Last year I read a book called Perfect Love,Imperfect Relationships. The book had a profound effect on me then, and I keep thinking about it now during this crisis. We all have obsessions, and psychology is one of mine. I guess along with more time for one another we now have more time for our obsessions too.
The author of Perfect Love, Imperfect Relationships, John Welwood, says that we’re all essentially searching for a kind of “perfect love” that is not really available in human relationships. Essentially, we want someone to love us all the time and never let us down. So until we learn to experience love on our own, we will always end up disappointed.
Welwood also extensively describes what he calls “un-love”. When we are rejected or disappointed or ignored, we feel this un-love. We learn to resent other people for making us feel this way. He traces all resentment to this need to create a “bad other”, so we can deflect these feelings of being unloved and worthless.
Reading the book, I realized how much time and energy I’ve spent feeling resentful. It was humbling. It also made me aware that my resentment was fueled by pain I’d experienced as a kid. The pain doesn’t need to be recent. My feelings of being unloved and ignored during childhood caused me to be resentful for decades.
I also realized how common these feelings of resentment are. Many of us dress up our resentments as principled judgment or righteousness, but our obsessions betray us.
I’ll give an example many people can relate to – hating President Trump. Many of us dislike him, and indeed he gives us ample reason to. But some of us go a step further and obsessively read every article we can find out him, pore over his tweets, and talk or post about how much we hate him every day. In this way, we become ensnared in this feeling of hatred and resentment. We do it because it serves a purpose; it helps us deal with our pain by making ourselves “good” and Trump “bad”.
The irony is that Trump himself feels the same way. His father was a workaholic, and to win his Dad’s approval young Donald had to prove himself worthy. He couldn’t show any vulnerability or ever admit wrong, and always felt the need to be the alpha male like his father. Trump’s brother keenly felt the un-love in their family and died early of alcoholism. Unable to feel real love himself, our President fills that terrible void by making enemies of all kinds, and pumping up his fragile ego by telling himself that he’s better than everyone else.
Trump is an extreme case, of course. But ask yourself, am I so different? Don’t we pump ourselves up by feeling superior to other people – morally, intellectually, or even spiritually? I know I do.
Our hearts can only feel so many things at once. If we fill our hearts with resentment, it’s harder to fill them with love. Does that mean we have to love people whom we think are terrible? Ideally yes. At least that’s what this guy named Jesus said. Although it’s apparent why this invocation to “love your enemies” is usually ignored by Christians and non-Christians alike. It’s extremely difficult, because it asks us to give up our judgment and resentment of others.
Personally I find it very hard to give up my resentments. After a while, they become reflexive, and I’ve created all kinds of worthy-sounding reasons for them. It’s even harder to give them up if they are widely shared. But during this time of relative scarcity when we’re being asked to give up many things, maybe it’s a good time to give up my resentments as well.