Existential Love

A few blog posts ago I talked about whose fault is loneliness. Feeling lonely often corresponds to feeling unloved. I’d like to consider the dynamics of loneliness and love a bit longer. How do you relate love and loneliness in your life?

The following quote from Irvin Yalom might help clarify what we search for in others, and loneliness as those needs, unfulfilled.

Growth-motivated and deficiency-motivated individuals have different types of interpersonal relations. The growth-motivated person is less dependent, less beholden to others, less needful of others’ praise and affection, less anxious for honors, prestige, and rewards. He or she does not require continual interpersonal need gratification and, in fact, may at times feel hampered by others and prefer periods of privacy. Consequently the growth-motivated individual does not relate to others as sources of supply but is able to view them as complex, unique, whole beings. The deficiency-motivated individual, on the other hand, relates to others from the point of view of usefulness. Those aspects of the other that are not related to the perceiver’s needs are either overlooked altogether or regarded as an irritant or a threat.

Irvin D. Yalom. Existential Psychotherapy (Kindle Locations 5185-5189). Kindle Edition.

It is ironic that independent and growth motivated individuals who are able to sustain themselves on their own make the most supportive partners. You are my partner because I admire and respect your existence, independent of me. I don’t need you to fulfill me, rather, I will work to support and witness your existence. I love you in that I offer my attention and energy in service of your existence. This attitude isn’t self-sacrificing per se. It simply resists self-aggrandizing. Your needs are as important as my needs. Reciprocity takes effort. That is the work of love. Many simply concede to lives of loneliness, maybe because the work of love seems out of reach and overwhelming. To honestly answer, why am I lonely? what am I searching for? what do I need? takes courage. Can I accept and receive the answer without judgment? Unless I take responsibility for my own attitudes about love and loneliness, I cannot mature.

“Infantile love follows the principle ‘I love because I am loved.’ Mature love follows the principle: ‘I am loved because I love.’ Immature love says, ‘I love you because I need you.’ Mature love says, ‘I need you because I love you.’ Fromm’s point that love is an active, not a passive, process has extraordinary ordinary importance for the clinician. Patients complain of loneliness, of being unloved and unlovable, but the productive work is always to be done in the opposite realm: their inability to love. Love is a positive act, not a passive affect; it is giving, not receiving-a “standing in” not a “falling for.”

Irvin D. Yalom. Existential Psychotherapy (Kindle Locations 5213-5217). Kindle Edition.

Do you feel immature, mature, in-between in love?

May you be deeply engaged in the work of love,


Are you enjoying your privacy or are you lonely?
Photography by Nate Dale – New Adventure Production

Self-Aware Ease

It is not surprising that I’m drawn to Existentialist Psychotherapy in the lineage of Rollo May, Irvin Yalom, Vicktor Frankl practicing the philosophies of Kierkagaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Sartre, Husserl and others. The basic premise as Irvin Yalom explains below is the humble defense of the ancient belief that self-awareness leads to a meaningful fulfilling life even if the process of self-discovery is painful:

Wisdom does not lead to madness, nor denial to sanity: the confrontation with the givens of existence is painful but ultimately healing. Good therapeutic work is always coupled with reality testing and the search for personal enlightenment; the therapist who decides that certain aspects of reality and truth are to be eschewed is on treacherous ground.

Irvin D. Yalom. Existential Psychotherapy (Kindle Locations 190-192). Kindle Edition.

In working and volunteering at different contexts such as hospice, domestic violence shelter, food pantries, community health, grief and loss counseling, my role and mission is simple: To invite self-aware ease in myself and in others with me. Sometimes that means asking gentle guiding questions, sometimes breathing, sometimes guiding meditations, sometimes just sitting in silence and making space for self-inquiry.

Self-inquiry is painful, as Plato describes in the Republic, the released prisoner is blinded and stumbling, heading out of the cave. The turning towards truth or meaning is daunting and frightening. The journey inward can only be sustained by moments of ease. Self-awareness rests on self-care. This is the balance I’m trying to learn and practice. Each person sitting with me teaches me a different version.

The existential position emphasizes a different kind of basic conflict: neither a conflict with suppressed instinctual strivings nor one with internalized significant adults, but instead a conflict that flows from the individual’s confrontation with the givens of existence. And I mean by “givens” of existence certain ultimate concerns, certain intrinsic properties ties that are a part, and an inescapable part, of the human being’s existence in the world.

Irvin D. Yalom. Existential Psychotherapy (Kindle Locations 107-109). Kindle Edition.

I hope to practice the humility of the Existentialist perspective: I can never know your experience, your suffering, your confrontation with life, however, I can guide you to map your internal valleys and mountains, joys and sorrows, to know yourself . I am able to do so because I walk with self-aware ease despite the sufferings of my own life. This of course leads to concerns of therapeutic transference. That exploration will have to wait for another post.

Whether you are a counselor, therapist, teacher, creative, what is your mission? Why is it your mission? How do you confront the givens of existence: death, isolation, freedom or meaninglessness?

Bring self-aware ease. Seems so simple, yet it is a life’s work. Mine.

Wishing you self-aware ease,


Photography by Nate Dale – New Adventure Productions

Whose fault is loneliness?

How often do we feel in ourselves or notice in others the pangs of isolation and loneliness? We feel misunderstood, judged, rejected and diminished by others, and so we begin to self-isolate. In reading Irvin Yalom’s Existential Psychotherapy I came across a shift in perspective. What if I am responsible for my loneliness? What if, I am the one misunderstanding, judging, rejecting and diminishing others and myself? Do I have proof of perceived judgement or am I simply assuming it and using the assumption to push people away? In isolating myself and blaming others, am I fulfilling my own prophesy of the being too special or too unique?

What does loneliness feel like for you? Consider this quote from Existential Psychotherapist, Irvin Yalom:

Love problems are not situation-specific. Love is not a specific encounter but an attitude. A problem of not-being-loved is more often than not a problem of not loving.

May you send and receive love in equal measure,


Photography by Nate Dale – New Adventure Production