Love is part of being human but it is not something that just comes naturally, at least that is what one analyst believes. Loving another takes work. It requires effort, discipline, concentration, patience, faith, and the overcoming of narcissism. Love is not a feeling, rather it is a practice.
Psychoanalyst and social philosopher Erich Fromm outlined this perspective in his 1956 book, The Art of Loving. Fromm thinks of love not as something that is mysterious or magical but rather something that can be analyzed and explained. His theory revolves around the idea that a person cannot fully experience real love until they have developed their total personality. Part of this involves self-love. It means learning how to care for yourself before you can fully care for another. It means taking responsibility for your choices, your decisions, your actions. It means respecting yourself, knowing and being honest with yourself about your weaknesses and your strengths. Truly knowing and understanding yourself means being realistic. A person must learn to love their neighbor with “true humility, courage, faith, and discipline,” he writes.
Work To Be Loved
He believes that a person cannot fall in love but rather they have to work to be in love. It is not something that happens to a person, but instead is something that is worked at achieving. Fromm argues there are four basic elements to true love: care, responsibility, respect, and knowledge.
His perspective, while agreed to by some and criticized by others, contains a foundation that is undeniably true across all relationships—you can’t maintain a relationship without putting in the effort. That is the bottom line. It is not smooth sailing all the time. You can’t throw in the towel every time things get difficult. You really have to work at it. It does take discipline, it does take a level-headed mindset and the ability to consider both sides of the spectrum.
Regardless of beliefs or theories, at the end of the day, I think we can all agree that love is beautiful and as Fromm would say “is one of life’s greatest achievements.”
Have you ever notice how your brain seems to always pick up and dwell on the negative? It is all part of science. Our brains are hardwired to respond and focus on the negative.
Studies done by psychologist Dr. John Cacioppo, as previously mentioned on my blog prove the brain reacts stronger to negative stimuli than positive. This is all part of the brains built-in mechanism to protect ourselves from danger. But, always focusing on the negative can be tough on our mental health. It can worsen depression and anxiety, and lead to general unhappiness.
Practicing gratitude—while a learned practice—can help us pivot from our brain’s hardwiring for negativity, and help us to see the positive things we often overlook. Gratitude takes us out of our own nearsightedness and helps us recognize there is something/someone other than ourselves. It helps us to remember to be fair and to see both the negatives and positives in life and in others. It creates a more well-rounded existence.
A powerful way—and relatively easy routine to adapt—to practice gratitude is The Power of Three. It is to give gratitude, whether it be at the end of each day or in the moment, to someone, something, and yourself. Each day, give recognition to (at least) one person for doing something nice for you, one positive thing that happened to you, and, last but not least, to yourself for doing something nice for others or yourself. Don’t forget to be nice to yourself!
I encourage my clients to start gratitude journals, where each night before bed they write down at least one positive thing that came of the day. It can be as simple as not getting any red lights on the way home from work, listening to your favorite song when you woke up, getting a hug from your child, sharing dinner with your spouse, opening the door for a stranger, or a funny joke with a friend. There is something positive that happens each day. Practicing gratitude keeps us from being bogged down by all the negativity our brains seek. Using a journal to record those positive things can help us to keep stock of all the positive in our lives. It only takes a few minutes and can have a huge impact on your day-to-day happiness level.
What are you grateful for today?
We have heard it our whole lives and now we are saying it to our children: “practice makes perfect.” In our minds we are encouraging our children to keep trying. We are telling them they will get better at a task the more they give it a shot. We are teaching them to not give up. But our children are hearing they need to be perfect, they should be perfect, there is no room for failure.
I started thinking about this when my own daughter, at the young age of five, starting showing signs of being a perfectionist. She wanted to do everything perfectly and was highly frustrated when things failed. She saw herself as a failure. As a parent that was hard to witness. I knew she was just learning and through practice she would get better, but as with all things in life there was bound to be some failure along the way.
A Hard Road
The life of a perfectionist is not an easy one. It is a hard road full of feelings of loneliness, sadness, and anxiety. The reality is that nothing is perfect so to task ourselves with such lofty expectations is exhausting.
So rather than continuing to tell our children that “practice makes perfect,” perhaps we may want to change it to “practice makes easy.” I mean that is really what we are trying to say anyway, right?
If you have a child who is showing signs of being a perfectionist there are some things you can do to help:
- Provide your child with unconditional care and respect.
- Try to keep their environment calm and structured.
- Give lots of praise.
- Avoid comparing your child to others.
- Stay away from words like genius, brilliant, or perfect.
- Help them to understand everything cannot be perfect.
- Listen to them, talk to them.
- Help them set realistic standards.
- Let them know they are loved.
- Provide them with opportunities to succeed and improve self-confidence.
- Explain to them that failure is an opportunity for growth.
The best thing you can do for your child is to let them know you are proud of them for trying their best, that is really the only thing we have control over, right?