For a mature and creative love
Dr. Raimondo Scotto
Dr. Raimondo Scotto D'Abusco, married for 42 years to Dr. Maria Scotto, medical doctor, is an expert in relational dynamics of the couple and the family. He and his wife are the authors of numerous books about affectivity in the different stages of life published by Città Nuova Editrice, and articles published in various magazines. In this article, Dr. Scotto shows how much self-esteem is crucial to a person's ability to love others and overcome conflicts in a positive and constructive way.
I would like to focus on the solitude experienced by those who go through separation in marriage. For example, there is the pain of not having the opportunity to share with your partner an emotion, taking a walk together, feeling excluded in many situations, feeling the need for an emotional outlet ... A separated person writes: "Solitude is a boulder that wears you down inside and out." And another, separated for six months states: "The holidays are the saddest days for us, separated persons; this is no lie: solitude can be hell."
How can one live well this new situation? Some, especially if the separation took place so many years ago, have adjusted, have found a new way of life; some others, instead, despite the time elapsed, still find it very hard: there are those who are aware of these difficulties and those who are not aware of them and hide their head in the sand.
Capacity for solitude
I think it's very important, first of all, to discover what psychologists call the capacity for solitude, that is, the ability to stand alone in any situation, not leaning on others to move forward, not allowing one’s life to depend on another’s esteem or benevolence. This capacity for solitude is important for everyone, even for those who are happily married, but even more so for those who find themselves suddenly alone.
This does not mean not needing others. That would be presumptuous. We are, in fact, relational beings who grow up, live and mature only through relationships. Our capacity for solitude helps us, though, to understand how to deal with any relationship, because, often without realizing it, we love for ulterior motives, to be loved back, to receive love. L. Buscaglia wrote: "We are all, or almost all, convinced that we do love. Yet very few of us come out of our own ego long enough to know what love truly is. 'Love' means moving the focus of our interest from ourselves to others ".
Only our capacity for solitude can help us to become truly autonomous persons. We are not speaking here of economic autonomy, although important, that can undergo a serious crisis in separated persons. However, there is a far more profound existential autonomy that makes us complete in ourselves. Surely we can suffer for the lack of a partner with whom to share life. We must take note of this suffering and accept it within us, without pretense. However, we must be well aware, as the psychiatrist G. Dacquino wrote, that even if a couple's relationship can enrich both partners, it is not indispensable for our individual growth. For this reason, while not denying the natural biological complementarity between man and woman (as demonstrated by sexual attraction), when speaking about the relationship between the two sexes we prefer to speak of reciprocity rather than complementarity, precisely to highlight that one and the other have unique characteristics that are needed not so much to complement each other, but to enrich each other in the exchange of each one's specific gifts. And this exchange can also take place in the ordinary everyday life, in a life where male and female come together (or collide) continuously.
To become a truly autonomous person, we must also possess good self-esteem. If this were to be absent or very poor, we could easily be inclined to do anything to find people who appreciate us, praise us, value us, continually looking for support for our weak ego. The smallest thing makes us nervous: someone fails to greet us, someone hurts us and we feel depressed. If someone expresses an idea different from our own, we feel insecure, rejected. Any rebuke hurts us and we find it hard to start over. Even our sexual impulse becomes more difficult to manage...
The more one is confident of his or her own identity, the more he or she is capable of giving oneself gratuitously; the more one has confidence in oneself, the more one has confidence in the other's capabilities. The Bible says: "Love your neighbor as yourself". Love of neighbor presupposes the love of self. If we do not love ourselves enough, we cannot truly love others.
However, self-love should not be confused with selfishness, which is instead a self-absorption that excludes others; it is, rather, having an accurate assessment of one's own person. It is not a matter of hiding from oneself the darkest sides of one's own personality, the negative experiences, the failures, our own responsibilities for the separation. Rather it is a matter of being able to recognize and embrace the dark side within oneself, knowing that even out of deepest darkness light can shine. This will make it easier, then, to discover our brighter side, our particular talents. It is only in true humility that we can become aware of our own value.
Self-esteem is structured largely in the early years of life and depends very much on the relationship with one's parents if, that is, in those years we felt loved by them for what we were and not for what they expected from us. Dwelling on this period of our lives, in as much as we are able to, can be of considerable help, not so much to judge those who did not give us what we needed, but to learn more about ourselves, about the origin of our emotions and of our unconscious reactions.
However, self-esteem grows or shrinks as a result of other experiences as well. For example, it may be that, following separation, one feels rejected, devalued as a person, a failure. Maybe much had been done to build a relationship of true love. Perhaps, we strongly believed, together as a couple, in the value and beauty of marriage, but at some point we saw that dream collapse and life seemed to lose direction. We may be imbued with a sense of frustration, which can lead to a significant lowering of self-esteem. So, just to have some affection, we might attach ourselves in a morbid way to our children or, conversely, reject them because of the problems that their presence awakens in us.
Capacity for solitude, autonomy, and self-esteem are, therefore, closely linked and dependent on each other and from them depends our personal growth, our fulfillment, a sense of balance within ourselves, regardless of the situation in which we live.
Certainly it is not easy to achieve this balance that, among other things, is never attained once and for all, but must be continuously regained. But there are things that can help us.
Growing as a person
First, one has to try at all costs to pull oneself together and to grow as a person, knowing that some wounds always leave scars. An encounter in which we experience the Gospel in a way relevant to the needs of our world, frequent personal meditation on some text of spirituality that helps us to go more in depth into the evangelical art of loving, a social commitment… All of this can help us grow and acquire greater confidence in ourselves. Sometimes picking up a hobby might make a difference (sports, reading, games, music, etc.). These might seem like trivial things and we cannot deny that sometimes they are a way to distract ourselves so as not to address the real problems. However, if performed with self-awareness, these things can help us gain a sense of gratification, which can contribute greatly to our overall well-being, and to the growth of our capacity for solitude.
The discovery of the love of God
But what can really help us (and we have experienced it many times) is the discovery of the immense personal love of God, who loves me to the point of having a plan for me, a plan that will never fail even if I go through the biggest failures; He indeed has the ability to bring good even from the evil of separation, to make even the desert bloom. For Him, I am so important that He has a specific will for me and my fulfillment is in adhering to His will now, here, in this present moment, regardless of my past. For those who believe, there is nothing that can give more peace, serenity, confidence, a strong self-esteem, and an ability to stand alone.
Chiara Lubich highlights this attitude to stand alone even in difficulties by presenting the figure of Mary, who draws from God her capacity for solitude. In God our existential solitude also finds an outlet, an opening, because there is no one who knows us better than God, there is no one like God who can fill every void and give meaning to every limit. A married person who is separated wrote: "The starting point that helped me to rebuild myself was discovering that I am truly a child of God ... The emptiness of this emotional/sexual void can only be filled by God. It is an illusion to think that we can find someone who can fill the vital need we all crave: the need to be loved. Thus we have to experience letting ourselves be loved by God…"
Treating others like ourselves
We mentioned before that phrase of Scripture: Love your neighbor as yourself. The logical consequence of having achieved our personal autonomy is precisely to be able to treat others as ourselves. A. Carotenuto says that self-confidence makes us capable of treating others as we would treat ourselves, helping them too to grow in autonomy, and self-confidence. In fact, if we have worth as a person, others also have worth precisely because they are children of the same God who is Father of all. If everyone is loved by God, if the other is worthy of God’s love, even more so is that person worthy of my own love, entitled to my love. Sometimes little is needed to express the worthiness in big or small matters that is present in everyone. "You spoke very well! What a great job you did! You wrote a nice letter!" This is not flattering, but grasping the other's good. If we cannot see it, it is certainly our fault because there is no person in the world who does not possess at least some positive traits.
If, treating others as oneself is, on the one hand, the result of regained self-esteem, then, on the other hand it also helps us even more to grow as a person. When you do an act of pure love, what you get is much more than you think you have given. How many people have managed to emerge from the tunnel of separation precisely by taking a greater interest in others, taking upon themselves their solitude!
Managing sexual impulses
This openness to others can also be of great help in better managing our sexual impulses. Sexuality, in fact, is not only expressed through sexual intercourse, but above all through affectivity in its many forms. Among the anthropological basic concepts expressed by the Italian Center of Sexology, sexuality is spoken of as a "natural foundation of social relations", that is, sexuality is linked first of all to our ability to enter into relations with others. These must be, however, emotionally rich relationships, in which the heart is set in motion with all its emotions and its feelings, allowing us to penetrate into the other's world and to rejoice and suffer with him or her.
Logically this way of relating to others cannot ignore the prudence required to avoid causing misunderstandings. Sometimes we may also need to find the courage to break with certain relationships.
Sexuality thus understood, in a much broader aspect than just a sexual need to be filled, also gives the vital energy that helps us to be passionate in what we do, to do things with enthusiasm, with joy, to look with ever renewed wonder at the perennial newness of life, learning to enjoy the little things.
To renounce sexual gratification may be easier if we develop more fully this relational aspect of sexuality. In fact, the more we are focused on ourselves, on our own needs, the more we feel lonely and the more it becomes difficult to manage well our sexual impulses.
In today's society it is not easy to stick to tough commitments. We live in a culture of the ephemeral, where everything is consumed, where we want everything at once, where final choices of any kind, from marital fidelity to consecrated life, are looked upon with scorn or suspicion. Although the means for better communication have increased, never like today have we experience solitude, in large cities, in mass concerts, in discos ... So many people touch each other superficially, unable to dent the armor of their solitude.
In this context it is very important to move forward together. Inclusion in a community, in an association where everyone tries to live by the same ideal, becomes a key requirement. In an environment where love circulates naturally, where one lives the experience of loving and being loved truly, without prejudice, in a radical way, self-esteem grows because everyone helps you feel important, unique, and so also the ability to stand alone increases and, accordingly, to love even more. Knowledge that only love is capable of giving us true well-being and to make us feel fully realized is key.