The Different Kinds of Love Part 2 of a series on Learning to Love Unconditionally
Previously I proposed that the fundamental crisis in America is human brokenness – our disconnection from one another. Psychoanalyst Erich Fromm, in The Art of Loving, stated that the experience of separateness is the source of all anxiety and the absolute failure to overcome our separateness causes insanity. Indeed, the primal fear of separation is at the base of all psychological suffering, according to philosopher Walter Schubart. It is through love that we connect and gain our sense of oneness.
There are different types of love. There is only one word for love in the English language; the Greeks have at least seven words. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in a sermon titled “Levels of Love,” named six different kinds of love and ranked them from lowest to highest.
The lowest level Dr. King called utilitarian love – loving a person for their usefulness to you. The object of love becomes a stepping stone to achieve one’s ambitions and goals. The relationship ends when the person is no longer of use. This love is typical of the affection that the master had for his slave. It can also characterize a lopsided friendship or enter into family relations.
The second kind of love is romantic love, what the Greeks called eros. Although the person who loves romantically seek to satisfy the person they love and may be willing to die for him or her, eros is motivated by selfish desire and is exclusive. A parent’s love for their child (storge) is the third form of love. It is a patient, tender and caring love, but is also exclusive. We love other people’s children less than we love our own. Philia, the intimacy of personal friendship, is the fourth type of love. It is broader and more inclusive, but excludes those we don’t like or those who hurt us.
The fifth love is humanitarian love, a general love that is based on the belief that every life is sacred. Humanitarian love inspires charity. But it is impersonal. Indeed, charity tends to end when the needs of the donor are met. The sixth and highest level of love, according to Dr. King, is agape, unconditional love that is not prompted by any characteristic of the person loved but is entirely spontaneous and seeks nothing in return. You love everyone not for your own sake but for their sake. King calls this the love of God operating in the human heart.
The first five are need love; they stem from our own need. Agape is gift love. The real test for agape is whether we’re capable of loving our enemy.
A seventh love is described by the Greek word philautia, love of self. This can take two forms: 1) narcissism, a self-obsessed love, and 2) healthy self-compassion, which enhances our wider capacity for love.
Next time, I’ll explain why agape, unconditional love, is so important and how it differs from conditional love.
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