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

Thus far I have discussed what is needed for the practice of any art. Now I shall discuss those qualities which are of specific significance for the ability to love. According to what I said about the nature of love, the main condition for the achievement of love is the overcoming of one’s narcissism. The narcissistic orientation is one in which one experiences as real only that which exists within oneself, while the phenomena in the outside world have no reality in themselves, but are experienced only from the viewpoint of their being useful or dangerous to one. The opposite pole to narcissism is objectivity; it is the faculty to see people and things as they are, objectively, and to be able to separate this objective picture from a picture which is formed by one’s desires and fears. All forms of psychosis show the inability to be objective, to an extreme degree. For the insane person the only reality that exists is that within him, that of his fears and desires. He sees the world outside as symbols of his, inner world, as his creation. All of us do the same when we dream. In the dream we produce events, we stage dramas, which are the expression of our wishes and fears (although sometimes also of our insights and judgment), and while we are asleep we are convinced that the product of our dreams is as real as the reality which we perceive in our waking state.

The insane person or the dreamer fails completely in having an objective view of the world outside; but all of us are more or less insane, or more or less asleep; all of us have an unobjective view of the world, one which is distorted by our narcissistic orientation. Do I need to give examples? Anyone can find them easily by watching himself, his neighbors, and by reading the newspapers. They vary in the degree of the narcissistic distortion of reality. A woman, for instance, calls up the doctor, saying she wants to come to his office that same afternoon. The doctor answers that he is not free this same afternoon, but that he can see her the next day. Her answer is: But, doctor, I live only five minutes from your office. She cannot understand his explanation that it does not save him time that for her the distance is so short. She experiences the situation narcissistically: since she saves time, he saves times; the only reality to her is she herself.

Less extreme—or perhaps only less obvious—are the distortions which are commonplace in interpersonal relations. How many parents experience the child’s reactions in terms of his being obedient, of giving them pleasure, of being a credit to them, and so forth, instead of perceiving or even being interested in what the child feels for and by himself? How many husbands have a picture of their wives as being domineering, because their own attachment to mother makes them interpret any demand as a restriction of their freedom? How many wives think their husbands are ineffective or stupid, because they do not live up to a phantasy picture of a shining knight which they might have built up as children?