In How To Love, Dr. Gordon Livingston—a physician of the human heart, a philosopher of human psychology—offers an urgently needed meditation on who best (and who best not) to love
FIRST DESERVE, THEN DESIRE
The choices we make, choices on which our happiness largely depends, involves judgments about the people we encounter as we travel through life.
Who can we trust? Who will bring out the best in us? Who will betray us? Who will save us from ourselves?
To be in the presence of another person who accept us as we are, gives us the benefit of the doubt, cares about what we think, and assumes we will act generously is an immensely gratifying experience.
In my experience as a therapist, I have found that the pitfalls most people encounter in their pursuit of happiness reflect some difficulty in apprehending what is ‘true’ about themselves and the people they are closest to. We are, in effect, navigating with faulty maps of how the world works.
What we must learn to do is look beneath the surface of our lives and recognize that much of what we are depends on emotions and motivations outside our consciousness; these feelings reside in the realm of long, unexamined habit.
How do we learn to make intelligent judgments about others? Who is qualified to teach us?
Happiness, like art, can be difficult to define, but it is clear that an essential component of a fulfilling life is the quality of our closest relationships.
If we wish, therefore, to protect ourselves from disappointment at the hands of others, and if we think it important to recognize those who will enrich our lives, we had best learn the art of pattern recognition when it comes human behavior.
That this has traditionally proven difficult is both a problem of education–who can teach us this and where?–and a testimony to the complexity of human needs.
We are not simply creatures of intellect who make decisions based on logic and experience. We are also sentient beings in the grip of conflicting needs, impulses, and fears: sexual, affectional, social, religious, parental, and, above all, self-protective.
There is much debate about the origins of personality problems. To what extent are they genetic? How much can attribute to poor parenting or adverse life experience? The answer, dimly seen at the moment, is probably some of each.
[bluebox] Of all of the questions we ask ourselves in the course of discovering what another human being is really life, perhaps the most important is this: How do I feel about myself when I am with this person?[/bluebox]
OH, HOW POWERFULLY THE MAGNET OF ILLUSION ATTRACTS
Self-centered people frequently seem successful. Their ability to get others to conform to their needs may appear to be a valuable life skill; over time these qualities are revealed as manipulative and a lack of interest in the needs of others becomes a highly unattractive trait.
A MAN IS KNOWN BY THE COMPANY HE AVOIDS
Groucho Marx memorably observed that, ‘I would never join a club that would have some like me as a member.’ Those we choose to spend time with define both who we think we are and who we want to be. They must be chosen carefully.
The formal definition of a so-called personality disorder is as follows:
An enduring pattern of inner experience and behavior that deviates markedly from cultural expectations, is pervasive and inflexible, is stable over time, and leads to distress and functional impairment.
People who have these collections of traits in diagnosable form are extremely difficult to relate to and especially to live with.
Typology of people with personality disorder
People who are self-absorbed can be dangerous emotionally and sometimes even physically. Danger signals that one is in the presence of a self-absorbed ‘hysteric’ include signs of shallowness and a more or less constant need to be the focus of attention.
The narcissists. In this category we have those who manifest such an elevated perception of themselves that they have little ability to hear others. The primary sign that one is in the presence of a narcissist is that he or she is not interested in you except as a source of admiration.
Those with borderline traits are so impulsive, unpredictable, and unstable in their interactions with others that one never knows from moment to moment, day to day, how they will behave.
The sociopaths is a particularly dangerous category of people since they are deficient in that most important capacity that the rest of us take for granted as a fundamental component of what it is to be human: conscience.