Let there be love!

Photo of a statue of Eros. Copyright © 2013 Laura K Kerr, PhD.

In The Red Book, CG Jung declared, “the brightness of love seems to come from the fact that love is visible light and action.” This may be one of the more expansive definitions of love, and it shows the reach for hyperbole that love inspires.

But love is both elixir and curse, comfort and torment. Love is also universal, yet shaped by both culture and the unique individual under its spell. Perhaps more than any other experience, love determines the quality and vibrancy of life, especially given the variety of forms love takes — friendship (philia), altruism (agape), the love of work (avocation), the love of wisdom (philosophy), as well as love of home, Earth, god(s), the beautiful and the good.

Given the central, if not omnipresent role love plays in a well-lived life, perhaps we naturally resist defining it. For to define love means inevitably to deny some of its magic, if not its power, to give meaning and a narrative arc to our lives. And yet, what could be better than to really know love?

Love children first. (Includes the child within.)

Early life attachment to a caregiver is the foundation for all forms of love. Psychologist John Bowlby (1907-1990), who pioneered research on attachment, saw those first bonds with the caregiver as crucial for survival and rooted in our evolution, impacting not only how we learn to love, but also how we learn to grieve the loss of love. Without the ability to attach to a caregiver and use the caregiver as a safe base for exploring the world, an infant is at greater risk for injury or death. Thus, in our first introductions to love, we are also learning to fear its loss.

In order to ensure this vital bond, the infant does the hard work of adapting her or his needs to what the caretaker can provide. Consequently, the evolutionarily driven need to attach will have you putting up with hell, even adapting to it, if that’s what it takes to survive. (So yes, sometimes love does stink.)

Abuse, neglect, a battered caregiver, a depressed caregiver — all of these situations (and more) can contribute to becoming insecurely attached. Furthermore, how an infant deals with the anxiety caused by the caregiver’s absence, as well as the anxiety-provoking situation of being left alone with a stranger, reveals a lot about the nature of the attachment bond without actually witnessing adverse childhood experiences.

With an awareness that some caretakers contribute to securely attached infants while others do not, developmental psychologist Mary D. S. Ainsworth (1913-1999) conducted the Strange Situation Procedure with infants and their mothers, which studied how children deal with separation anxiety. Here is John Bowlby’s description of the experiment and what it implies about the nature of secure and insecure attachment:

Fortunately, attachment styles aren’t necessarily life sentences. A secure attachment style can develop through other supportive and loving relationships, giving credence to the belief that love heals all wounds.  Of note, although Ainsworth conducted her experiments cross-culturally (she also did fieldwork in Uganda), the universal applicability of the different attachment styles has yet been confirmed. If you would like to get a sense of your own attachment style, visit this resource created by R. Chris Fraley, who intended it be used for “educational purposes only,” and thus not for diagnostic or therapeutic use.

Then love in your own style.

If there are attachment styles, doesn’t it suggest there are also styles of loving?

Anyone who’s ever been in love, or watched someone else take the plunge into romantic waters (that is to say, all of us), has witnessed how some couples seem to click while others perpetually crash. Sometimes opposites attract, but other times they just torment each other, as well as everyone within ear shot of their endless problems. The complexities of good and bad matches, and how to find the right mate, has become a staple topic of popular psychology (and keeps a good number of therapists in business).

Although I can’t vouch for its accuracy, I enjoy John Lee’s use of the color wheel as an analogy for the six prominent love styles he identified in his research. Like the color wheel, Lee believed there are three primary love styles: 1) eros, the passionate and romantic relationship; 2) ludos, in which love is viewed as a game with conquest as the objective; and 3) storage, the expression of love as friendship and a slowly developing bond. The secondary love styles, or “colors,” are combinations of the first three styles: 4) mania, which is a combination of eros and ludos, is witnessed in obsessive love for another; 5) pragma, combining ludos and storage, is seen in practical, more head-driven love affairs; and 6) agape, which joins eros with storage, is associated with selfless, altruistic forms of love. The Love Attitudes Scale (LAS) was created to measure these different love styles. Visit this source to take a version of the LAS.

So go ahead. Learn all you can about love. And then practice, practice, practice! You’ll only get better.

Reference

Jung, Carl G. 2009. The Red Book: Liber Novus. New York: W. W. Norton & Co.

© 2013 Laura K Kerr, PhD. All rights reserved (applies to writing and photography).

  • I really enjoyed taking these little tests and reading your article! I think styles of attachment/love change and evolve over time in a person’s life. especially if they continue to work on themselves. As a young person a more “clingy” type of attachment was my style, but as an adult with some more “practice” I find that I can move closer to agape, which ultimately feels better to me and my loved ones!

    • So glad you enjoyed learning about your love & attachment styles. Like you, I see love styles both changing and growing over the lifespan. I think there’s a richness to thinking of love this way — as growing as we also grow. I think it’s also interesting to watch how with different people, and in different relationships, certain styles come into play. With regards to love, I think if we are open to the experience, it continues to teach us, and we may discover we are endless in our permutations. (I probably should disclose that I am heavy on “Eros,” and have a tendency to think love is the key ingredient to just about everything transformative and meaningful.)

      • Mine came out high on storage, which is probably true. Have been married 25 years!

        • Quite the accomplishment! My husband and I are inching towards 22 years. Where else to learn storage, eh?

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  • Scott Lederman

    Thanks for suggesting I read the above Blog. I think these two suggested questionnaires will help with the parents I work with. Some of them have made and continue to make poor decisions about mates and it results greater misery for them and their children. Even though I have always been hesitant with questionnaires that define a certain style or type of person, as I get older I can see their value as a tool to just self-reflect. I really enjoy your writing and appreciate these brief interactions. thanks

    • Like you, I’m not a bit fan of questionnaires. And yet, as you point out, sometimes they can be useful for self-reflection.

      And thank you for your feedback!