Posted by Ross Nichols on Wednesday, May 5, 2021 Under: Life

I’ve heard it said that there are only 2 forces in the universe: love, and the absence of love.  In the Elizabethan era play, ‘Dr Faustus’ by Christopher Marlowe (a contemporary of Shakespeare), when asked about hell, the fallen angel Mephistopheles replies,

“Why, this is hell, nor am I out of it.
Think'st thou that I, who saw the face of God
And tasted the eternal joys of heaven,
Am not tormented with ten thousand hells
In being deprived of everlasting bliss?”

Just as the absence of heaven is a living hell for Mephistopheles, so being deprived of love is a terrible loss for a human being who has previously experienced love.  The absence of self-love is often a root cause when a client has had a difficult life and struggles to move beyond surviving into thriving.  My own experience of the absence of self-love is perhaps best expressed in this extract from a poem:

Consumed by guilt, grief, shame and fear,
my body came to reflect
my inner world of pain, fatigue and misery.
If this was hell, I was in it,
my own peculiar purgatory.
I considered taking the easy way out
but I couldn’t do that to my wife and kids.

My spirit was crushed
My light had gone out.
I had judged myself
and this was my punishment:
to be living on the outside
but dead on the inside:
a dead man walking.

What is love?  We use the word ‘love’ frequently.  We say, ‘I love my spouse/partner, my friends, my children, my dog or pet.  These can all be true while also being different as there are many different forms of love.  The ancient Greeks defined 8 types of love[1]:

“1. “Eros” or Erotic Love

The first kind of love is Eros, which is named after the Greek god of love and fertility. Eros represents the idea of sexual passion and desire.

Love Catalyst: The physical body

2. “Philia” or Affectionate Love

The second type of love is philia, or friendship. The ancient Greeks valued philia far above eros because it was considered a love between equals.

Examples in Films: Girl with a Pearl Earring, The Girl Next Door

Love Catalyst: The mind

3. “Storge” or Familiar Love

Although storge closely resembles philia in that it is a love without physical attraction, storge is primarily to do with kinship and familiarity. Storge is a natural form of affection that often flows between parents and their children, and children for their parents.

Love Catalyst: Causal (Memories)

4. “Ludus” or Playful Love

Although ludus has a bit of the erotic eros in it, it is much more than that. The Greeks thought of ludus as a playful form of love, for example, the affection between young lovers.

Love Catalyst: Astral (Emotion)

5. “Mania” or Obsessive Love

Mania love is a type of love that leads a partner into a type of madness and obsessiveness. It occurs when there is an imbalance between eros and ludus.

Love Catalyst: Survival instinct

6. “Pragma” or Enduring Love

Pragma is a love that has aged, matured and developed over time. It is beyond the physical, it has transcended the casual, and it is a unique harmony that has formed over time.

Love Catalyst: Etheric (Unconscious)

7. “Philautia” or Self Love

The Greeks understood that in order to care for others, we must first learn to care for ourselves. This form of self-love is not the unhealthy vanity and self-obsession that is focused on personal fame, gain and fortune as is the case with Narcissism.

Instead, philautia is self-love in its healthiest form. It shares the Buddhist philosophy of “self-compassion” which is the deep understanding that only once you have the strength to love yourself and feel comfortable in your own skin, will you be able to provide love to others. As Aristotle put it, “All friendly feelings for others are an extension of a man’s feelings for himself.

You cannot share what you do not have. If you do not love yourself, you cannot love anyone else either. The only way to truly be happy is to find that unconditional love for yourself. Often learning to love yourself involves embracing all the qualities you perceive as “unlovable”, this is where shadow work comes in.

Love Catalyst: Soul

8. “Agape” or Selfless Love

The highest and most radical type of love according to the Greeks is agape, or selfless unconditional love. 

This type of love is not the sentimental outpouring that often passes as love in our society. It has nothing to do with the condition-based type of love that our sex-obsessed culture tries to pass as love.

Agape is what some call spiritual love. It is an unconditional love, bigger than ourselves, a boundless compassion, an infinite empathy. It is what the Buddhists describe as “mettā” or “universal loving kindness.” It is the purest form of love that is free from desires and expectations and loves regardless of the flaws and shortcomings of others.

Agape is the love that is felt for that which we intuitively know as the divine truth: the love that accepts, forgives and believes for our greater good.”

A definition of love that I find helpful for coaching is: being seen for who we truly are.  This has elements of ‘Philia’ (love between equals) and ‘Agape’ (selfless love).  If our role as coaches is to help our clients see themselves for who they truly are – and in my view this is a big part of our role – then we are helping our clients to learn how to love themselves.  How do we do this?  One way is to set appropriate intentions for our clients.

My intentions for my clients have evolved over time.  Initially, it was to fully understand them.  Then my intention became to hold space for them.  Now, whether I’m coaching for business, leadership, career, health and wellness or cancer, I always have the same intention for my clients: to enable them to achieve self-acceptance, self-approval and in due course self-love.  This is not narcissism; it is ‘Philautia’ (self-compassion), wanting for themselves that which they would want for the people they love.  Achieving self-love enables our clients to self-actualise and opens the potential for them to self-transcend.

To achieve self-love, the client needs 2 inner resources: self-awareness and courage.  As coaches we help our clients to develop self-awareness through exploration and reflection.  We also hold the space for our clients to feel safe enough to fall apart, knowing that we are there to support them as they find the courage to face their own shadow.  The darker the shadow, the greater the courage required.  This is not easy work: we can only help our clients to face their shadow side to the extent that we have met our own shadow.  Acknowledging our shadow side is essential for self-acceptance.

As the client grows throughout the coaching relationship, they move through the stages of self-acceptance to self-approval and ultimately to self-love.  For clients who have rarely or never experienced self-love, this can be strange and challenging.  If they have never seen themselves in a balanced, healthy way where they are able to acknowledge their strengths equally alongside their weaknesses, it can freak them out.  They may not recognise or be able to associate themselves with the capable, whole person they suddenly see themselves to be.  As a result they can retreat into self-doubt and fear, which holds them back and keeps them playing small.  This indicates that the shadow side needs further work.  We can continue to develop the client’s emotional intelligence and mindful awareness of their whole self as a route to self-acceptance and self-approval.  In clients where trauma is present, this process can take years as they gradually come to know and accept themselves, one step at a time.  For other clients, it can happen in one session when the client has a profound sense of coming home to themself.    

When people learn to love themselves, they let go of limiting beliefs and form new empowering beliefs about themselves.  My experience of rediscovering self-love was life changing, indeed life-saving.  Here is the final verse of my poem:

My quest for redemption led me to the Journey
I found the courage to face my shadow
and make peace with it through forgiveness.
Now, every day is my second chance.
I can live, laugh, and love again
and I feel truly blessed.
The Journey saved me.

Here are my tips for consciously incorporating love into your coaching:

1.      Choose your definition(s) of love.  What does love mean to you in a coaching context?

2.      Understand how love fits into the coaching journey you offer to your clients.

3.      Set your intentions for your clients: what do you want for them and what part does love play in this?

Bringing the power of love into your coaching is transformational.  It has been a key element of my coaching journey and I hope it inspires you to help your clients learn how to see themselves for who they truly are.

In : Life 

Tags: self-acceptance self-approval self-love self-compassion self-actualisation