Given this dynamic, we observed how love involves the dissipation of the emotions of otherness. This entails the dismantling of cognitive and emotional boundaries between the self and the other. We call this emotional identification “love” or “intimacy.”

It is at this point that certain psychotherapeutic objections are raised. All this talk about dismantling or dissolving the boundaries between self and other tends to fly in the face of certain psychotherapeutic recommendations that suggest that proper “boundaries” between the self and others are vital for emotional and relational well-being. There may be fears that the analysis I’m offering, that love dismantles boundaries of selfhood, could create enmeshment and dependency. That is, it is often argued that psychological and relational health requires clear and appropriate boundaries between self and other. These boundaries create a space for self-care and emotional restoration: we disengage from others to care for the self. The worry is that if boundaries between the self and other don’t exist then the self would be worn down, expended, or victimized by the relational demands of others. Clear “boundaries” prevent this from happening. So the objection is, given all this talk about dismantling psychological boundaries between self and other, am I not recommending a variety of unhealthy and pathological processes?

I’d like to respond to this criticism in a couple of different ways. To begin, I’d like to simply assert that my descriptions of love are demonstrably true, uncontroversial, and widely recognized. Recall, I’ve claimed that in love the self and the other become so identified, emotionally and symbolically, that the two form a union, an identification, a fusion. This might see like the very definition of enmeshment but, upon consideration, this description of love describes how most of us do, in fact, experience love. Consider the love between a parent and a child. What parent, if faced with the choice, wouldn’t sacrifice the use of his or her right arm to save their child? Or even give their very life? The point is that the safety and well-being of the child is more important than the parent’s own physical body. This, after all, is what we mean by sacrificial love: the loss of the self (e.g. one’s own life or situation in the world) for the sake of the other. And this loss of self doesn’t have to be a dramatic life or death choice. Parents frequently forgo life opportunities and their own ambitions to make sure that their children have the chance for a better life. In all of this we see how our notions of selfhood become intertwined and fused with the other to the point where the well-being of the other is how I define my selfhood! Anyone who loves understands this. What is radical about the call of Jesus is that he extends this love not just to children and family but to the entire world, friends and enemies alike.

This passage comes from Richard Beck’s book Unclean. (If you can’t you tell, I absolutely love this guy.) 

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