Sunday, March 16, 2014

Psychology of Romance: Personal Security

I was reading in Successful Marriages and Families: Proclamation Principles and Research Perspectives, (because apparently that's what I do on Saturday nights after I'm burned out on my homework from undergrad. o.O) Anyway, came across some great papers by Jason Carroll--one of the best lecturers I've had the privilege of learning from at the Y--and he had some good thoughts. I've decided to work them into a blog post, as many of them apply to the things on my mind recently. 

First question: What is love? 
A question asked by philosophers, religionists, poets, artists, and others since as long as anyone has existed. For the purpose of right now, we are going to say that "love" is the ability to be emotionally available to self and others--especially in times of need-- without requirements of performance, perfection, problem-solving, or production. ("Times of need" is loosely defined as when loved ones are hurt or fearful of being hurt.)

Next: what does it mean to have the ability to love? 
"How one asserts, expresses, and defines his or her importance, and the importance of others, in intimate and non-intimate relationships (L'Abate, 1997, p 4)." 

With these two definitions, one can conclude that a person's ability to love requires a combination--a sense of self-worth or personal security, and intimate regard for other people. 

This is something I've thought a lot about: the phrases "capacity to love" and "ability to love" are sometimes used interchangeably, but lately I've noticed a great differentiation in my life. I have always had a great *capacity* to love--the need, the want, the desire, the potential to do so. But sometimes there are circumstances and experiences in our lives that legitimately reduce our *ability* to love. Something to think about. 

So, personal security and other-centeredness. Personal security refers to  one's sense of self importance (which involves perceptions of self-worth), the ability to regulate negative affect (i.e. depression, anxiety, anger), and feelings of secure attachment (Carroll, Badger & Yang, 2006).  Personally secure people depend on sources of internal validation instead of external validation for the sake of personal worth. (Internal validation: the love of God, a sense of personal and individual worth, personal optimism and hope for the future; external validation: personal appearance, accomplishments, material possessions, unhealthy relationships). 

Some could argue that one does not need to be personally secure in this sense in order to truly feel love for someone else. Perhaps it is possible; there are many forms of love and many levels of maturity within romantic love. But we are focusing on healthy, mature, long-term relationship kind of love. In order to be emotionally available, one must have some sort of emotional bank account to draw on. That requires personal security. Personal security, as defined above, is the basis for all sorts of attributes required for dating and marriage relationships: Courage. Vulnerability. Willingness to Trust. Confidence. 

Without personal security, vulnerability is extremely threatening, and then fear of rejection dictates many behaviors in a dating situation. This leads to less authenticity, disclosure, or mutual reliance on each other as a couple. Romantic relationships require vulnerability, which includes the possibility of being hurt, and courage to be open one with another.

Let's be honest: that can be really, really scary. What could possibly be worth that kind of turmoil??

And that brings us to the other side of the equation: other-centeredness. Basically all that is saying is that a person with a focus toward others possess and demonstrates qualities such as forgiveness, commitment, sacrifice, kindness, fairness, and an effort to understand. It involves the ability to care for others, and the maturity to allow others' needs to become equal in importance--or more important than--one's own needs. 

We understand those sorts of personal virtues as good things to have generally. It is interesting to correlate the social science studies of personal security and other-centeredness with the teachings of the Atonement. As we individually allow the Lord to be our support, rather than leaning on external sources for validation, we let go of fear. We act freely, rather than reacting to fear of rejection or uncertainty.  As we develop our relationship with the Lord, we can focus on serving and "being there for" the people around us--we can focus on loving them. This absolutely includes our romantic partner. As our individual personal security grows, we can then make an active choice to lean on one another, rather than desperately clinging, like a drowning person, to whomever happens to be there. We can move in tandem and accomplish an intentional family--and an intentional romance. 

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