fears, and the endless depth of other experiences that comprise the fundamental sense of “who am I”.

The outer extension involves the considerate sharing of one’s intimate self to another. This is an attempt to let the other know more about you, to share what you are finding in your personal inward discovery with the other.

This is much more than a recounting of one’s thoughts, recounting the day’s activities, or a reviewing of one’s personal history to the other. It is the willingness to “put oneself fully behind” what is being said, to present the actual depth of one’s experience, including their emotional aspects such as shame, doubts, fears etc.. It is in a very real sense an intention to fully risk oneself with the other, something we seldom do.

Extending oneself towards another also involves more than communication. It also means responding and acting on behalf of the other in terms of their needs and their best interests, not simply your own needs and interests (see my article – The Golden Rule).

Having said all this, it is much easier to give to others when they are also also taking the time and making the commitment to discover themselves and are willing to extend their self to you. It is this reciprocal effort which really moves the relationship along and provides the ideal conditions for growth in the relationship.

Needless to say, without a basic level of mutual interest, trust, and care, this type of relationship can not occur. Nonetheless, it does not preclude you from acting in this manner since your own personal growth still requires this whether another is interested or not.

So how does this all work together? In future articles I will comment on how I see most relationships working in terms of this definition of love. I will also identify several key areas for you to consider to help you decide if your own relationship is currently functioning as a vehicle for your emotional/psychological growth.

* Scott Peck, M.D. “The Road Less Traveled”. Simon and Schuster (1978)