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Living Well News – Improving Health through Increasing our Capacity for Love

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Love: More than Just Romance

Relationships are generally the primary reason people seek counseling. Whether due to a recent breakup, a problem behavior that led to relational problems or difficulties forming lasting bonds with others – romantic or otherwise, relationships take precedence in terms of what is important in life. For many, the month of February highlights relationships with Valentine’s Day on the 14th of the month. As a therapist, I hear my clients relay feelings of desire, bittersweet memories of loves past, or hopes for a future love. For some the feelings are quite powerful – I am also made aware of how many people judge their self-worth based on their relationship status and how much pain that creates. However, there has to be something more; more than romantic love that helps us feel happy, healthy, and whole. It is so easy to believe that the only type of love that is worthwhile and validating is romantic love. We are taught this via our society through the media and our couple’s oriented culture. Romantic love is often trumped as a point of arrival and social status – Known as “Eros” it is based on strong more erotic feelings toward another. It usually occurs in the first stages of an intimate “romantic” relationship and is a time of emotional intensity and happiness. Therefor it is so easy for those who are not involved in romantic couplings to feel left out or less than. However, this is not a sentencing! There is so much more love to be had in the world that reaches beyond romance – So many other ways to be connected and to be able to give and receive in gratifying growth-oriented ways. For instance, we often forget the importance of true friendship which can provide a sense of trust and comfort ability; an overall sense of emotional safety and well-being. Friendship love or rather “Philos” can be fulfilling and connective. Have you ever felt emotional warmth after spending the day with a close friend? We also forget that there is an even bigger overarching love that encompasses everyone and everything – “Agape” which is total unconditional love. Agape allows us to love everyone, even those we may not particularly like as it is based in compassion for others, and knowing that some things are just what they are – unconditional acceptance of what is without judgment. It enables us to step back and view even tragic situations with compassion for all involved, even the ones that hurt others. Have you ever experienced heartfelt compassion in response to human ignorance? Seeing how very unfortunate things can happen and how all parties may have suffered whether they are aware of it or not? So, yes, there are many types of love available to us. All is there for us if we are available to grow into and appreciate its many forms.

The Importance of Loving Ourselves

We have all heard the saying “You must love yourself before loving someone else.” But, it is indeed true that the foundation of all loving stems from loving ourselves first. Sometimes it is hard to see why, but it is so important to accept who we are and to learn how to treat ourselves with kindness and respect before we approach forming primary bonds with others. The way we experience ourselves being seen by others can be a true indicator of how we feel about ourselves – our confidence, comfort ability, and our level of self-acceptance. Being in the presence of others in a quiet and intimate way can bring up many emotions and feelings that we have stored inside ourselves. We are often made aware of what we don’t accept about ourselves when we find ourselves judging or being critical of others. It is these thoughts and assumptions about ourselves that need to change in order to benefit from the connection with others that is available to us. It is easy to feel afraid and alone when we believe our judgments and over attach to our thoughts. Essentially, thinking isn’t living and thoughts about connecting with others are not true connection. When we stay connected to ourselves and are present with others in the moment, we are loving ourselves and, in turn, sharing that love with others. This is healing and healthy for all of us, as we all benefit by another’s true presence. It is the connection and validation for which we search.

Developing Community

Many people report feeling very alone in these times. Careers, kids’ activities, demands via technology, etc., all pull us in different directions at times. No wonder depression, anxiety, addiction and other chronic conditions are on the rise. Curious, that despite the amount of communication we engage in that we do not actually connect – emotionally and intellectually. Texting, Facebook, emailing, SKYPE, etc. does not replace in person, one-on-one connection. However, we all need community. No one ultimately gets anywhere alone. We each benefit from having a foundational group of people who support us in witnessing our lives and validating us in our experiences. It is a tremendous gift to one another. It also helps us grow and become balanced in our ability to give and to receive. As a group we connect at a frequency that is of higher order with a resonance that fosters a sense of collective well-being. There is evidence that supports these connections and the biologic mappings that translate into disease or health, happiness, and longevity. How highly an individual perceives their quality of life is noted as a significant predictor of improved health outcomes. While many factors contribute to this, social satisfaction consistently rises to the top of the pyramid. Healthiest individuals highly valued and prioritized relationships with family, friends, and community. The bottom line – support and connection to others fills a perpetual need for sustaining life satisfaction and for living well. The science linking social connection with health outcomes consistently notes the quality, depth, meaning, and trust that embody the connections. It’s about compassion and caring for others as much as it is feeling cared for and tended to. Therefore, developing community calls upon a different set of social skills and a higher order love than what is personally gratifying to us individually. It is a collective effort. We invest in the well-being of the group. In doing so, we suspend some of our impulsive wants and delay gratification in the group interest. Essentially, we want everyone to feel respected acknowledged and cared for — we create a balanced society.

Tips for Creating a Sense of Community

  1. Be aware of the people who are around you each day. Talk with them, ask how they are doing, and get to know them.
  2. Get a pet and tend to its care. Feel what it is like to have a living creature in the house and be present to it.
  3. Join a club or group that is aimed at helping the community be better. Seek out an organic co-op or environmental cause, something that speaks to your values.
  4. Join or start a book club.
  5. Get involved in a spiritual group or church if that is your belief.
  6. Seek out a yoga, meditation or personal growth oriented group.

There is much pressure during the Christmas / New Year’s holidays to “be in a relationship” and/or have a date for family / work events. And, just when the holidays are over and you think you’re “safe,” Valentine’s comes up and, again, the same pressure re-surfaces. Much of the time the holidays highlight our need for others – not just romantic connections. Sometimes, reaching out, developing and maintaining relationships are not so easy. Building relationships and connections takes self and social awareness, as well as interpersonal skills to keep connections alive to be sources of growth and fulfillment. If its’ been a long time since you have needed to reach out and or you feel lean on the skills to do so, Integrated Treatment Solutions can help with building skills for personal and social competence.

About the Author
Paula Tropiano is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Addictions Specialist providing holistic – skills based counseling and therapy to adults in West Chester, PA. (610) 692-4995.