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“Everyone says love hurts, but that is not true. Loneliness hurts. Rejection hurts. Losing someone hurts. Envy hurts. Everyone gets these things confused with love, but in reality, love is the only thing in this world that covers up all pain and makes someone feel wonderful again. Love is the only thing in this world that does not hurt” (Liam Neeson)

I guess many of us have been in a place where loving someone didn't feel so wonderful at all. Where our affectionate feelings towards someone caused pain, irritation, despair or even fear.

How come? How can a state of heart that is supposed to make anyone feel blissful and safe turn into the opposite, a source of insecurity and misery?

Many people have talked, written and researched about this. The one I would like to refer to is Erich Fromm, a German social psychologist among other things.

In 1956, he wrote a book called "The Art Of Loving", from which I'm gonna read some paragraphs to you.

Please note that this book was written long before gender neutral language started to be established!

"There is no doubt that evil is accumulated among men in their passionate desire for unity.


The unity achieved in productive work is not interpersonal; the unity achieved in orgiastic fusion is transitory; the unity achieved by conformity is only pseudo-unity. Hence, they are only partial answers to the problem of existence. The full answer lies in the achievement of interpersonal union, of fusion with another person, in love.

This desire for interpersonal fusion is the most powerful striving in man. It is the most fundamental passion, it is the force which keeps the human race together, the clan, the family, society. The failure to achieve it means insanity or destruction—self-destruction or destruction of others. Without love, humanity could not exist for a day. Yet, if we call the achievement of interpersonal union "love", we find ourselves in a serious difficulty. Fusion can be achieved in different ways — and the differences are not less significant than what is common to the various forms of love. Should they all be called love?


Do we refer to love as the mature answer to the problem of existence, or do we speak of those immature forms of love which may be called symbiotic union? In the following pages I shall call love only the former. I shall begin the discussion of "love" with the latter.

Symbiotic union has its biological pattern in the relationship between the pregnant mother and the foetus. They are two, and yet one. They live "together" (sym-biosis), they need each other. The foetus is a part of the mother, it receives everything it needs from her; mother is its world, as it were; she feeds it, she protects it, but also her own life is enhanced by it. In the psychic symbiotic union, the two bodies are independent, but the same kind of attachment exists psychologically.

The passive form of the symbiotic union is that of submission, or if we use a clinical term, of masochism. The masochistic person escapes from the unbearable feeling of isolation and separateness by making himself part and parcel of another person who directs him, guides him, protects him; who is his life and his oxygen, as it were. The power of the one to whom one submits is inflated, may he be a person or a god; he is everything, I am nothing, except inasmuch as I am part of him. As a part, I am part of greatness, of power, of certainty. The masochistic person does not have to make decisions, does not have to take any risks; he is never alone — but he is not independent; he has no integrity; he is not yet fully born. In a religious context the object of worship is called an idol; in a secular context of a masochistic love relationship the essential mechanism, that of idolatry, is the same.


The active form of symbiotic fusion is domination or, to use the psychological term corresponding to masochism, sadism. The sadistic person wants to escape from his aloneness and his sense of imprisonment by making another person part and parcel of himself. He inflates and enhances himself by incorporating another person, who worships him.

The sadistic person is as dependent on the submissive person as the latter is on the former; neither can live without the other. The difference is only that the sadistic person commands, exploits, hurts, humiliates, and that the masochistic person is commanded, exploited, hurt, humiliated. This is a considerable difference in a realistic sense; in a deeper emotional sense, the difference is not so great as that which they both have in common: fusion without integrity."

[This episode does not end here! Listen to the podcast to get it all!]

The Art Of Loving - Erich Fromm © Janna Strässle


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