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The Risks of Love

When we extend ourselves, our self enters new and unfamiliar territory. It becomes a new and different self. We do things we are not accustomed to doing. We change.

The experience of change, or unaccustomed activity, of being on unfamiliar ground, or of doing things differently is frightening. It has always been and will always be. People handle their fear of change in different ways, but the fear is inescapable if they are to change.

Courage is not the absence of fear; it is the making of action in spite of fear, the moving out against the resistance engendered by our fear, into the unknown and into the future.

On some level, spiritual growth, and therefore love, always requires courage and involves risk.


We have said that cathexis is not love, that love transcends cathexis. This is true, but love requires cathexis for a beginning. We can only love that which is important to us. But, with cathexis there is always the risk of loss or rejection. If you move out towards another person, there is always the risk they will move away from you, leaving you more painfully alone than you were before. Love anything that lives and it will die. Trust anybody and you may be hurt. Depend on anyone and they may let you down. The price of cathexis is pain.

If someone is determined not to risk pain, they must do without many things: having children; getting married; the ecstasy of sex; the hope of ambition; friendship - all that makes life alive, meaningful and significant. Move out or grow in any dimension and pain as well as joy will be your reward. A full life will be full of pain. But the only alternative is not to live fully or not to live at all.

The essence of life is change, a panoply of growth and decay. Elect life and growth and you elect change and the prospect of death. If we can live with the knowledge that death is our constant companion then death can be come our ally, still fearsome, but continually a source of wise counsel. With death's counsel, the constant awareness of the limit of our time to live and love, we can always be guided to make the best use of our time and to live life to the fullest. But if we are unwilling to fully face the fearsome presence of death we deprive ourselves of its counsel and cannot possibly live or love with clarity. When we shy away from death, the ever changing nature of things, we inevitably shy away from life.


The more lovingly we live our lives, the more risks we take. Of the thousands, maybe millions, of risks we can take in a life time the greatest is the risk of growing up.

Growing up is the act of stepping from childhood into adulthood. Actually, it is more of a fearful leap than a step. It is a leap that many people never really take in their lifetimes. Though they may outwardly appear to be adults, even successful adults, perhaps the majority of "grown-ups" remain until their death psychologically children who have never truly separated themselves from their parents and the power that their parents have over them.

The process of growing up usually occurs very gradually with multiple little leaps into the unknown. If you watch even the healthiest of children you will see not only an eagerness to risk new adult activities, but also, side by side, a reluctance, a shrinking back, a clinging to the safe and familiar, a holding onto dependency and childhood. Moreover, on more or less subtle levels, you can find this same ambivalence in an adult, including yourself, with the elderly particularly tending to cling to the old, known and familiar.

Among all the little leaps we might take, there are also some enormous ones. Many never take any of these potentially enormous leaps, and consequentially many do not really grow up at all.

What has this business of growing up to do with love, apart from the extension of the self involved in loving being the enlargement of the self into a new dimension? The answer is that major changes are acts of self-love.

Only when we have taken the leap into the unknown of total self-hood, psychological independence and unique individuality are we free to proceed along the still higher paths of spiritual growth and free to manifest love in its greatest dimensions.

As long as we marry, enter a career, or have children to satisfy our parents or the expectations of anyone else, including society as a whole, the commitment, by its very nature, will be a hollow one. As long as we love our children because we are expected to behave in a loving manner towards them, then as parents we will be insensitive to the more subtle needs of our children and unable to express our love in the most responsive, most important way.

The highest forms of love are inevitably totally free choices and not acts of conformity.


Whether it be shallow or not, commitment is the foundation of any genuinely loving relationship. Frequently we are not consciously aware of the immensity of the risk involved in making a deep commitment. Anyone who is truly concerned for the spiritual growth of another knows, consciously or instinctively, that he or she can significantly foster that growth only through a relationship of constancy. Children cannot grow to psychological maturity in an atmosphere of unpredictability, haunted by the spectre of abandonment. Couples cannot resolve in any healthy way the universal issues of marriage - dependency and independence, dominance and submission, freedom and fidelity, for example - without the security of knowing that the act of struggling over these issues will not itself destroy the relationship.

Issues of commitment are crucial in the course of psychotherapy. Character disordered individuals lack understanding of what commitment is all about and tend to form only shallow commitments. When their disorders are severe, these individuals seem to lack totally the capacity to form commitments at all. Neurotics, on the other hand, are generally aware of the nature of the commitment but are frequently paralysed by the fear of it.

Commitment is the cornerstone of the psychotherapeutic relationship. For basic healing to take place it is necessary for the psychotherapist to bring to his or her relationship with a new client the same high degree of commitment that genuinely loving parents bring to their children. If the therapist's commitment is sufficient, then usually, although not inevitably, the client will respond with a developing commitment of his or her own, a commitment to the therapist and to the therapy itself. The point at which the client begins to demonstrate this commitment is the turning point of the therapy. But, reach it they must if they are to be healed. The risk of commitment to therapy is not only the risk of commitment itself but also the risk of self-confrontation and change.

For the therapist, it is a wonderful moment of relief and joy when the they realise that the client has assumed the risk of commitment and therefore that the therapy will succeed.


Possibly the greatest risk of love is the risk of exercising power with humility - the act of loving confrontation. Most criticism and confrontation, usually made impulsively in anger or annoyance, does more to increase the amount of confusion in the world than the amount of enlightenment.

For the truly loving person, the act of criticism or confrontation does not come easily; it is evident to such a person that the act has great potential for arrogance.

Genuine love recognises and respects the unique individuality and separate identity of the other person. However, reality is that there are times in life when one person will know better than the other what is good for the other and is in a position of superior knowledge or wisdom in regard to the matter at hand. Under these circumstances, the wiser of the two does have an obligation, out of loving concern for the spiritual growth of the other, to confront the other with the problem. The loving person is therefore frequently in a dilemma: caught between a loving respect for the beloved's own path in life; and, a responsibility to exercise loving leadership when the beloved seems to need such leadership.

This dilemma can only be resolved by painstaking self-scrutiny in which the lover examines stringently the worth of his or her "wisdom" and the motives behind this need to assume leadership. The self-scrutiny is the essence of humility or meekness.

There are, then, two ways to confront or criticise another person: with instinctive and spontaneous certainty that we are right, or with a belief that we are probably right arrived at through scrupulous self-doubting and self-examination. The first is the way of arrogance; it is the most common way of parents, spouses, teachers and people generally in their day to day affairs; it is usually unsuccessful, producing more resentment and other unintended effects than growth. The second is the way of humility; it is not common, requiring as it does, a genuine extension of ourselves; it is more likely to be successful, and it is never likely to be destructive.

To fail to confront when confrontation is required for the nurture of spiritual growth represents a failure to love equally as much as does thoughtless criticism or condemnation and other forms of uncaring. Mutual loving confrontation is a significant part of all successful and meaningful human relationships. Without it, the relationship is either unsuccessful or shallow.

To confront or criticise is a form of exercising leadership or power. Loving people must concern themselves with this art, for if we desire the nurture of another's spiritual growth, then we must concern ourselves with the most effective way to accomplish this in any given instance.

To confront someone with something he or she cannot handle will at best be a waste of time and likely to have a deleterious effect. If we want to be heard we must speak in a language the listener can understand and on a level at which the listener is capable of operating. If we are to love we must extend ourselves to adjust our communication to the capacities of our beloved.

What is this about the risk involved? The problem is that the more loving one is, the more humble one is; yet the more humble one is, the more one is awed by the potential for arrogance in exercising power. Who am I to influence the course of human events? Who gives me the right to believe in my own understanding and then to presume to exert my will upon the world? Who am I to play God? That is the risk. For whenever we exercise power we are attempting to influence the course of the world, of humanity, and we are therefore playing God.

But those who truly love and work for the wisdom that love requires are aware that they are playing God. They know that there is no alternative except inaction and impotence. Love compels us to play God with full consciousness of the enormity of the fact that that is just what we are doing. With this consciousness, the loving person assumes the responsibility of attempting to be God and not to carelessly play God; to fulfil God's will without mistake. We arrive, then, at yet another paradox: only out of the humility of love can humans dare to be God.

Exploration and Discussion

1. Complete the following chart:

the risk

how I avoided it

how I faced it





2. What losses have been most difficult for you to face?

3. How have you grown in love through facing a loss?

4. What "leaps" into adulthood have you taken?

5. How were you loving yourself in taking these leaps?

6. What relationships of constancy/commitment have you experienced?

7. How have they contributed to your personal growth?

8. How do you need to extend yourself to become committed to a particular relationship?

9. What are your feelings about such a commitment?

10. In the same relationship, picture yourself in confrontation over some issue or difference. What feelings does this produce in you?

11. How can confrontation be helpful and healthy?