As February is the month that some faiths celebrate St Valentine, the patron saint of love, I have been thinking about love – what it is, what it means to each of us, and how we experience it.
Each one of us will have our own unique perspectives and experiences of love. If we dig into the detail a little, there are 8 recognised types of love:
Philia – the affectionate love we have for friends and family
Pragma – the enduring bonded love that deepens and matures over time.
Storge – the familiar love between parents and children, and best friends.
Eros – the romantic love which is passionate and shown through physical affection.
Ludus – a playful love which is child-like and flirtatious.
Mania – an obsessive love
Philautia – the self-love in which we see and value ourselves and our personal needs.
Agape – a selfless love. Agape is the highest level of love, given without expectations of receiving anything in return.
I’m sure we can all identify with some or all of these different ‘types’ of love. Humans love to name, to describe, to understand feelings. Feelings of love are no different, but how we feel, give and experience love with different people often transcends words and descriptions.
I didn’t need to know the love I had for my parents had a different name from the love I have for my partner, or for my close friends. I can trust my feelings and my deep down knowing to give me that information, not a dictionary definition or a blog!
So why am I even writing about it? For me, over the years, I have seen how many humans struggle to talk about and acknowledge love. We rarely talk about loving anyone other than our significant partners, friends, and family, and yet, it is love that connects us all. In the moment we are chatting to a shopkeeper, or when we smile at a stranger in the street, there is a loving connection even if it is fleeting. Love and connection are central to create a space where change happens in or outside of therapy. Whatever name we give it, however hard or easy it feels to us, love is a common bond that I believe we all can and do experience in our lives.
During my early years, and certainly throughout the time I suffered with Anorexia Nervosa, self-love seemed unattainable; even selfish and indulgent. In my work today, I see self-love as the missing piece of the puzzle much of the time. Day in, day out people ignore their own needs physically and emotionally with the saddest of consequences.
When we recognise ourselves and our needs as equal to others, and we honour ourselves with love and compassion, our inner world, as well as the world around us, begin to feel different. We realise that we dwell in a safe, accepting space and we feel held and nurtured from within. We are no longer solely reliant on the love of others.
Anchoring ourselves in the love of others can feel wonderful, but if we do not have self-love, when others leave our lives, we feel adrift. We seek out relationships to fill a need for love. When our anchor is weighted in self-love, we have access to a love that is constant, untouched, and unharmed by the perpetual comings and goings of others in our lives. For sure, others will add to our experience of love, but we will never be without love.
With my love and gratitude to you. Sarah x