~ Many books have been written about love. As a counseling psychotherapist (and lover of love), I own many of them—from understanding the necessity of love and need for a nurturing environment so a developing baby can effectively thrive to relationship strategies for maintaining passionate committed partnerships and marriages. One of the themes that emerges from the vast amount of research about love is the difference between selfish love versus giving love. Selfish love can be destructive, addictive, and deplete energy whereas the spirit of a giving love acts as an unlimited balm that can heal hearts, soothe souls, and expand energy. This post explains the two types of love and provides steps to help you cultivate more giving love in your life.
Every person gives and receives selfish love. It’s part of being human. Yet, the most palpable love stories tend to touch on the power of giving love. Think Titanic where Jack gives his life to save Rose or Casablanca when Rick releases Isla—and while these are examples of selfless acts, giving love is more than selflessness and sacrifice. It is abundantly potent and less tragic.
Giving love is at the core of the heart’s deeper desires and yearnings. I have found that people feel baffled, confused, and betrayed by love when they encounter a heartbreak of some sort. They don’t understand how love could have tricked them and have a challenging time trying to reconcile how an exhilarating and profound love with a beloved could turn so sour and come to such a bitter end.
It’s not that love is a trick or an illusion. If anything, these heartbreaks can serve as opportunities to accessing the energy of giving love found deep within the heart. The tendency to harden the heart and erect heart walls (defenses to intimate and genuine connection with others) will only serve to attract repeated disappointments and heart aches because hardened hearts feed on selfish love while open hearts freely release giving love. Sounds superbly simple yet can be profoundly difficult (often because selfish love can feel like the norm). Still, here are some steps you can take to practice and attract the energy of giving love in your life.
Step One: How do you love yourself?
First, practice differentiating selfish love with giving love with yourself. Are you harsh with yourself? Do you criticize yourself and only believe that you are worthy if you look a certain way, attain a particular income, or live your life based on other people’s impressions of you (like their approval, interest, or jealousy)?
Take a moment to write down these beliefs (e.g., If I make this much money or lose this amount of weight or make other people laugh then I will be okay or I will have friends or I will have love. Etc. )
Many of these faulty beliefs can be recognized by the If-then formula (If I have or do X then Y will happen). Once you’ve listed your faulty beliefs, amend them with statements that contain positive gratitude affirmations in the present tense (e.g., I appreciate that I can smile at myself and others. I appreciate that I am conscientious and caring. I appreciate that my body lets me breathe and feel the wind on my skin. I appreciate that I am willing to grow and learn.)
Step Two: What are your love expectations of others?
This is a difficult one as many people are so focused on finding compatible matches and attractions in today’s online dating and social media world that they are immediately driven with a criteria of expectations of others powered by the unconscious question, “What can you do for me?” Worse, they go into an interaction defensively with the defensive motivation, “How are you going to hurt or destroy me?”
Such guarded stances reveal thick layers of impenetrable heart walls which only leaves the person to rely on selfish love energy. This energy is on high alert and tends to act critical and callous. On the other hand, a giving love energy has an open heart without expectation. It seeks to understand and is more tolerant, compassionate, and grateful for all interactions with others. A giving love energy can lovingly release a person who does not want to be with them. A giving love energy can lovingly release a person who is highly defended and too guarded. A giving love energy can forgive people as they understand that hurt people tend to erect heart walls and can hurt others. It is not personal, it’s just where the person is at. A giving love energy can send loving energy with intention and receive loving energy with gratitude.
Like the exercise above, take a moment to write down the expectations of love you have of others in your life (or past relationships). Is there undue jealousy and possessiveness? Do you like what they can give you (i.e., power, prestige, security, sex)? Do you feel your loved ones owe you something? Do you feel entitled to love? After writing your expectations, go back and re-write positive gratitude statements about them in the present tense. (e.g. I appreciate the effort my partner makes to listen to me when I am sad. I appreciate the laughter my partner and I share together. I appreciate the trust my daughter or son gives me when they confide in me. I appreciate the time someone makes to help me with something. I appreciate my friend for sharing in the ups and downs of life when she/he is able.)
Giving love is often the product of maturity and represents a higher love intelligence (IQ). While it can be encountered by many who have children, it is the result of taking active steps to find gratitude, release expectations, and open one’s heart. Giving love does not entrap, coerce, condemn, or abuse. It is okay to step away from relationships that seek to abuse. That is a form of essential self-care and giving love to oneself. Giving love is forgiving and releases resentments. It has been said that how you treat love is how love will treat you. Practice discerning giving love from selfish love and keep growing toward a giving love state. It is a daily practice and will enhance the work you do in the world and the relationships in your life.
A version of this article originally appeared on psychologytoday.com