We have all heard the expression, “love is blind.” This is true in different senses, depending on how we are using the word “love.” Infatuated love (limerence is the scientific term) is blind for what, out of desire, it “sees,” but which is not really there, and so this “sight” blinds us to the reality which we do not want to see. Honest love seeks to see things for what they really are, and to act appropriately. What the two have in common is devotion, but whereas the first is an idolatrous devotion which will not see faults for what they are, but will excuse them and indulge them, the second is an ethical devotion which will deal with faults for what they are. The first believes it will never die, but eventually does because it is not built on reality. The second may doubt itself over and over, yet it never dies because it is real.
Between these two “loves” is romantic love. Romantic love can be used by either. Infatuation uses romantic love as a tool to manipulate the object of its desire in order to win it over and gain possession of it – of course, it doesn’t believe that’s what it’s doing, but that is nevertheless the truth. Honest love between a couple uses romantic love to express genuine fondness, adoration, and devotion, not to manipulate or persuade, but to edify and encourage. But this kind of expression can honestly come only after full mutual commitment has been made – before commitment, romantic love cannot avoid being manipulative, no matter what other elements may be present.
Infatuation and honest love may appear to operate similarly, but they are no more the same than the thrill of shoplifting is the same as the enjoyment of shopping. One seeks to gain possession by a form of stealing – it is a flattering form of enslavement, while the other seeks mutual possession by a form of giving – it is a respectful and honoring liberation. The first is childish play – it may be mutual, but it is not healthy. The second is a mature sharing of life – it can be playful, it can be serious, but it is always healthy. The first seems deep because it is so sudden and intense, but it is really shallow and has no roots. The second may seem shallow at first, but that’s because it has roots which take time to grow.
Infatuated love is built on seeking a satisfaction of desire for the self to be loved – despite what self-justifying fantasies the infatuated lover may entertain otherwise. Honest love is built on respect and honor toward the other – which is satisfying a desire to love, not to be loved.
If allowed to grow, infatuated love will turn into a possessive love.
Honest love flows outward. Possessive love pulls inward.
Selfish, possessive love gives – but in order to get, to win, to possess. It says, “I want you, I need you, I love you,” but it means “I want you to want me, I need you to need me, I tell you I love you to get you to love me.”
What happens once possessive love secures the possession? The relationship begins to change. The possessed must be the exclusive property of the possessor. “I need your attention, your sympathy, your time, your presence. I need you to look after me exactly the way I have in mind. If you don’t do what I need, I will become very unhappy, and making me unhappy would be wrong because I told you I love you.” Yes, the object of love is thrilled to hear it said, “I love you,” but only because it misunderstands what it is meant by “love.”
Possessive love flatters with words and showers with gifts and offers token or temporary concessions to concerns, but these all amount to bribes to blind the judgment.
Exodus 23:8 “And you shall take no bribe, for a bribe blinds the discerning and perverts the words of the righteous.
A prolonged possessive relationship is damaging because it operates like a slow centrifuge, pushing away all other relationships. The objectivity slowly dissipates as the possessed gradually (or sometimes not so gradually) becomes the exclusive property of the possessor, and begins to see things only from the possessor’s point of view – and so begins to act like the possessor. Healthy relationships grow out into all of life. Possessive relationships shrink into the little world of the possessor.
The inner soul of the possessor is that of a child – immature and insecure – and his or hers – we’ll say “his” here to make the language simple – his way of compensating for his need for love and appreciation is to find someone who is very nurturing and giving in these areas and to do whatever it takes to gain possession of that person so that she (or he) will have great difficulty leaving. Of course, he does not realize that his short term gain is his long term loss, because in making himself the life-support project of the nurturer, he sucks all of the life blood out of her – she cannot thrive for long in his world.
The possessive person tells you their sorry story over and over again, in different forms and from different angles, because he is never satisfied that he has told you enough. He needs us to agree with him and to affirm him and to act in accordance with his view of the world and his attitude toward other persons. Once he believes we have entered his world, if we vary from this, he is unhappy or hurt, and if we do not come back to his way, he may use subtle or not so subtle means to bring us back into his fold, or to punish us when we don’t come. Of course, it is this type of behavior that finally begins to drive most people away. Everybody wants to feel needed and appreciated, but to be possessed for these things changes the nature of need and appreciation into expectation and entitlement, then obligation and approval/disapproval, and finally freedom becomes slavery.
2 Peter 2:19 While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage.
This can be a possessive parent, a possessive offspring, a possessive friend, a possessive boy or girlfriend, a possessive spouse, a possessive family, a possessive organization, a possessive cult – the model operates on all scales in different forms.
Possessiveness is always unhealthy. Possessiveness is never genuine protectiveness. Protective love keeps its eyes open for the protected’s true interests – regardless of its own interests. Possessive love keeps its eyes open for the “protector’s” interests, including keeping the “protected” from true protectors.
Of course we can all see some of these faults in ourselves from moment to moment – a jealousy about a relationship, a coercive desire to have a need met, an interfering desire to protect – but I don’t think this is the sort of thing which characterizes most families.
Here are some of the signs of possessive persons and parties:
They don’t have many friends, and they have few if any other close friends.
They want us to be their closest friends, rather exclusively for themselves.
They don’t respect our time or resources or our other relations in life – all that matters to them is our relation with them.
They cause us to spend our time with them apart from others.
They flatter us with attention and endearing words.
They do things which mark us as their property – such as monopolizing us at public events.
They give us gifts – but do so in a way which expects (buys) our loyalty in return.
They may act unhappy or hurt and try to make us feel guilty when we enlarge our circle of relations.
They may act irrationally when we make an independent move contrary to what they want us to do.
1 John 3:18 My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.
Very good article, as always, Good points.
Well done in writing this. It deserves much thought and re-reading.
On the lighthearted side, I like to assert that everyone should keep a cat as a pet for this very reason: no one can possess or dominate a cat. So I believe it must be with the people in our lives. Learning how to appreciate cats can help us learn to appreciate people as they are, not as we insist they be.
It adds an interesting dimension to the age-old, ridiculous battle lines between “dog people” and “cat people”. =)