Love and Belonging: Same Side of the Coin?
I am trying to wrap my head around something Glasser wrote in Choice Theory (1998, p.96) about how to measure the strength of our need for love and belonging. “It is important to understand,” he began, “that the strength of this need is measured by how much we are willing to give, not by how much we are willing to receive.” At first glance this seems easy enough to understand, but as I think about what this really means I begin to sense something deeper and more important.
I teach about the Basic Needs as part of the choice theory workshops I facilitate each summer, including asking participants to try to identify their own Basic Need strength levels.
When participants assess their personal need for Love and Belonging I am pretty sure they focus more on their perceived need to belong than on their need to love. Belonging has to do with our need for connection, and I think that is where participants go when they self-evaluate in this area. “To what extent do I need to connect with others?” they are probably wondering.
But that’s not really how to measure this strength, at least according to Bill. Belonging is about our need to “receive” from others, to be affirmed through membership within a group or from a relationship with another person, and to be included. Love, on the other hand, is giving affection and caring about others, without regard to receiving favors in return.
As the Love chapter in 1 Corinthians says –
Love is patient and kind.
Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude.
It does not demand its own way.
It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged.
It does not rejoice about injustice, but rejoices whenever the truth wins out.
Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. ! Cor. 13:4-7
There seems to be a distinct difference between love and belonging. Both are about relationships, yet one is about what we take from the relationship, while the other is about what we bring or give to the relationship.
Glasser hits this theme again when he describes the Solving Circle for marital discord. (He actually recommended drawing an imaginary circle on the floor that spouses would enter before beginning their conversation.) “Step into the circle,” he coached, “and tell each other not what you want but what you are willing to give.” (Choice Theory, p.98)
So what do we do with the Love and Belonging need? Is it possible to have a high need for belonging and a low need to love? Given Glasser’s view that the strength of the Love and Belonging need is how much a person is willing to give, it would seem the person with a low need to love and a high need to belong ends up with a lower score for Love and Belonging. Does that make sense? I am really thinking about how to process this piece in future workshops.
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It would seem, based on these definitions, that someone with a high belonging need and a lower love need would be a high maintenance friend or even narcissistic. A very draining person who seeks to get without unconditional giving in return. No?
You use the phrase, “based on these definitions,” and I wonder if I have defined them correctly. That is part of the challenge. Your analysis, though, should get our attention. I can see where future workshops I do on choice theory will have a rich discussion on the possibility you describe.
When I think about this need I add the word connecting. Why? There are people who have what they call a “loving” relationship (children in families where parents are abusive) that looks nothing like love to me. And when some of these kids are “taken out of the home,” and placed in Foster care for their own safety, often these kids run away. Where do they run? Back home where they feel connected and where they belong. I use the word connected to help me better understand what the world is like for these kids.
For me Jim, the question needs to be asked of your learners. How do they each define and understand love? belonging? connected? It is their understanding and QW pictures that are important and relevant.
Finally, you and I are connected because of our passion for Glasser and Choice Theory psychology. We both belong to the same WGI organizations. Do we have a loving relationship? Maybe, in the esoteric(sp?) way of loving my fellow human who walks the earth.
All of this is to explain my point of view and perspective. What is yours? What was Dr. Glasser’s? Dr. Glasser’s was not THE truth, it was HIS truth, or understanding. What is yours? What is your students?
I like your suggestion that this question needs to be asked of our learners. I am going to take a little more time during discussion on the love and belonging need to have them express how they define love, belonging, and connection. Your pointing out that Bill was not THE Truth, yet was his truth, is a reality we all must understand and accept. We can work through these kinds of questions and honor the principles of choice theory in the process. It will be powerful to assist others in identifying how they define love and belonging.
I agree with the mroy’s comment. They are using “love” as their chosen tool to control others – i.e. allow them to “belong.” Controllers use intimidation when they have power – if you don’t have power, but have a need to control others you have to try something else. They feel “high maintenance” because we feel maneuvered into being in charge of how they’re feeling.
A person who loves others in the manner spoken of in 1 Cor: 13 is a very attractive person who would be welcome in any group where love and acceptance are the prized group behavior. Their love is genuine, approaching unconditional, and given without desire for repayment – what they get is repayment in the form of return love and belonging. I have found it very hard to keep the two separate – it takes much prayer and meditation.
Are you saying it takes much prayer and meditation to keep love and belonging separate? Or are you saying it takes much prayer and meditation to fully love and fully belong at the same time?
My hunch is you are saying the latter.
I wonder if love and belonging are on the same side of the coin, Jim. What do we do with a pretty large segment of society that gets their sense of belonging from hate – being part of a gang, or group that conceives of pretty much anyone not belonging to their circle as the enemy and feel a sense of unity in their mission to destroy “the enemy.”
It sounds like you are saying that love and belonging can be on opposite sides of the coin. Or am I missing something?
I have continued thinking about this today and it seems to me that love and belonging can be closely woven together when love is truly present. In fact, the more I unconditionally love, the more capable I am of belonging to and with others, and being connected with those around me, not as a way to “take” from them, but as a way to accept their love.
Yes Jim – that is a better way of expressing what I was trying to say. I hope a little more explanation will help rather than further confuse.
The more I meditate on the quality of my love with the desire to have it be as honest and genuine as possible, (no desire to “take” from them) the more I am rewarded with return love and belonging from others. But here’s the tricky part – even though I know the reward will be the outcome (it often is, but not always), I can’t do it for the reward. If I do, the deepest potential for a belonging relationship is lost. I choose to develop certain attitudes and actions toward others because I choose to be that person – pure and simple. By so doing I open myself to love and belonging without putting the expectation on others that they will or “should” respond to me in a loving way in return. I give them the freedom to choose how they will respond, and I commit myself to accepting what is given. That’s the ideal, of course – and I certainly haven’t reached the ideal. But being more mindful helps me not become either too elated over someone’s approval, or despondent (or angry) over someone’s disapproval.
JIM: Wonderful inquiries and meditations, so to speak. I did talk with Bill about this at the time, as what you are willing to give sounds very much like accommodating, and with so many women I had a concern about overfunctioning or over accommodating—without real collaborating with their partners (in GLBTQ relationships as well as heterosexual ones). I still wrestle with this question and I am so glad you asked it. I am learning from each commentary. The above (from Bob Hoffman) to me is very astute especially considering the notion of jihad and the eternal conflicts in the Middle East: affiliation and belonging for sure, but the highest form of loving, what Kohlberg might call level 6 just isn’t evident. When I was active in the profession, I did have clients who were not willing to give something their spouses requested, and that refusal was the most loving (and morally developed) choice.
It is encouraging to me that you have wrestled, and still wrestle, with this topic, in that someone can be very knowledgeable about reality therapy and choice theory and still be growing in their understanding throughout their life. Your talk with Bill was an important one. Your concern that what he said might lead women to over-accommodating with their partners is very interesting to me. I am going to keep that in mind as I lead discussions on this topic in the future. I agree with you that “refusing” can sometimes be the loving choice.
Thanks, Jim, for your kind words and you are so right about the wrestling part! It was always an issue for supervision for me as I think as helpers and therapists, we have to be mindful of our own QW ideas of intimate relationships. One spouse wanted the other to “swing” and have couples exchanges, and the female refused. This case occurs to me because it was clear to me that my own notions could influence what I might say or do in sessions, and so I always found it useful to talk with another therapist–I think ethically it was a requirement. What the woman wanted was an exclusive relationship characterized by loyalty; hence, the refusal. There are other examples, but this is one I discussed with Bill directly. I wondered if fidelity was more important to women than to men, whether it was an important gender difference as historically women would be more secure (survival) if a man maintained his devotion, but men might be more successful genetically to spread their DNA widely. Nancy’s notion of making the inquiry “What does love mean to you?” is really useful, I think. As Richard Russo says, who knows why one soul inclines toward another…
I am interested in how Bill responded to your inquiry. I guess I hope that his reply emphasized the idea that we make choices based on what we think will be need-satisfying, whether a particular behavior is healthy or not, rather than emphasizing the idea that the sex urge is genetically driven by a need to procreate (survival). One uplifts choice power, while the other seems to be based on a lower animal-type urge.
It would seem to me that this is less of a gender thing and more of QW thing. In other words, I think both men and women have fidelity issues and can get to the place where they see sex as need-satisfying for a variety of reasons. A person can latch on to a sexual QW picture and nurture it into something more important than it deserves. They rationalize and defend this picture until the opportunity presents itself or until they actually create the opportunity. Uncommitted sex would seem to lead to short-term pleasure rather than long-term happiness.
My guess is that something in the woman (the wife of the “swinger” couple) yearned for long-term happiness.
As I read this post, my mind went to wondering if in order to meet the need of belonging (something we can’t force others to do – in other words, we can’t make people accept us and treat us as if we belong) we need to love. We need to give love in order to feel true belonging. If we can’t give love and be loving, will we ever feel like we truly belong somewhere? Jumping through hoops to feel like we belong – gang or fraternity initiations, for example – doesn’t actually create belonging, it is more of a false sense of belonging that deludes us and leaves us with still with the belonging need. In my experience, the only time I feel I truly belong somewhere is when I can simply be myself and be accepted for that, no matter what. When I show love to others, I am more likely to recieve that acceptance from others. So, my question/conclusion – do we need to love in order to feel that we belong?
I think you are on to something here. This is where I was headed, but you have put my various thoughts into tangible sentences. I felt that somehow both love and belonging went together, even if only one of them provides the clearest indicator of the love & belonging need strength. Your explanation does that.
I see it as the same paradox as control -the more we attempt to take love or control, the more we lose it. Love does not dominate it cultivates.
There is a lot in the statement, “Love does not dominate; it cultivates.” I think we need to put that up on Facebook.
Great conversation. I have nothing to add, just have been receiving it all and being reminded that I belong to a much larger circle of thought which makes me feel honored.
Good to know you’re a part of the discussion.