Thursday, 15 July 2010

The nature of giving and receiving love : some thoughts

From the first as infants we look to be lovingly cherished. The paediatrician and psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott suggested that a human being could not give love to another if he had not received it himself. One of the most despairing of experiences is to receive from someone we might reasonably desire to love us (for instance our principal mothering figure) attention which is given grudgingly. Such a person shows no satisfaction in the infant's pleasure, and by refusing to acknowledge an infant's attempts at loving responses manifestly demonstrates a refusal to love. The probable and natural outcome for an infant experiencing this is a mistrust of the mutuality of love relationships. In turn a tendency develops to demand wholely unselfish love. "Love me and me alone or you will be dismissed from my life." This is to say that if this process is not interrupted, as the infant grows through childhood and then into adulthood he will look for self-sacrifice in others as the only evidence of love for him.

To give care for someone willingly and lovingly is pleasant for the giver and so it brings its own rewards. When someone who has only experienced attention which has been reluctantly given receives care which is willingly and lovingly given, he finds it unacceptable. He neither knows how, nor desires to return it. The gift of willingly given love has no value for him as a source of warmth and security. He does not trust it. Its secondary material value may stay with him but he cannot accept its spontaneity and its invitation to reciprocality because he can only demand that others should enjoy loving him to the exclusion of all else. The newborn infant may naturally demand this but not an adult.

This is not to say restorative efforts should not be made and I believe psychodynamic therapy as a group practice or a one-to-one exercise can over time help those who have been deprived of love with a feeling of their own real intrinsic value as they experience the care and concern another or others have for them. Reparation becomes possible as does the capacity to have care for others.

Updated 25.3.13
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