Self-Love and Humanistic Psychology

  A discussion of love would be incomplete without focusing upon self-love and the humanistic psychology which has embraced it.  Humanistic psychology emphasizes growth, aliveness, and the fulfillment of the person.  Sidney Jourard (1971, p. 42) defined love as "action undertaken with the aim of fostering happiness and growth in the person loved.'' Humanistic psychology applies this attitude toward the happiness and growth of the person: seeking to teach individuals to cultivate this nurturing love toward self. It promotes the person's capacity to grow and unfold as a fully human potentiality: to be fully alive.


  Humanistic psychology maintains that the person is in some way in contact with the principles of his or her own fulfillment. Fromm (1947, wrote


Humanistic ethics . . . is formally based on the principle that only man himself can determine the criteria for virtue 'good' is what is good for man and 'evil' is what is detrimental to man: the sole criterion of ethical value being man's welfare (p. 22).


  This idea is at least as old as Spinoza.  As related by Fromm ( 1947):


Spinoza arrives at a concept of virtue: . . . 'To act absolutely in conformity with virtue is, in us, nothing but acting, living and preserving our being , . . .' Preserving one's being' means to Spinoza to become that which one potentially is  . . . . By good, consequently, Spinoza understands everything 'which we are certain is a means by which we may approach nearer and nearer to the model of human nature he set before us.'  By evil he understands 'everything which we are certain hinders us from reaching that model' (p. 3). [Italics Original]


                 Fromm (1947) wrote that


 All . . . have an inherent tendency to actualize their specific potentialities.  The aim of man's life, therefore, is to be understood as the unfolding of his powers according to the laws of his nature . . . .   To sum up, good in humanistic  ethics is the affirmation of life, the unfolding of man's powers.  Virtue is responsibility towards one's own existence.  Evil constitutes the crippling of mans powers; vice is irresponsibility towards himself (p. 29).   [Italics Original]


  The actualization of self and the realization of life is a common theme in humanistic psychology.  Life is seen as reaching for its potentials; the striving for the creation of self.  This attempt may go uncultivated when the demands of survival are such that just alive dominates one's energy.  The person's effort at self-actualization may be so feeble and disguised that its existence is obscured by its insanity.  Yet, given an opportunity of time or an outlet, humans strive to be more.


  Maslow (1962) spoke of "self-actualization." Rogers (1977) emphasized a "directional tendency" in self. Fromm (1947, 1968) spoke of and becoming one's self. May (1975) and Allport (1950) phrased it as "becoming."  It is the human desire for fuller being; for fulfillment of life.


  Humanistic Psychology insists upon the Self's right to be, grow, and develop into what one potentially is. This "person-centered" approach to nurturing and growth represents a new and bold development.  Humanistic psychology maintains a faith that each individual is somehow attuned to the larger principle of life.  A person can tap this reservoir of "personal knowledge" as a basis for action and decision making.


  The knowledge and the striving toward life can be trusted. In the social realm, Laing (1964) argued that self is an accurate reflection of the pressures, parameters, and opportunities of the social context in which a person seeks to create his or her life.  Rogers (1977, p. 8) spoke of "dealing with clients whose lives . . . often seem abnormal, twisted, scarcely human.  Yet the directional tendency in them is to be trusted."  Maslow (1962) formulated the desire to bring to life what the self can be as the process of "self-actualization."  Rogers (1961) also spoke of the movement of self towards actualization:


The organism has one basic tendency and striving -- to actualize, maintain, and enhance the experiencing organism.  Rather than many needs and motives, it seems entirely possible that all organic and psychological needs may be described as partial aspects of this one fundamental need (p. 487).


  Maslow (1962) wrote that


We can certainly now assert that at least a reasonable theoretical, and empirical case has been made for the presence within the human being of a tendency toward, or a need for growing in a direction that can be summarized in general as self-actualization, or psychological health. . . . That is, the human being is so constructed that he presses toward fuller and fuller being and this means pressing toward what most people would call good values, towards serenity, kindness, courage, honesty, love, unselfishness, and goodness (p. 155).


  Harkening back to the Old Testament "I am becoming what I am becoming," humanistic psychology posits a potential for an unfolding of life.  This is not a realized state of being, but a process of becoming.  There are also echoes of Plato here and a kinship with Christian



  Love is Now. It is the recognition of the present that transforms.  Eastern philosophy, recent Western theology and existential philosophy, and the emerging Humanistic Psychology all state this:  that in coming fully into the present -- the Now -- there is a transition.  Self is transformed in a realization of the present: an emphasis on fuller being.  This is not a passive mediation, but an active present which ignites like the light of day and transforms self, personal perception, and the world.  The Vision is but for tomorrow, the Feeling's here today, and Love is just the moment growing on the way.  Humanistic



;  psychology contains such an understated epistemology. Within the person is hypothesized the possibility of a larger experience.  This was Perls (1969) emphasis on "now" and the realization of the presence of self.


  Frankl (196) argued that central to man is the "will to meaning."  This is not a drive, but an aspiration in the Bergsonian sense.  Man aspires to meaning: to make sense out of his existence. following Frankl, we might speak of the actualization of meaning.  With consciousness comes the will to meaning;  with self-awareness is coupled the desire to create a meaningful self-existence.  This "will to meaning" is the central purpose of human beings.


  The desire for fuller life and fuller value demands a measure of self-determination to enact the knowledge gleamed from self-awareness.  This idea of actualizing one's awareness into a meaningful world, is crucial to a humanistic conception of man.


  Upon close examination, Rogers' 'fully functioning person' and Maslow's 'self-actualized person' appear to be the natural outcomes of the unobstructed development of the process of self-realization.  Under ideal conditions of growth, Perls has often stated, the human organism can be trusted to regulate itself toward optimal integration and interaction with its physical and social environment (Tageson, 1982, p. 43).


  This was Rollo May's reason for stressing what he terms "intentionality" -- the need to give meaning to experience.  A person acts because of purpose and must be free to discover that purpose and meaning.  May  (1969) wrote of              -          j


. . . human beings given motivation by the new possibilities, the goals and ideals, which attract and pull them toward the future.  This does not omit the fact that we are all partially pushed from behind and determined by the past, but it unites this force with its other half . . . .  Purpose, which comes into the process when the individual becomes conscious of what he is doing, opens him to new and different possibilities in the future and introduces the element of personal responsibility and freedom (p. 93).


  This follows Jung's earlier statement that "the mind lives by aims as well as causes" (Matson, 1964, p. 208).  Human beings are not determined by causes or drives but seek for purpose and actualized meanings.  Love is care for the growth of that which we love.  Humanistic psychology applies attitude to personal meaning and purpose.  Perhaps the ideal of this is expressed in the philosophy of Rogers (1977, p. 15) with its emphasis on facilitating, ''positive regard," and providing an atmosphere of nonpossessive caring and love.



Self-Love vs. Hedonism

  Many have criticized the humanistic movement as being nothing but a new branch of hedonism.  However, it is not an operation of the pleasure principle.  Pleasure is not the basis for value in humanistic ethics.


  Fromm (1947) wrote:


Pleasure is not the aim of life but it inevitably accompanies man's productive activity . . . Goethe, Guyau, Nietzsche, to name only some important names, have built their ethical theories on the same thought (p. 180).


  He quoted Spinoza:  "Happiness is not the reward of virtue, but virtue itself" (Fromm, 1947, p. 176).


  Fromm (1947, p. 182) continued:  "The concepts of Plato, Aristotle,


Spinoza, and Spencer have in common the idea . . . that happiness is conjunctive with the good." Master Eckhart taught that aliveness is conducive to joy . . .  the distinction between joy and pleasure is crucial.   Joy is the glow that accompanies being.  Pleasure and thrill are conducive to sadness after the so-called peak has been reached;  for the thrill has been experienced and the vessel has not grown (Fromm, 1976, p. 102).


  Joy and pleasure are different principles.  Pleasure is an end in itself:  joy is related to fulfilled living and the happiness of a well lived life.  It is a fundamental part of the healthy personality.  We must be very careful to differentiate between happiness and hedonism.

Hedonism seeks only pleasure for self.  Happiness is related to success in the art of living and the healthy personality.



Self-Love and the Healthy Personality

  It is from this framework that Fromm was led to discuss spontaneity (1941), relatedness (1956), aliveness (1968), and joy (1973).  As Tageson (1982, p. 43) wrote, "Humanistic psychology seems to have set its sights squarely on the understanding of the parameters of healthy psychological functioning."  Concepts such as self-love or affirmation, growth, self-determination, and the creation of a meaningful personal existence are essential for nurturing the self into fulfillment.


  Humanistic psychology moved from an emphasis on pathology to an exploration of a model of psychological health.  At the same time, though, it laid the implications for a new theory of pathology.  As a theory of well-being developed, it became more and more important to explain why everyone did not by nature achieve such health.  If the "good" is obviously better, then why do so many choose ways of living that are non-productive and unfulfilling?  Why does not healthy functioning predominate?  If aliveness, creativity, growth and a meaningful personal existence are better ways of living then why would anyone desire to continue a stagnating, destructive approach to living which is literally death in life?  The posing of a model of psychological well being made the existence of evil problematic.  Humanists needed to account for the existence of evil.


  Fromm (1947) emphasized the humanist view:


Life destructive forces in a person occur in a an inverse relation to the life-furthering ones.  It would seem that the degree of destructiveness is proportionate to the degree to which the unfolding of a person's capacity is blocked.  Destructiveness is the outcome of unlived life (p. 218).  [Italics Original]


  Ernest Becker made a similar argument. In The Structure of Evil he argued that those positing the "good" must explain evil.  In reviewing the history of social thought since the Enlightenment, he noted that we have actually made considerable progress toward an understanding of this dynamic.  Marx's theory of alienation and Freud's understanding of self combined with the work of the early sociologists Ward, mall, and Comte provided the basis for an understanding of evil.  Becker (1974) wrote that if we review a history of this thought, we learn that:


Recurrent evils  like sadism, militant hate, competitive greed, narrow-pride, calculating self-interest that takes a nonchalant view of others' lives, mental illness in the extreme forms -- all stem from constrictions on behavior and from shallowness of meanings;  and these could be laid in the lap of society, specifically in the nature and type of education to which it submits its young;  and to the kinds of choices and cognition which its institutions encourage and permit.  Man could only be ethical if he was strong, and he could only be strong if he was given fullest possible cognition, and responsible control over his own powers.  The only possible ethics was one which took man as a center, and which provided him with the conditions that permitted him to try to be moral.  The antidote to evil was not to impose a crushing sense of supernatural sanction, or unthinking obligation, or automatic beliefs of any kind -- no matter how 'cheerful' they seem.  For the first time in history it had become transparently clear that the real antidote to evil in society was to supply the possibility or depth and wholeness or experience.   Evil was a problem of esthetics  -- that is, esthetics understood in its broad sense as the free creation of human meanings,  and the acceptance of responsibility for them.  It had never been so well understood that goodness and human nature were potentially synonymous terms;  and evil was a complex reflex of the coercion of human powers  (p. 168). 


  Evil is a complex response to the coercion of human powers and a restriction on human meanings.


  This was the humanistic epistemology of good and evil.  Good was a product of the natural tendency for fulfillment of life.  Evil resulted from blocked life and the struggle to still live.



The Emphasis on Self

Self-love became the keystone of humanistic psychology.  It was here that one must begin to unravel the puzzle.  All too often, we run away from self as if self were unimportant.  If we begin with the biblical "Love your neighbor as yourself,"  a different conception emerges (Holy Bible, Mark 12:  31; Luke 10:  27).


  Fromm (1947) wrote that there is a relation between the way we love ourselves and the way we love others.  If we treat ourselves lightly, then our love of others is apt to be symbiotic union instead of mature love.  Fusion under the condition of integrity demands that  neither partner surrender self as a condition for the union.  Self-love is an affirmation towards self.  It stresses the right of the person to be, grow and develop.  "You are a child of the universe no less than the moon and the stars; you have a right to be here" (Anonymous).


  The person is central to purpose and meaning. If we blindly sacrifice the person for the sake of union, then it is impossible to preserve the human as the prime interest of humanism. It is the person who loves, who creates, and who bridges towards meaning. We cannot successfully compromise the person by granting eminent domain to the relationship and still preserve the possibility of a full, dynamic union.  Humanistic psychology approaches the self with an attitude of nurturing approval.  This is a radical experiment.  To treat the self and the person as the central term in our system of meaning implies a faith that we are somehow connected to something larger which will work itself out.   It is an implied sociology, which needs to be articulated.


  The psychotherapy of Rogers (1977, 1961) sought to facilitate the realization of self by providing an atmosphere of nonpossessive caring and love.  Rogers developed this idea of positive regard for the self from the influence of Charles Horton Cooley's conception of the "looking-glass self" (Tageson, 1982, p. 137).  Cooley maintained that we create our self-image by looking into the ''mirror" of others; by obtaining their reaction, we create our own image of our self and who we are.


By providing a nurturing, growth-oriented context which supports the right of the person to be, Rogers hoped to achieve maximum personal growth. It is a strategy of love applied to social psychology.   It attempts to create self-love which will then see the person through future trials and circumstances.  Rogers was perhaps naive in his understanding of social dynamics, but he offered us a first step.


Attitude toward self and other is part of the same process.  Fromm (1947) wrote that self-love is the same as love toward others:  it implies the same kind of attitudes regardless of the object of one's love:


The affirmation of one's own life, happiness, growth, freedom, is rooted in one's capacity to love, i.e., in care, respect, responsibility, and knowledge.  If an individual is able to love productively, he loves himself too;  if he can love only others, he cannot love at all (p. 135).


  Selfishness and self-love, far from being identical, are actually opposites.  It is true that selfish persons are incapable of loving others, but they are not capable of loving themselves either (p. 136).


  Nietzsche (1968, p. 99) on The Will to Power (Stanza 785) wrote that:  "Your neighbor-love is your bad love of yourselves . . .  Your flee unto your neighbor from yourselves.  You cannot stand yourselves and you do not love yourselves sufficiently."


  This echoes the biblical ''Take the log out of your own eye and then you will be able to see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor's eye" (Luke 6:  39-42).


  Nietzsche believed that there is a contradiction between love others and love for oneself; yet his views contain the nucleus from which this false dichotomy can be overcome.  The 'love' which he attacks is rooted not in one's own strength, but in one's own weakness (Fromm, 1947, p. 110).


  Much of the love throughout history has represented the immature "flight from self."  For if we do not respect self and personhood, then who is the giving for?  We merely have unions of partial selves which each feel insufficient and unworthy, and must flee to other for support. Self-love teaches that we must begin with our own awareness in order to fully be capable of loving others. Otherwise our love is projection; our own self-abuse and the accompanying neediness pollutes our intimate relationships.


  Love must move beyond the manipulation which passes for love and the debilitating altruism which makes Other a prisoner.  The strategy of humanistic psychology is to nurture self-love in a way that mature love between whole persons can become a possibility. Love demands strength and self-knowledge.  This self-knowledge and strength can only be achieved in an atmosphere which nourishes and supports the self's right to be.


  The essence of this view is this: 

Love is a phenomenon of abundance; its premise is the strength of the individual who can give.  Love is affirmation and productiveness, 'It seeketh to create what is loved!'  To love another person is only a virtue if its springs from his inner strength, but it is a vice if it is the expression of the basic inability to be oneself (Fromm, 1947, p. 131).


  This is the true meaning -- despite other confusions -- of Maslow's (1962 hierarchy of needs.  If one is too needy, then their outstretched arms are but a gesture polluted by unfinished needs.  One tends to manipulate for these needs or be just plain masochistic.  It is often simpler to take care of one's own needs rather than manipulatively enter into a relationship in the hope that the Other will then fulfill that need.  It is after one has moved past the immediate priority of these survival needs that one can creatively love and reach out.  Tageson (1982, p. 189) wrote only then can we approach "transcendent values of beauty, truth, and justice."  . . . 


  "Such values exist," Maslow claimed, and are discoverable when we are psychologically free to contemplate the world reveal by experience rather than having to act upon it for our own needy purposes" (p. 190).


  Maslow's hierarchy is a recognition that love normally takes place above the level of need because need makes fools of all of us from time to time.  This does not mean -- as some have interpreted -- that love is a luxury item.  It does mean that unless we address our own needs, we are forced to selfishly manipulate others to fulfill them.


  The exploration of Self is relatively new territory.  As Watts (1951) has shown, in most primitive cultures the concept of "self" as we now it does not exist.  A concern of the American dream is that we do not subsume our freedom into quick conformity -- that the individual is important.  Ultimately the American dream must mean more than just the rights of the individual; it must mean a full exploration of the fulfillment of the human potential: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  This was Roszak's (1979) argument. The credo of self invites us not to melt back into one (or the dream) too soon without first knowing and experiencing self and our own sense of aliveness.


  The concern with self should not be viewed as an end, but as a means.  The awareness of self provides -- for perhaps the first time in history -- the possibility of meeting: of true relationship and love.


  The self-effacing altruism which Nietzsche criticized simply does not function as altruism. The ''will to be" can be compromised or destroyed by obligation, expectation, and the whole process of conformity.  Humanistic psychology teaches that we should take our own lives seriously, that we are important and valuable.  If life goes on always for some other person or some outside cause, then where is this human that we say we prize so highly?


  The nagging doubt an guilt at having become something less than ourselves is at the root of the neurosis which permeates our culture (May, 1975; Horney, 1937).  Sociologically, we must recognize that this is no longer the only source of guilt.  Obligation toward oneself is no more just an internal guilt for an unlived life -- of being less than self. With the advent of humanistic psychology, it has also turned into an external norm.  One now has an externally imposed duty to self as duty to self as well as other social obligations.  We will return to the

implications of this later.  They imply the need for a humanistic sociology.


  For now, we must be concerned with the growing evidence in sociology and psychology that one cannot deny one's dreams -- we cannot run away from self without consequences.  As Fromm (1968) wrote:


The social order can do almost anything to man. The 'almost' is important. Even if the social order can do everything to man . . . this cannot be done without certain consequences which follow from the very conditions of human existence (p. 54).


  Freud and all of the psychology which followed is nothing more than a compounded body of evidence that if we deny self in one form, it reappears in another. The person needs community and social relationship but this cannot be successfully bought at the price of too much conformity, obligation, and restriction.  If we destroy or maim the person for the sake of the community, then who is the community for?  The human will have vanished.



  The classic argument in favor of societal eminent domain is but a example of society versus individual difference.  We must be very careful in imposing and granting eminent domain to society once and for all.  It is the person who is supposed to be enhanced by society.


  Becker (1968, p. 251) notes that "the idea held up by the Enlightenment itself . . . is the ideal for overcoming historical alienation man must try to achieve maximum individualist within maximum community."  [Italics Original]


  This is why Roszak (1979) stressed the historical movement past individual freedom and rights.  Pluralism means a conception of the person and of personal fulfillment: the expression of meaning and potential.  We can't compromise our selves for the community -- this is the lesson of modern psychology and sociology.


  Yet, humanistic psychology has placed us in a double-bind as far as norms are concerned. There is a dichotomy between personal needs for closeness and needs for expression / independence.  Dowling (1981) in The Cinderella Complex: Women's Hidden Fear of Independence, documented the pushes and the pulls between the need for security/relatedness and the nagging need to be self and under one's own power.  She is speaking in terms of the "Women's Movement," but this is far from only a woman's dilemma.  It is accentuated for women because the development of a self for women -- apart from role identities in relation to man or children -- is a fairly recent issue. The push and pull between duty to self and desire for the security of Other is synonymous with the problems involved in the creation of self.  It is central to being authentically human living past role definitions of relatedness and identity.


  If we surrender self for relationship, we cast ourselves as strangers.  We cannot fluctuate between trading self for security and then fleeing that shelter, without feeling that we are trapped in a maze which refuses to reveal our own identity.  Any escape from self is only a reprieve.  We begin to desire the values of self as soon as we have warmed ourselves by the fire of "love."  As soon as we have been re-valued as humans, the dreams of an unlived life will begin to haunt us.  Leonard Cohen (1967) has accurately depicted this dilemma in the "Stranger Song":


And then leaning on your window sill

He'll say one day you caused his will

to weaken with your love and warmth and shelter

And taking from his wallet

An old schedule of trains, he'll say,

'I told you when I came I was a stranger,'

'I told you when I came I was a stranger,'


But now another stranger seems

To want you to ignore his dreams

As though they were the burden of some other . . .

And while he talks his dreams to sleep

You'll notice there's a highway

Curling up like smoke above his shoulder



  There is no exit from our dreams and our values of self.  In the end, our dreams possess us either as real roads that we must take or guilts which haunt our familiar security.  The Women's Movement, as well as the whole movement toward self, offers the opportunity, for perhaps the first time in history, to come together as full human beings and explore the human potential. That possibility is love.