Loving Me, Loving You

An Interview with Brenda Schaeffer
By Mary NurrieStearns

The journey beyond love addiction or unhealthy love is a journey of personal transformation, one of profound magnitude. We must recognize that something in our conditioning has suppressed the spirit within, yet that spirit still exists. Our early human experiences with love and power successfully confused us and alienated us from our authentic self. This is the self who understands the real meaning of love and power. Love without power goes idle, yet power without love is intolerable. In short, love and power have been out of balance. It is imperative that out of the imbalance, power and love emerge as co-authors of life, beginning within you.

Brenda Schaeffer is a psychologist who conducts workshops on addictive relationships and is the author of “Is it Love or is it Addiction?” and “Loving Me Loving You.”

In your book Loving Me, Loving You, you state that life events, including pain in our love life, can be an opportunity spiritually to transform ourselves, so we can know a deeper level of love and power. You indicate we first need to break out of the persona created by our psychological development and discover the self we’ve learned to hide. You call this persona or learned self the addictive lover. What’s the addictive lover, Brenda?

That addictive lover refers to that part of us that looks outside of ourselves to satisfy our hunger for security, sensation, power, identity, a sense of belonging, and meaning. What we do to empower and take care of other people at our own emotional expense.

Is this a way to have an identity and to feel emotionally whole?

I believe that, basically, none of us got everything we needed in our development. Our addictive lover is our unconscious attempt to feel whole, to get those missing pieces. Unconsciously, we look outside of ourselves. I use the word unconscious because usually we are not aware that we are doing this. So often people will look at that word and say, “That’s not me, my love isn’t addictive.” There are degrees of love addiction. There are the ones we read about in the paper where people are invested in belonging to or owning one particular person. Many homicides and suicides occur in the name of love. We can probably safely say “No, that isn’t me,” but I believe that to some degree we have all said “yes” when we meant “no.” We’ve feared abandonment, rejection, feared making someone upset if we stated what we really believed and needed. Addictive love is based on fear, our unconscious search for that sense of wholeness.

We are all addictive lovers, is that necessarily bad?

I don’t look at this as bad or good. I think the addictive lover comes out of our human condition. I believe we have a human nature and a spiritual nature. Our human nature is a biological entity and has basic survival needs that must be met or it dies. It’s as simple as that. That part of us will adapt to the world as we know it. If our world says that our anger is bad, we may withhold our anger. If a child is pushed aside when reaches out closeness, part of us that is truthful, honest, and wants to believe in himself and wants to quest for identity. We don’t know who we are. We only know what we’ve become. We generally recognize this addictive, codependent part of ourself when our lives are not working, when we are not fulfilled in our love relationships or our careers. Life is not giving us what we thought it would or should be.

Would you say since this adapted self is part of the human condition, that we all end up incomplete when we reach adulthood? Is our acknowledgment and dealing with it a rite of passage, something that we have to go through to mature?

Yes. Most of us think we know who we are by age 18 and thrust into life with the illusion that we have what we need to succeed. Lo and behold, we fall on our faces. We don’t let anybody else know how insecure we feel because we think they’ve got the pieces to life’s puzzle. A sign of wellness is when someone comes in with pain and says “I want more of me, I want more of my life.” In that regard I see lover and addictive lover as a window to the soul. In addiction, some aspect of us knows that we are more than what we are experiencing, who we think we are, or what we’ve become. We keep returning to addictions because we don’t know a way out. In that sense, I don’t judge people in regard to their addictions. I might make an evaluation on the degree of destructiveness that is being imposed on their lives or on other people.

In the book you say that we are all three kinds of lovers, addictive, healthy and spiritual. Even if we’re more active in an addictive process, there’s still that healthy, spiritual part of us that is seeking. The addictive response is an old patterned way of trying to be autonomous or a self.

That’s the paradox; we are trying to search for wholeness. We are trying to reach a feeling of satisfaction. In our childhood, I believe that we all suffered traumas or omission and commission. In traumas of omission, there were certain experiences, certain affirmations, or words that we needed to hear from the significant people in our life. Either they didn’t know how to do that, wouldn’t do it, or weren’t available because of insecurity, depression, or illness. Whatever the cause, they weren’t able to give it. There is a part of us that strives for wholeness. We can’t stand to have things unfinished. That’s actually healthy. It’s a part of a physiological, physical, or spiritual questing and so we will attempt to experience that sense of wholeness however we can.

In very creative ways?

Very creative. The things that we decided or leaned upon or the processes we used as children were really very creative. In adulthood, we discover that they are not working very well. The very thing that we decided in order to survive is now killing us. That is the point. So often people say “Well, why change? You know, we don’t have it so bad” or “Compare yourself to someone else down the street.” Basically, I believe that addictive love, on some level, begins killing us and that we begin dying emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and sometimes even physically because whenever our love is addictive we are blocking our life energy and our spiritual energy.

We can’t evolve, then.

That’s right. So there are two forces, evolution and devolution, and what kept us alive is now doing just the opposite.

The innocent and creative responses of a child during early years don’t work for adult living.

As children, our frame of reference or the reality we lived in was very narrow. We thought that was the way the world was. We thought in black and white whereas, now as adults, we can look around and say that maybe there is another way. Lotus really speaks to this. We want peace of mind and compassionate living. Through looking at healthier role models, we recognize possibilities and that there is more to life than what we’ve lived.

What is the healthy lover in us?

The healthy lover refers to that innate part of us that strives for healthy independence. That’s very different from anti-dependence. A healthy state of independence is when that person basically knows who he or she is, in short has an identity. These people able to give to a relationship without losing themselves. In a healthy relationship there are three entities, an “I,” a “we” and a “you.” The “I” and the “you” maintain their individuality and they both contribute in such a way that their relationship is growing. I think of addictive love as “parasitic” and the healthy love as “holistic.”

In healthy lovers, the “I” and the “you” preexist the “we.”

That’s right. There are times in a healthy relationship, however, when the “I” or the “you” have to yield. Let’s say someone is really sick and needs the other. In a healthy relationship that person may be willing to put his needs aside and give the necessary support because he recognizes that it’s part of the commitment. In healthy love too, both view love as a process. In traditional commitments or marriage ceremonies, we commit to the person rather than to the process. In the healthy relationship, we are saying, “I’m committed to being the best me I know how to be, the most conscious me I know how to be” and “I will share that me with you in a committed and honoring way.”

Being aware of the healthy lover doesn’t mean that we don’t also have an addictive self Does it mean that we are conscious of it?

Yes. Let’s begin moving into what I referred to as a spiritual lover because I believe we each have our spiritual self. I’m not speaking of a particular religion. I’m talking about that part of us that is wise, compassionate, all knowing, seeks resolution, seeks to live by deeper values, wants to continue evolving, and even has a sense of humor. It can look at us and say, “There you go again” without judging in a negative, critical way and can guide us to accept our humanness yet not let us get lost in those human patterns that are so hurtful and destructive.

Is that the side of us that can stand back and observe?

Right. Often times, we refer to that as the observer self or the higher self. That part of us can maintain a sense of balance in the chaos of life, keep us on our path, and remind us when we are off.

You say in your book that we have to establish a relationship with ourself in order for us to establish relationship with others. What do you mean by that?

We have to be careful how we phrase that because some people will literally interpret that to mean, “Well, I can’t be in a relationship until I have myself together.” I see relationship as support, as a place for sharing, caring, feeling safe, and being energized. That support is mutual which makes it different from addictive love where we look to relationship for identity. In or out of relationship, our challenge is to know ourself, to love ourself, to trust ourself, and to be free to receive as well as give love. I am amazed at how many people block the very thing they say they want. I believe we have all been betrayed or wounded to some degree. It can be very minor or far more direct. In that betrayal we begin fearing closeness and yet relationship is fundamental. One of the laws of physics is that we are all related. We are not islands. As much as we try to be alone, prevent closeness or sabotage relationships, that we are all related. It’s really a commitment to oneself to know that while relationship can be very supportive, it does not define you.

It can also be a supportive context for us to expand our definition of who we are yet not be our definition.

Yes, we are not a role. We have an essence and that essence needs to be visible in the relationship and separate from the relationship.

In your book, you say that we each need to come to terms with the male and female in us our powerful and loving aspects. Please discuss that.

One of the primary characteristics of addictive love is power plays. Power plays are those series of interactions where people end up feeling “one up” or “one down” with other people. There is rarely a person who cannot identify with power plays. What I learned from my own background and experience is that there seems to be a tendency to look at love and power as commodities out side of ourselves. Love is often identified with the feminine and power with the masculine. There are a lot of historical reasons for that. What I learned is that love without power goes idle. We basically take care of people at our own expense in some way. Power without love injures. Each man and woman has these capacities. Let’s look at challis and the blade, mythical references in history. The challis symbolizes the power of the universe to love, give, and nurture life and is the feminine principal. I think of the womb where the child is initially nurtured and protected. The blade is symbolic of the power of the universe to assert, order, and protect and is the masculine principal. I believe we need both, not in opposition or competition, but to live cooperatively. I think what happened is that the power of the blade was exalted in history so that violence began killing the life that was symbolized by the challis.

Look at the world right now. If you look at most of the problems, I believe they are truly about love and power being out of balance, take versus give. The challenge that we have is for the woman to have the freedom to assert the masculine aspects of herself without, and I emphasize without, jeopardizing the feminine. I think that’s so important because each has such a valuable and sacred place. The same with the man. The man has been striving to develop more of his soft, tender, feminine qualities but, again, I think it’s important not to do that at the expense of the masculine. There is some concern that men have become too tender, that they have given up some of their masculinity and that women have become masculine at the expense of the feminine.

Our challenge is for each of us to develop an internal mother and father who we know can nurture and protect us. As we bring forth those parts and integrate and share them with life we can provide that safety valve necessary in relationships, a sense of mutual respect. There going times you have to call on the nurturing part of yourself for your self and for your partner, other times when you have need to be nurtured and protected. Relationships can be a wonderful dance and if we are locked into roles and expectations we each are emotionally handicapped.

We do not have to create these aspects in ourself. They are present and have been diminished by many forces. To integrate them is a part of being whole. We do not have to artificially manufacture something.


If we can access and manifest our power and our internal love, we are freer to be blossom in a relationship. We are not cluttering up the relationship as much to meet our own needs. The relationship can release our energy to go out into the world productively and lovingly.

I recognized that in addictive love there are very strong, unwritten assumptions and rules that get people in trouble. So often, people in a relationship have a preconceived idea, based on their history and role modeling, about what a relationship is. They don’t talk about it yet go into relationship with powerful assumptions. Characteristic of addictive’ love are those unwritten expectations and the accompanying resentment when they are not met. In healthy love, men and women, heterosexual and homosexual, are free to state what they need and to ask for their needs to be met. If a man has been groomed to not need anything, he might find it difficult to feel and need or feel guilty or ashamed if he has needs. If a woman and her husband believe that her job is to be the nurturer, both might begin to be very resentful as she wants to develop her own sense of identity.

I talked about the power basis that I think has been very subtly and unconsciously passed on to men and women. As much as we have quested for the liberation for the male and female, some fundamentals remain. Women are still given sex, beauty, and motherhood or at least if not motherhood, a lot of the nurturing as their power basis, and men still have most of the power basis outside of the home. Both men and women are handicapped when that becomes an expectation. I think also that men and women are controlled by those particular power basis.

When we live out of those power bases and expectations that is our addicted, adapted self

That’s right, especially if we are bound to them and controlled by them. For example, the paradox says that men often are bound to these bases because they have to produce the money needed to support the women’s power bases of beauty, sex, and motherhood. Many men panic when their family starts growing. They worry about money and their capability to provide. They become workaholics, alcoholics, and sex addicts to sustain themselves. It’s a vicious cycle. I also want to say that power bases are not good or bad. They are intended to be means by which we can experience our meaning and creativity and to tell the world who we really are. It’s when we get locked into them and bound to them that we are likely to get into power plays with our partners.

What is the way out of that?

We need to look at what we are doing. Are we doing it from choice? If I want to be a mother, that’s great. If I’m locked into motherhood and resent being in motherhood, then chances are that’s systemic power play. If my choice is a part of power sharing and I enjoy doing it, then it’s part of my creative self, something I value. I haven’t lost my identity. I’m not in a particular role. In our culture we are often invested in image and so we can very easily get lost in our power base. So the key is to recognize, as you said earlier, that we have these feminine and masculine energies and we have the capacity to continue developing both of them. How we do that is unique to each individual.

In your book you say, “Power and energy originate from within and reaches out,” so as we become conscious, we are aware of power sources in our personal lives and culture.

Right. We can move from power plays to power sharing and recognize there’s enough power for everyone on a human level. As you said, that power is our life’s energy. We speak as though it’s a commodity when we say, “I’m giving you back my power,” “He empowered me,” “I’m powerless when it comes to him or her.” It’s true we may feel that way but that’s really a psychological mechanism based on fear. It is not reality because no one can take away our life’s energy except through death. That’s why I said before that in addictive love, eventually some people, if they don’t physically die, begin dying in their spirit, emotional life, and their social life.

A lot of times we also physically deteriorate as a result of our power being blocked. It works against our body and causes disease.

Exactly. When we withhold that energy, one of two things is going to happen eventually. That energy will implode. We are an energy system. We are alive and that energy will implode and take its toll with physical complaints, migraine headaches, ulcers, or we explode and injure others. We read about that in the newspaper.

You talk about relationships not being an end in themselves but rather a context for us to move out into the world. Please elaborate.

In the seventies there was a focus on the “I” and personal development. In some ways it was a narcissistic period but also a necessary period. The eighties were a time when we recognized that we are not islands and people were questing for healthier relationships. The value of working on ourselves, clarifying our identities, and liking ourselves is not an end in itself, is not to be narcissistic, but to establish healthier relationships. We need healthier relationships because they are the grounding or foundation from which we go out into the world and do what really matters, which is to share a uniqueness with all of life. The nineties are calling us to the awareness that we are not islands. If we continue to be self serving, whether it’s within ourselves, our community, or our culture, the world dies. If we are depressed, have low esteem, or have a painful love relationship, it’s like having a back pain or toothache; it requires our energy. When a relationship is working, whether it’s internal or external, our relationship with the world is going to be much healthier, much more conscious.

There is a balance of love and power. We are not taking from the world. We are not using it. We are in a dynamic relationship with it and we are also nurturing it.

Right. Right.

Brenda, why did you write this book?

It was a sequel to my first book, “Is It Love Or Is It Addiction.” It came out of questions people asked me in workshops, from my own growth and my own experience. It was time to say more than I had said in the first book. I believe that, at least for me, writing is a very personal and passionate experience. In order to write it has to be about something I feel passionately about, something I’ve experienced or I’m questing to understand.

How did writing the book impact you?

It helped me integrate a lot of my own experience and simultaneously it shifted my level of consciousness, my level of awareness. There were certain things that came to me when I sat down to write this book that were not in my original outline but which really brought this book together. For me, it was a Gestalt; it was a closure but it was also an opening to a new phase of my life. In retrospect, although I didn’t know it, there was an inner knowing that it was time to write this book and in retrospect, it was an ending and an opening.

Spirituality encompasses elusive concepts. You describe our spiritual self. I would think that giving form to your ideas had to have some impact on you.

Yes. The chapter on the spiritual lover and the emergence of the spiritual lover came from my recognition that as we become more conscious and authentic, we live by deeper values. We are more concerned about broader issues. We are more spiritual in our own definition. The spiritual lover is that part of us that develops compassion for ourself and others. It’s the part of us that is not afraid to love. In addictive love, we are so close that we don’t know who we are. We are enmeshed. In healthy love, there is the “I,” the “you,” and the “we” but in spiritual love, there is a profound sense of knowing who “we” are. Love and power merge in a sharing. It’s a difficult concept to put into words but there’s a unity consciousness. “I know that I am separate yet I am a part of a much greater whole.” In this type of love, we are absolutely open, absolutely vulnerable and that openness is so complete that we are willing to hurt. I think of some of the great spiritual lovers when I think of Christ and Ghandi and Chief Joseph. They had this quiet confidence and were willing to live who they were in risk of the pain of rejection, and the pain of crucifixion. There’s a saying. “It’s better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all” and I believe I now know what those words mean on a much deeper level. If I know that I’ve loved fully and completely and given the best to my friendships and to my children, if I’ve loved wholly, not perfectly because I’m human and I make mistakes, but if I’ve been so open that I know that my heart could be broken, then I can also leave. I know that I have done my part and there’s joy and sorrow in the letting go.

Are you saying that while we may have pain with profound love, the gift is more?

That’s right and that is the paradox. Real deep spiritual love may hurt if someone important to you dies. There is greater grief when you’ve bonded fully but there’s also joy in knowing that you connected on that deep of a level. Even though we can grow from that woundedness, most people close down. They are afraid, afraid to open up again. When people are letting go of relationships during their grieving process, I really encourage them to listen very carefully to what they say to themselves because every relationship is a teacher. We grow or regress. The person may say “I was a fool, I’ll never do that again.” When they’re ready to love again, some part remembers that promise. They may initially give spiritually when in the romantic high phase and then later hearing the unconscious message and begin sabotaging the relationship.

You’re saying that “I’ll never do that again” is the unconscious message we said during that deep grieving process.

Right. Rather than recognizing that grief is human and it’s a sign that we’ve loved from the soul.

Brenda, what would you like to say in closing?

We are empowered if we are conscious. What I mean is waking up to who we really are and what we can be individually and in relationships with ourselves, others, and life. Contrary to what we often believe, we don’t know much about ourselves. The pain in our life, the addictions in our life can be used as opportunities to help us wake up and grow from the experience. To me, that’s a lifelong process. I really focus on the fact that relationship is a process. It’s not a neat little package. I think we need to be committed to that process and to the pain and the discomfort and not continually to seek pleasure outside of ourselves.

The spiritual lover is willing to see the goodness, the sacredness in each and to see beyond behavior. Our spiritual lover knows that we are human and that we make mistakes. Our spiritual lover helps us make our amends and be committed to growing. It provides a sense of safety because the spiritual lover is absolutely truthful and honest. I think when we are in addictive love or any form of addiction, we live in rationalizations and denial and subtle lies, deceit, and manipulation. That sense of safety is so crucial to that human part of us.

That safety is the context that lets us reveal ourselves.


Not only to the other but also to ourselves which is where a lot of the growth occurs.

Yes. Writing the book made some fundamental shifts for me. I experienced joy and sorrow and a sense of wholeness I’ve not felt before. It was a closure and an opening to a new phase of my life. So I am sure that there will be another book. I don’t know when; I’m really living the impact of this book. I don’t quite have all the pieces together yet. When I do, I will write the next book. I will know when it’s time.

For more information about Brenda Schaeffer visit her web site at: www.itsallaboutlove.com