Humanistic Psychology & Activism

What’s Love Got to Do with It?

Humanistic psychology, mindful presence and love as true healing in the helping professions: where Western society and mass media have portrayed self-love and self-care as selfishness and self-indulgence, humanistic psychology and mindfulness interventions promoted in Eastern cultures encourage self-care and self-nourishment.

By Donna Rockwell, PsyD

Before the beginning, was love. Everything came to be through love, and without love, nothing of what has existed since the beginning or is now or will be forever would have come to be. In the very beginning was love; the basis of the universe — its law and regulations — is love. When all ends, only love will remain; all that is outside love will pass.
— St. Charbel Makhlouf

Donna RockwellFrom the first moment I was introduced to humanistic psychology in graduate school, I fell in love with the idea that love really mattered, for my own personal growth as a mental health professional, and as a critical learning edge in psychotherapy, itself guiding the client toward love for and appreciation of him- or herself. We can be quite harsh with ourselves in our internal dialogue and that is not healthy.

That is why as a key component of my presidential year, I’ve chosen to emphasize love and its various contributions to health, well-being and the skillset involved in thriving, or at least, attempting to thrive. When the rest of the world is telling us “no” in the multiple ways that it does, love for our very selves can propel us toward growth, learning, development and adopting self-actualization as a lifelong philosophy. Self-actualizing (and I think it is a verb and not a noun, in that we are always in the dynamic process of self-actualizing, rather than seeing it as an end point) is in actuality a journey toward self-love and subsequently, love for the whole world.

Our Society of Humanistic Psychology (SHP) conference this year, for example, is entitled “Liberation through Wisdom and Love: Humanistic Psychology, Social Justice and Contemplative Practice.” It is our 11th Annual Conference and is being held at Naropa University in Boulder, Colo., March 22-25, 2018. 

Where Western society and mass media over the years have portrayed self-love and self-care as selfishness and self-indulgence, humanistic psychology and mindfulness interventions promoted in Eastern cultures instead encourage self-care, framing it as self-nourishment, where at the end of the day, we have more “good stuff” left over to give others, rather than less. Through humanistic psychology and mindfulness, we learn how to cultivate such inner reserves.

I have often heard meditation teachers describe this sort of approach to healthy living using the analogy of needing to apply one’s own oxygen mask before assisting others, borrowing from flight attendants’ instructions, both logical and clear. Running on empty ultimately leaves little capacity for many of our challenges and callings in life, activating in us the immune-suppressing stress response and the consequential cascading of cortisol and adrenaline production, inflammation and stress-related diseases and potential premature death due to unhealthy thinking and erroneous assumptions. Love helps clear away fear.

At this year’s American Psychological Association (APA) Convention in San Francisco, August 9-12, I hope to bring the heart of One Love, as described in Caribbean culture to the greater APA through our division’s convention theme: Humanistic Psychology: How One Love Informs Psychotherapy, Inclusive Community and Multicultural Innovation. Author and Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction founder, Jon Kabat-Zinn, is a Div. 32 invited speaker, who will give mindfulness teachings via video conference at Convention on Friday morning from 10:00am to 12:00pm.

In an APA Convention Collaborative program, I am chairing Self-Love as Psychological Praxis: Self-Love in Fundamental Human Thriving, “Self-Love-Care” as Restorative Social Justice and Womanist Ways of Healing Communities and Self-Love as Mindfulness in Psychotherapy. The presenters will focus on self-love and how germane self-affiliation capacities are to human thriving, innovative community building and a dedication to sustainable neighboring.

Rather than a self-help movement that promotes improvement through an unrelenting attack on the self, I believe it is time in our society for greater appreciation of a science of self-love. Loving the self is not self-indulgent but rather a Maslowian birthright to dance to our own tune and be true to our own unique human composition as the true self-actualizing path. Self-love is self-knowing, a humble conscientiousness that frees the actor from at least some percentage of ego that thinks anything one does is about the “me,” pointing instead to the part we play in the larger production, a grander capacity to connect to community, to touch and be touched, to be a part of the healing.

Love.

Qualitative inquiry as humanistic research is love. Holding as sacred philosopher Martin Buber’s I-Thou in the therapy room is love. Offering unconditional positive regard, as Carl Rogers taught us, is love. Edmund Husserl’s notion of being-in-the-world is love. Humanistic psychology founder, Clark Moustakas’s being-in, being-for, being-with is love. Self-compassion is love, as mindfulness researcher Kristin Neff discovered in her groundbreaking work. Dedication to human rights is love. “Justice,” said Martin Luther King Jr., “is really love in calculation.” Holding a space for the experience of “the other” in all walks of life is love.

Awe is also love. As I noted in a Huffington Post blog, if parents can learn to "stand, reflecting awe, embracing mystery, curious, openhearted, immersed in the now and loving the opportunity to be in love with this very life," our children will learn to do the same. This alone could turn our culture from fear to greater love.

A new SHP task force celebrating women in humanistic psychology, established this year, was founded in love and has some exciting announcements to make in the coming months. This task force and others, including our Hate Crimes and Safe Spaces, Diversity Task Force and the Indigenous Psychology Task Force, all center on the importance of love in health and meaningful self-actualization.

As with all things — even love — there is a shadow side, and my commitment to wellbeing is to try to explore these corners too. How, in the end, I wonder, do we facilitate our lives so that love is sustainable in times good and bad, times both buoyant and perplexing? As Correspondent Steve Hartman pondered on CBS This Morning when covering Hurricane Harvey in Houston and the great outpouring of empathy and connection he witnessed there, “Will we be able to love at this level when the waters recede?” I similarly ask, can humanistic psychology continue to take a significant stance against the tidal wave of alleged evidence-based treatments and the monetary pull of the medical model and instead stand strongly for empathic engagement, mindfulness and love?

Trinidadian poet Derek Walcott artfully expressed the importance of self-love in the poem “Love After Love”:

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other's welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

What’s love got to do with it? Everything.

Please explore the Div. 32 (Society for Humanistic Psychology) news and events section for upcoming events, membership information and other division news. Also check out our SHP-TV channel on YouTube for historic interviews, presentations, talks and insight on all things humanistic psychology.