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Filial Love

filial loveFilial Love ….

The word love has, of course, many meanings. However, we don’t have many words to express those many different meanings of ‘love.’ We use the same love in the statement “I love my mother” and “I love my new shoes.” But, clearly, the love is not the same.

Traditionally, there are four categories of love: in Greek the words are ‘eros,’ ‘philea,’ ‘storge,’ and ‘agape.’ In English, this would translate to eros: romantic love; philea: brotherly-sisterly love, storge: affectionate friendship love and agape: alstruistic love.

And then there is filial love. Filial love is the kind of love a child has for its parents. This is, perhaps, a kind of ‘root love.’ It’s a kind of inborn instinct, to love parents. Whether or not the parents are lovable is another story; but, that doesn’t matter, the child loves the parents. How a parent responds to a child then becomes part of the child’s understanding of what love is. If the parents are abusive or neglectful, love, in the child’s mind, becomes almost equated with abuse or neglect. It’s as if neglect = love or abuse = love. No child grows up in an exclusively abusive or neglectful environment; now and then, there are also periods of affection. That too becomes part of the meaning of love for the child, as if it is also true that affection = love. Yelling, screaming, crying, laughing, singing, dancing, talking…..all of these experiences, and more, can link in to meanings of love. Because of the many, and sometimes contradictory, meanings of love, love can be confusing.

Because a child is so dependent upon parents for sustenance, nourishment, safety and protection, dependency becomes one of the equations of love in the growing child’s mind, i.e., dependence = love. One of the predominant needs of a child is attention. Children need to be attended to and it is not uncommon for a child to seek negative attention over none at all. If misbehavior gets the attention, i.e., the love of their parents, then, in the mind of a child, misbehavior = love. Temper tantrums, crying and screaming, aggression, and even gestures of self harm, can all be interpreted as a request for love. Love, of course, also equates to touch, affectionate hugs and embraces, caring, fun, joy and celebration…. Love has many, many different meanings.

Because a growing child is so dependent upon parents for their needs, the association between filial love and dependence is significant. Dependence generates territoriality and possessiveness towards that which one is dependent upon. Filial love is often characterized by a consciousness of ‘mine.’ Children are not only possessive of their toys, but of their parents as well. How many families with several children hear any child say ‘our parents’ instead of ‘my parents?’ A consciousness of ‘mine’ is dominant not only in childhood filial love, but adolescent, and adult, romantic love as well. Romantic relationships are possessive, and territorial. The relationship is based on dependence. There may be little difference between the statement “I love you” and “I depend upon you” or “I need you.” Romantic relationships, in particular, are a form of securing and possessing a source of specific needs satisfaction.

There is an element of love, filial love, in that. Of course, romantic relationships are predominantly characterized by eros, the passionate, intimate and sexual love. But, that does not mean filial love is absent, for it is not, just as every adult still has within them all the experiences of their childhood, and adolescence. It is not uncommon for one partner in a romantic relationship to project their deficit filial love needs onto the other partner who may, or may not, satisfy them. A good love relationship will be aware of the many meanings and forms love can take from the filial to the friendly, to the affectionate, to the romantic, and even to the altruistic.

Altruistic love is the antithesis of ‘mine.’ Altruistic love is a consciousness of ‘ours.’ Ideally, romantic love leads towards altruistic love because a single “me” becomes partnered and a ‘we’ is formed; a small ‘we’…a kind of ‘us against the world’ consciousness. But, then children are born and the ‘we’ expands. The children grow up and have their own children, and the ‘we’ expands more; what started as a fairly selfish erotic love has evolved to a family love which becomes neighborhood love, community love, and can extend to include the planet and all it’s inhabitents….The expansion of consciousness from ‘me’ to ever larger spheres of ‘we’ is the movement towards altruistic love, enlightenment, bliss.

It is said that Eskimos have several words for snow, depending on the quality and texture of it, and that the Zulu people in Africa, have several words for the color green, depending on the shade or hue of it. We have several words for precipitation as in rain, drizzle, downpour, sleet, hail and snow. But, for the most part, we seem to only have one word to represent the many complexities, shades, colors, hues, textures forms and meanings of ‘love.’ I love my mother, and I love my new shoes.