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Philautia – The Greatest Love Of All

According to centuries of songs, poems, plays and films, love is all we need, it goes on and on, and we plan to love forever and some people want to know what love is and others can’t help falling in love.
But what is love?
Is it an emotion, a drive, an impulse or simply an illusion?
Emotions come and go. We can be angry one minute then calm the next. We can be happy for a while then unhappy. It does not alter the fact that for a while we were happy. However, love in its truest sense is a constant state. When we love someone we always love them. Fleeting states of happiness, joy, laughter are the ‘by products’ if you like, of love.
When love is unrequited we cannot always immediately switch off our feelings. It takes time and healing. People can react negatively when love is lost. Anger and desire for revenge are not by products of love. When someone wants to hurt another in this way it is more about bruised ego than spurned love.
So love is not an emotion. It generates emotions. Love is a driver of emotions. Some people have likened it to electricity – you cannot see it but you know it is there.
There are many types of love, there is the love of a spouse, the love of food, the love of a child. All creating different reactions and alterations in our heads, hearts and body. The Greeks defined many types of love –
Agape – divine love
Eros – romantic love or desire
Storge – familial love
Philia – Platonic or friend love
Philautia – self love
to name but a few. Modernity has created many more variations on the back of these.
Love can be positive or negative. In its highest form it stirs compassion, kindness and connection and brings out the best in humans. In its negative form it breeds anger, jealousy, egotism and self pity. We can court a partner and aim to seduce but we cannot control love, cannot command it, nor demand it. We cannot buy love. Love is free. But we can destroy love with the wrong actions or intentions.
Genuine love cannot be turned on and off like a tap. It cannot be used as a tool for punishment. (Mummy won’t love you if you do that again). Only something else pretending to be love can be used as bait or as a reward. Real love comes from the heart and is wrapped in kindness and consideration.
Unrequited love breeds some of the most destructive emotions, from thoughts of suicide, to anger and a desire for revenge at having been rejected. All this stems from loving via our ego. When ego enters into the situation we are no longer thinking of the big picture, no longer being pragmatic or even honest. We turn rejected love into a personal insult and the beast that is our ego rises to the occasion.
In coaching, love features strongly, especially Philautia or self love. The concept of self love can be traced as far back in the west, to 1Aristotle (384- 322BC.) Aristotle defined two types of Philautia, people who love themselves to achieve virtuous principles and people who love themselves to achieve personal gain. The former being the better of the two.
Over two thousand years later 2Jean Jacques Rousseau also defined two types of self love – Amour de soi (self preservation) and Amour-propre (self esteem, pride).
But is love or self love really necessary? If we cannot value ourselves enough to love ourselves, how can we truly love back in a positive way and how can we accept love when freely given?
3Erich Fromm, Psychologist and Philosopher amongst his many labels, believed love to be an interpersonal creative capacity rather than an emotion. He stated that unless love (whether for the self or others), came with respect, responsibility and knowledge, it was not real love but a narcissistic nemesis.
Self love is not about what you deserve to have or expecting others to place you first, or putting yourself first. Negative self love leads to egotism, emotional greed and in its extreme – narcissism. It is what Aristotle called love for personal gain and Rousseau called Amour-propre. None of these states are healthy. They are the opposite of what real love is about. They are as destructive as a lack of self love.
Self love is primarily about acceptance. Not in the fatalistic sense of ‘what will be will be, I can’t change it’.
More ‘ I am what I am and what I become will be my ‘I am’ in the future’. So for those of us who coach, who are self aware, mindful and adaptable; we should take care in whatever changes we make, for today we are making our own self. For instance as of this moment going forward, with the awareness I have developed, if I do not like myself in the future, I have only myself to answer to.

1 Nichomachean Ethics. Bk.9 Ch.8
2 Genevan Philosopher 1712 -1778
3 The Art of Loving. 1956
Genuine self love is also about believing that you are enough. An understanding of your divine presence in the universe and the part you have to play in co existing with this universe.
True adherence to the concept of Philautia means caring for oneself, taking responsibility for oneself and knowing oneself, (being aware of ones strengths and weaknesses). When we are kind to ourselves it is easy to be kind to strangers. When we show compassion towards ourselves and our weaknesses it is easy to be compassionate towards others.
Love is about connection, whether to a place or person. Self love is about our connection to the world around us. When we do not have self love we feel unworthy, hollow, inferior. We lack purpose. We feel unnecessary. Ironically we worry that others will sense this, so we cover it up with bluster and deflection. Then we worry about being a fraud and others will see us as ungenuine, so we feel angry with ourselves for not being able to be genuine and so the spiral downwards continues.
Our problem comes from looking to the world and others for acceptance, acknowledgement and validation. Dangerous ground unless you are able to filter your relationships and weed out the negative influences.
Developing a true love of oneself takes time, practice and dedication towards virtuousness. Philautia does not rely on external validation. It resides happily within us. We just need to ‘see’ it. It is the most deeply personal interrelationship we will ever have. There is no ending, no graduation day. It is an ongoing process and we must continue this process of caring, learning and knowing right up until, as Shakespeare would say, we shake off this mortal coil.
We are unique. There is only one of us. When we are gone, there will never be another like us. Love your uniqueness and love others for their uniqueness. As the golden rule says –love others as you like to be loved.
I would add – make sure you know what love is first.

ICF Accredited Life Coach.
NLP Practitioner.
Living in Qatar. Loves writing, learning, photography, rescuing cats and dare I say it – quilting.


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