To think in a more rigorous manner is the necessary condition for those who wish to be happier.
1. We think by means of words and phrases. In our reasoning process they play a similar role to numbers in Mathematics. Any ambiguity in the choice of words determines an error that, in the sequence of thoughts, will tend to be amplified and will lead us to more mistaken conclusions each time. I am not suggesting that we remain more attentive to the meaning of the words we employ simply out of purism or due to perfectionist aspirations. It is all about not using our mind poorly, since it functions by means of words, phrases and the conclusions we extract from them. Any mistake might have disastrous consequences for our future. The most serious danger is that we shall have more difficulty each time to detect where the error is, since it usually gets lost in the chain of our reasoning.
2. The most common type of mistake in our thinking system occurs because we employ the same word for more than one meaning. In the case in question, that word is LOVE. In our colloquial language, love is used as a synonym for solidarity, as love for everything and for all those who are upon the Earth. “I love you” is an expression employed by a seducer who has met his “victim” just a few minutes ago and wishes to entice her to bed. Happy-go-lucky people who are not very discerning declare themselves enchanted and easily love just about every new person they meet. A selfish person who endeavors to demonstrate how self-satisfied he is does not hesitate to state: “I love myself”. We stand before different uses of the same word: an injudicious, empty, idealized or clever use. We employ the word love as the joker in certain card games: it is applicable to all moments and to every situation.
3. Love is a used and abused word. It is pronounced by those who have some inkling as to its meaning and also by those who repeat it simply by imitation. One employs the word love more that one experiences the sentiment of love. And how many are the individuals who feel happy in love? Very few. And who is capable of defining what love really is? Almost nobody. And how can we pretend to be successful in this field if we do not even know how to conceptualize the feeling? I beg your permission to propose a definition for love. I suggest that you follow my sequence of reasoning attentively so that we can begin to unravel this intricate yarn. The issue is fundamental, for it involves emotions that are fundamental to us and which have made us suffer a lot. It also involves an exercise of reasoning, an introduction to the art of thinking with rigor and precision, a very important condition to be respected when we intend to delve deeper into any sector of our subjectivity – at least for those who wish to develop a rich, gratifying and creative intimate relationship.
4. I define love as the sentiment that we experience towards that person whose presence arouses in us the agreeable sensation of cozyness. Cozyness is fundamental to us for, since the moment of our birth, we felt helpless, threatened, insecure and incomplete. Our first love object is our mother. The love object is modified during our lifetime, but at each phase it corresponds to a definite object. Thus, love is an interpersonal phenomenon, since we love someone whose presence brings us cozyness. According to this definition, love for oneself cannot exist since I do not feel complete and sheltered when I am alone. If I felt entirely complete within myself, the more probable consequence would be the inexistence of love for another being, since intimate living together implies concessions and difficulties that are only met due to the benefits that we experience through intimacy.
5. I have no doubts that sex and love correspond to completely different impulses, in spite of always having been treated as part of the same instinct, especially by Psychoanalytical Psychology, which was so influent in the XXth century. We must have the courage to disagree even with the great masters. We cannot continue to repeat their words like parrots. We must learn to be capable of thinking on our own. From my point of view, sex corresponds to an instinctive phenomenon that is characterized by the sensation of arousal that we experience when touching our erogenous zones. That is its first manifestation and appears at the end of the first year of life. It is evident that the process becomes more sophisticated especially from puberty on, when the physical differences between the sexes appear, along with arousal due to visual stimuli or provoked by the fantasies that our mind is able to construe. In any case, differences between love and sex are huge: love is the sensation of pleasure due to the termination of the pain connected to helplessness; sex is a positive pleasure, since it does not depend on the previous existence of pain or discomfort. Love is interpersonal, since cozyness depends upon the presence of another person; sex is personal, since the stimulation of erogenous zones can be attained by the individual himself. Love is felt for a definite object while sexual arousal does not depend on a definite sexual and can be aroused by many people in a very short time. Love and sex are completely different impulses that can be experienced separately. Of course they also combine very well and nothing is more agreeable than to exchange erotic caresses with the person who also arouses in us the sensation of cozyness!
6. Starting with these precise definitions – which might not be the best, and can be substituted any moment by others that are equally rigorous – it becomes clear how hard it is to uphold expressions such as “self love”, “love for your fellowmen” and especially “to make love”. It is also difficult to understand how the use of “self-esteem” was perpetuated because it also expresses love for oneself. Let us try to undo this confusion step by step. To make love is the expression employed as a synonym for erotic exchanges, which have nothing to do with the amorous phenomenon. I believe that this expression was coined with intent to “purify” the “sins” of sex, since the word “love” would imprint dignity and beauty to what was considered dirty and undignified. Love is a sentiment and one does not “make” a sentiment. It is common for erotic exchanges to occur between those who are in love. Yet, I am not sure if sexual practice is not even more common between those who are not in love – and often do not even know each other. To have sex is a much more adequate expression to describe the erotic exchanges involved in a sexual relationship.
7. Love for your fellowmen presupposes a diffuse sentiment of love for mankind else, which does not agree with the idea that the sentiment only manifests in connection to someone who provokes the sensation of cozyness. A certain sensation of cozyness can exist when we feel integrated in a larger group, as for instance when we feel that we belong to a country or to a fatherland. I believe that the most appropriate word to define this other type of cozyness derived from feeling integrated to a larger entity would be solidarity. Solidarity is a sophisticated human sentiment, by means of which we can integrate with a given community. We feel part of it, co-responsible for its destiny and even prepared to die to defend it. Our identity becomes lax, so that first we feel as an infinitesimal part of that wholeness and later ourselves. Our destiny is identified with the destiny of that group. The sentiment can integrate us to mankind and allows us to understand the words of the poet when he speaks of “these poor human beings that we are”.
8. On other occasions we inadequately use the expression love for our fellowmen to describe situations in which we are not integrated but are concerned for the people around us. Compassion better describes the sentiment of suffering due to identification with the distress of those around us. It determines a desire to help those who are in need. It is a sentiment experienced by someone who finds himself doing well but is bothered by the fact that it is not shared by other members of the group. In solidarity we are part of the group and feel integrated to it. By feeling compassion, we are outside the group and are sensitive to its pain. In none of these cases the expression “love for our fellowmen” should be applied; it is almost always employed when we are concerned about the destiny of those around us and especially when we endeavor to help those who are close. That creates more confusion, due to which one usually says that “to love is to give”. To love is to love and to give is to give! These are two verbs with completely different meanings.
9. Self love and self-esteem spring from the idea that love for oneself really exists, frontally contradicting the definition of love which I have been defending for the past 25 years. The truth is that there really is something we feel about ourselves. But that is not an amorous ingredient, it is a sexual ingredient. There is no love for oneself but there really exists an important self-erotic element. There is a kind of sexual excitement that springs from feeling important, valued and regarded with admiration. But that corresponds to what I call vanity. Vanity is a more useful concept than Narcissism, since the latter implies a perpetuation of the confusion between sex and love. Narcissism is not self love but eroticism focused on the self; to that purpose, the word vanity provides better service. By interference of reason, vanity is also responsible for the preservation of our integrity. It protects us against subtle affronts to our person, of the type that injure our vanity. It protects us for, when offended, we feel the opposite of the positive sensation of vanity which is humiliation. Humiliation is the painful sensation experienced when we are depreciated, regarded with contempt or disdain. We say that we have self love when we rebel against humiliating situations. The ideal term to substitute self-esteem might perhaps be pride – or should we call it honor? We feel offended and gravely hurt when we are treated in an inconsiderate manner, provoking the sensation of humiliation that injures our pride. The phenomenon is not amorous and the offense bothers us even when it comes from someone with whom we are barely acquainted. Of course it hurts more when we are attacked by those who are dear to us – and even more so by our beloved.
10. Self-esteem, although esteem means affection, corresponds to self judgment. Our self-esteem is good when we live and behave in a way that meets our approval; self-esteem is low when we are in conflict with our actions. Of course, the opinion of others may interfere with our self-esteem. But praise, or any other external action that aggrandizes us, will fail to provoke a positive effect when we are not personally satisfied with our attitudes. It is also a fact that outside criticism, directed to a person who is harboring negative self judgment, will be much more easily absorbed. I cannot think of a good expression to substitute “self-esteem” advantageously. Nevertheless, I reassert that it does not mean liking oneself, but that positive self-esteem depends on living in conformity with our own standards and personal convictions.
11. What to think when one hears a crowd of individuals repeat, without any effort at reasoning, that “to be able to love someone you have to first love yourself”? The phrase reminds me of what one reads in the Bible, when it exhorts us to love the next man as we love ourselves. I am not a good interpreter of biblical scriptures but I believe that the term love was used in a much wider sense than I have described in this article. I think that the biblical text asks people to treat their fellowmen with the same consideration, respect and zeal with which they expect to be treated. That thought is a moral issue above anything else, stating that a person should not attribute more rights to himself than he does to others. I do not believe that it is a reference to the intimate relationship between two people. On the other hand, if we consider the Psychoanalytical view, a narcissist – the individual who, according to that theory, loves himself – is not capable of loving others. Love concentrates inside himself for fear of being displaced towards another. Fear yes, for we know that love involves the risk of suffering due to eventual loss; we know that a narcissist is an immature creature and that, because of his low tolerance to pain and frustration, avoids taking risks. Thus, having no capacity to love, he merely expects to receive love from others, besides loving himself. That is not my conviction, since people as immature and cowardly as that do not enjoy good self-esteem. They pretend to be okay with themselves but that is just a big front. Deep down, they know that they are a bluff and exactly for that reason they envy those with more courage. Therefore, I do not believe that they love themselves, so that, even if we respect the psychoanalytical theses, they should not be called narcissists. As I have already written, if love for self existed, love as we know it would probably not exist. Courageous people dare to love and try to relieve helplessness through the cozyness that the presence of a significant other provides. Individuals with positive self-esteem – which is very different from loving oneself – will have more capability for choosing a partner because they consider they have the right to attract companions that meet the expectations of their self judgment.
Translated by: Norma Blum