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Sigmund Freud may say that most people fall in love and find life partners based on transference which has roots in the person’s parental relationships. Strong positive or negative relationships with one or both parents have a decisive influence on whom we get strongly attracted to and form a relationship with. These relationships do not always turn out well and, in some cases, may lead to dysfunctional ones, often the result of unresolved conflict with parents. I had a close and loving relationship with my mother and a distant and indifferent one with my father. My mother gave me unconditional love, while my father made me feel rejected.
Fortunately, as a grown man, I can turn my unresolved negative relationship with my father into a positive transference with superiors. I’m always a good worker eager to please my male bosses, who are, in my unconscious, father figures who tend to respond favorably to my work ethic. I came upon this insight not long ago.
When I fell in love at the tender age of 15, my frame of reference about love was my experience with my parents. I fell head over heels in love with a fourteen-year-old childhood friend next door. It did not end well, and I suffered a devastating heartbreak. Once her family became aware of the budding relationship, her once amiable family turned against me. Despite this, she got along very well with my mother. She was thoughtful and accepting of my family despite the social disparity between us and her family’s long-simmering feud with my aunt and uncle with whom we lived with. My girlfriend defied her family’s objection to our relationship, and we continued to meet clandestinely.
“Given my experience of love and loving, which form the basis of my capacity to love God, I’m trying to understand the concept of “love of God.” If there is anything that beguiles or stumps my mind to no end, it’s the idea of loving God. The crux of the problem, I believe, is the very nature of love and the idea of God.”
For a year, we wrote love letters to each other unceasingly until she could no longer take the relentless heat at home. I was devastated when she broke up with me. The feeling of rejection turned me into a withdrawn person seething with anger and hatred inside. It took years to heal the wound left by that failed love affair. Afraid to get hurt, I intellectualized most of my subsequent relationships with women during my young adulthood. I lost my passion, and in the end, all these relationships floundered and failed. Later on, I went through a transformation. Thanks to my line of work, I learned to understand and feel my emotions again. My kind and giving nature made it easier for me to form relationships and eventually fall in love again.
Given my experience of love and loving, which form the basis of my capacity to love God, I’m trying to understand the concept of “love of God.” If there is anything that beguiles or stumps my mind to no end, it’s the idea of loving God. The crux of the problem, I believe, is the very nature of love and the idea of God. Most people are familiar with filial, erotic, and philia, or love of friend from personal experiences. These are easily accessible experiences and require not much thought because they involve concrete love objects.
According to Eric Fromm, in his classic book The Art of Loving, love, in its truest sense, is an aptitude no different from painting or writing a book. It involves the fullest engagement of the whole person to the task. It’s a skill that needs honing. And it starts with loving oneself and from there radiating into loving someone else and fellowmen. On the surface, loving oneself and others are polar opposites. One involves a focus on the self, and the other requires selflessness. The ability to love oneself, not in a narcissistic sense, but healthy regard for one’s wellbeing, comes from our early experience of unconditional love from caregivers. It is a crucial condition in one’s ability to love others.
Up to this point, love is not an abstract experience because, like I already said, the love objects are concrete. These types of love are prerequisites to the capacity for loving God. We struggle with understanding and experiencing the love of God because it’s an abstraction, a concept without flesh and blood. We concretize God in images or idols and rituals to demonstrate our love of God. Again, our unresolved conflicts with our different love objects and an infantile projection of those conflicts into our relationship with an abstract God get in the way of truly loving God.
“Up to this point, love is not an abstract experience because, like I already said, the love objects are concrete. These types of love are prerequisites to the capacity for loving God. We struggle with understanding and experiencing the love of God because it’s an abstraction, a concept without flesh and blood. We concretize God in images or idols and rituals to demonstrate our love of God.”
As a result, we get bogged down with a transactional relationship with Him, such as doing penitence to court His blessings, indulging in various rituals for protection, prosperity, or a place in heaven, and atone for misdeeds to avoid His wrath. Our personal view of God is often a projection of our relationship with early authority figures, our parents. For some, God is a loving God, and for others, a wrathful God to be feared. In the depths of our being, the true nature of man is bliss which connects us to our ultimate source, God. Pursuing happiness from mundane to the sublime is man’s quest for that blissful intimation with God. Our experiences of loving and being loved are sparks that awaken our dormant godly nature. These are unconscious dynamics that evade our critical thinking or awareness.
As we age, mature, and outgrow conflicted feelings we have had with powerful authority figures in our early life and polish the rough edges of our capacity to love, our relationship with God or the Supreme Being takes on a spiritual fervor. Each person has a different capacity to fully express the love of God with the heart and mind, which is determined by past experiences of love or the lack of it.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Dr. Fernando B. Perfas is an addiction specialist who has written several books and articles on the subject. He currently provides training and consulting services to various government and non-government drug treatment agencies regarding drug treatment and prevention approaches. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.