To love, we must first be loved

“What’s Love Got To Do With It?” asks a popular song by Tina Turner. The answer, of course, is “everything!”

On Feb. 14, we pay tribute to this fact of life as we search for greeting cards to express our love to special people in our lives.

More elemental than sentiment, however, the common denominator among human beings is our need for love. The only thing that changes as we move from one life stage to another are the ways in which we need love shown to us and our ability to give it to others.

Erik Erickson, a developmental psychologist in the last century, theoretically divided our life span into eight stages that begin with birth and end with old age. He taught that psychological and social growth is connected to physiological development.

Critical to his theory is the concept that in order for the human personality to develop adequately, certain needs must be met at critical life phases. He was optimistic, however, about the ability we all have to correct deficiencies with new learning and helpful life experiences.

Other psychologists have expanded and built on Erickson’s work by suggesting ways that we can be better parents to our children through awareness, and also nurture ourselves and others. We can actually promote healing for deficits and damages we and others may have suffered in earlier life stages. Love can be reparative as we recycle old emotional issues. New life decisions can be made as we come to understand ourselves and others.

The need for love, received and given, in different forms, at all ages, is part of what it means to be human.

As our body moves us along the circle of life, we may survive, but without love we will not thrive. Love is the necessary condition that enables us to become whom we are most capable of being.

As infants, we need the solid attachment to a loving caregiver that makes it possible to feel safe in the world. Unable to meet our own most basic needs, human infants are the most vulnerable of creatures. We soak up love, we can’t have too much of it. The quality of the nurturing we receive will impact us for the rest of our lives. It is in those first few months of life that we learn how to trust. Our relationships with our first caregivers become the working model for other relationships we develop in later life.

Through being loved we learn how to love and our relationships become mutual. Our ability to express love begins with the first engaging smiles of the infant, and through developmental stages, flowers into mature expressions of love. If we think of love as the capacity to transcend ones’ own best interests for the good of another, perhaps this ability is the single best gauge of maturity and emotional health.

Beginning in early childhood, nurturing love must take on the dimensions of encouraging, teaching, mentoring, structuring, as well as setting boundaries that children of all ages will test. We need a love that guides and supports us as we grow from dependency to the ability to care for ourselves and others. Likewise, we have so much to learn before reaching maturity that we need a love that grants permission to make the mistakes that learners make. Eventually, we must become able to nurture a new generation.

The drive to love between men and women also takes on a new motivation as we enter other levels of the life span. Young adult love is to a large part fueled by nature to mate, create, build up and establish. Nature urges us to contribute our share to the continuity of our species and to the evolution of knowledge for the good of the world.

When middle-age adults come together in loving commitment this may be a second chance for one or both. They bring to the partnership the wisdom of experience and a belief that the life they share is richer and fuller than life lived without the other. The drive is for intimacy and belonging rather than procreation.

When love comes nearer the end of he life cycle, the motivation may be for yet other reasons. We may wish to join with another to create a haven as powers diminish and the winter years descend. The need to love and to be loved has come full circle.

Here are some thoughts about love that are not likely to be found in a greeting card or a popular song:

• Love is the life force that pulls us forward into more life.

• Love is the urge to create — be it a new baby, a garden or a new business.

• Love is the drive to spend ourselves for the sake of another.

• We are made for love. For healthy adults it is as important to be loving as it is to be loved.

• To be fully alive is to love. To love is to be fully alive.

Maggie Ellis is a certified mental health counselor and a marriage and family therapist. She can be reached by calling 941-9779, by writing her at 31620 23rd Ave. S., Suite 318, Federal Way, 98003, or by e-mail at

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