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The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm Read Online (FREE)

Referring to our previous discussion of the mother- or father-centered personality, the following example for this type of neurotic love relation to be found frequently today deals with men who in their emotional development have remained stuck in an infantile attachment to mother. These are men who have never been weaned as it were from mother. These men still feel like children; they want mother’s protection, love, warmth, care, and admiration; they want mother’s unconditional love, a love which is given for no other reason than that they need it, that they are mother’s child, that they are helpless. Such men frequently are quite affectionate and charming if they try to induce a woman to love them, and even after they have succeeded in this. But their relationship to the woman (as, in fact, to all other people) remains superficial and irresponsible. Their aim is to be loved, not to love. There is usually a good deal of vanity in this type of man, more or less hidden grandiose ideas. If they have found the right woman, they feel secure, on top of the world, and can display a great deal of affection and charm, and this is the reason why these men are often so deceptive. But when, after a while, the woman does not continue to live up to their phantastic expectations, conflicts and resentment start to develop. If the woman is not always admiring them, if she makes claims for a life of her own, if she wants to be loved and protected herself, and in extreme cases, if she is not willing to condone his love affairs with other women (or even have an admiring interest in them), the man feels deeply hurt and disappointed, and usually rationalizes this feeling with the idea that the woman “does not love him, is selfish, or is domineering.” Anything short of the attitude of a loving mother toward a charming child is taken as proof of a lack of love. These men usually confuse their affectionate behavior, their wish to please, with genuine love and thus arrive at the conclusion that they are being treated quite unfairly; they imagine themselves to be the great lovers and complain bitterly about the ingratitude of their love partner.

In rare cases such a mother-centered person can function without any severe disturbances. If his mother, in fact, “loved” him in an overprotective manner (perhaps being domineering, but without being destructive), if he finds a wife of the same motherly type, if his special gifts and talents permit him to use his charm and be admired (as is the case sometimes with successful politicians), he is “well adjusted” in a social sense, without ever reaching a higher level of maturity. But under less favorable conditions—and these are naturally more frequent—his love life, if not his social life, will be a serious disappointment; conflicts, and frequently intense anxiety and depression arise when this type of personality is left alone.

In a still more severe form of pathology the fixation to mother is deeper and more irrational. On this level, the wish is not, symbolically speaking, to return to mother’s protecting arms, nor to her nourishing breast, but to her all-receiving—and all-destroying—womb. If the nature of sanity is to grow out of the womb into the world, the nature of severe mental disease is to be attracted by the womb, to be sucked back into it—and that is to be taken away from life. This kind of fixation usually occurs in relation to mothers who relate themselves to their children in this swallowing—destroying way. Sometimes in the name of love, sometimes of duty, they want to keep the child, the adolescent, the man, within them; he should not be able to breathe but through them; not be able to love, except on a superficial sexual level—degrading all other women; he should not be able to be free and independent but an eternal cripple or a criminal.