Being in love is different from love in that true love is based upon much more than simply a feeling of passion or wanting the other person. We often confuse being in love, sentimentality, and intense emotions with love itself. Love may start with feelings of passion or being in love, but develop into something much more stable, based on mutual respect, trust, and concern for the other. Margaret Anderson perhaps summed it up best when she said, "In real love, you want the other person's good. In romantic love you want the other person." In fact, when experience feelings of intense attraction or feelings of passion, our brains actually resemble brains on drugs, according to Psychiatrist Dr. Judith Orloff. The early stages of relationships are characterized by intense feelings of infatuation and lust, as well as idealization and projection.
Projection, Idealization, and Romanticism:
Most of us have been conditioned through movies, TV, social and cultural conventions to search for our sense of identity through finding wholeness or completion through a partner. However, rarely do our partners live up to the ideals and fantasies we project onto them. Unconsciously, we may set ourselves up for disappointment by having the expectation that our partner must provide us with a sense of happiness and elation rather than taking responsibility for our own emotional states and happiness. This almost always leads towards projection and feelings of disempowerment and dependency.
Psychological projection is a defense mechanism whereby we unconsciously deny certain qualities and project these qualities onto others. This often occurs in romantic relationships, where we project disowned aspects of ourselves onto the other, causing us to idealize them. By doing this, the other begins to have power over us and later can lead to feelings of disappointment and disillusionment. We may be in love with the feeling of being in love, rather than the actual person with their own faults and flaws. As the Jungian writer, Jonathan Zap notes, "The Western mythology of romance is an atmosphere charged with sexual, emotional and mythological content that has surrounded us for our entire lives." However, there is a way to reclaim one's disowned power, reclaim the projection, and learn to relate in a more authentic, healthy way.
Wholeness: Reclaiming the Projection:
From a Jungian perspective, simply by becoming aware that we are projecting can help us reclaim these disowned parts of ourselves and embark on the path to inner wholeness. While this process may not be easy as we are encouraged to look outside of ourselves for happiness, excitement, and distraction, we can begin this process by looking inward to discover our hidden treasures. It is through integrating these fragmented parts of ourselves and learning to make what is unconscious conscious so that we can develop a sense of greater wholeness and meaning.
One exercise that can help us achieve greater integration is to Reclaim the Projection. From a young age, we often try to align our identity with certain norms within our culture or society. We do this by splitting off and identifying with some qualities while disowning others. We may do this by repressing and denying any undesirable qualities within ourselves, such as anger, pettiness, jealousy, or fear. Sometimes, we project these qualities onto others when we disown them in ourselves. There is a saying that what irritates or upsets you in someone else is what you have failed to acknowledge or integrate within yourself. The irritation arises from failing to acknowledge, accept or integrate that aspect of ourselves and so we project it onto someone else. We also do the opposite with romantic relationships. We often project our greatest ideals and potentials onto others, which can also turn into a kind of hero worship. We may do this with friends, partners, celebrities, and even spiritual leaders. However, by doing this, we may diminish our own innate abilities and talents.
Author Scott Jeffrey offers simple techniques for reclaiming this projection. First, write down one or more person that you envy and make a list of qualities you admire in that person. Then, recognize ways in which you currently embody some of these qualities, but may not realize it. Next, brainstorm ways that you can strengthen these qualities and how this would impact your life. Are there any ways you can develop or embody more of those same qualities within yourself?
What is authentic love?
Authentic love differs from projection, lust, and infatuation, but it is possible for authentic love to emerge from feelings of being in love. Authentic love is beyond idealization, lust, and projection and based upon mutual respect, trust, and honestly. For love to exist, we must expand our sense of compassion beyond ourselves and not merely be concerned with having our own needs met. However, at the same time, authentic love also requires self-respect and self-acceptance.
According to Dr. Judith Orloff, signs of being in love include "wanting to spend quality time together other than sex, you want to honestly listen to each other's feelings, motivates you to be a better person, and wanting to meet his or her family and friends." The healthiest relationships are when two whole, individuals come together and are aware of their own needs, yet are willing to make room for the needs of others without losing themselves or sacrificing too much. Philosopher J. Krishnamurti commented, "Love comes into being when we understand the total process of ourselves, and the understanding of ourselves is the beginning of wisdom."