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

This aspect of mother, the destructive, engulfing one, is the negative aspect of the mother figure. Mother can give life, and she can take life. She is the one to revive, and the one to destroy; she can do miracles of love—and nobody can hurt more than she. In religious images (such as the Hindu goddess Kali) and in dream symbolism the two opposite aspects of mother can often be found.

A different form of neurotic pathology is to be found in such cases where the main attachment is that to father.

A case in point is a man whose mother is cold and aloof, while his father (partly as a result of his wife’s coldness) concentrates all his affection and interest on the son. He is a “good father,” but at the same time authoritarian. Whenever he is pleased with the son’s conduct he praises him, gives him presents, is affectionate; whenever the son displeases him, he withdraws, or scolds. The son, for whom father’s affection is the only one he has, becomes attached to father in a slavish way. His main aim in life is to please father—and when he succeeds he feels happy, secure and satisfied. But when he makes a mistake, fails, or does not succeed in pleasing father, he feels deflated, unloved, cast out. In later life such a man will try to find a father figure to whom he attaches himself in a similar fashion. His whole life becomes a sequence of ups and downs, depending on whether he has succeeded in winning father’s praise. Such men are often very successful in their social careers. They are conscientious, reliable, eager—provided their chosen father image understands how to handle them. But in their relationships to women they remain aloof and distant. The woman is of no central significance to them; they usually have a slight contempt for her, often masked as the fatherly concern for a little girl. They may have impressed a woman initially by their masculine quality, but they become increasingly disappointing, when the woman they marry discovers that she is destined to play a secondary role to the primary affection for the father figure who is prominent in the husband’s life at any given time; that is, unless the wife happens to have remained attached to her father—and thus is happy with a husband who relates to her as to a capricious child.

More complicated is the kind of neurotic disturbance in love which is based on a different kind of parental situation, occurring when parents do not love each other, but are too restrained to quarrel or to indicate any signs of dissatisfaction outwardly. At the same time, remoteness makes them also unspontaneous in their relationship to their children. What a little girl experiences is an atmosphere of “correctness,” but one which never permits a close contact with either father or mother, and hence leaves the girl puzzled and afraid. She is never sure of what the parents feel or think; there is always an element of the unknown, the mysterious, in the atmosphere. As a result the girl withdraws into a world of her own, daydreams, remains remote, and retains the same attitude in her love relationships later on.