Tag Archives: love and belonging

“But I got an emptiness deep inside and I’ve tried but it won’t let me go…”

Dr. Ken Larsen

I believe that happiness is not something we can seek for itself.  Dr. Glasser and Mike Rice (a friend who is a Choice Theory Addiction Counselor)  have told us that we can seek pleasure for itself, because pleasure can be a solitary pursuit.  Happiness is more of a byproduct of a life lived in caring relationships with others.  Within those relationships we are getting a large portion of our needs met for love and belonging, for fun, for freedom and for a sense of self efficacy or power.  For most of us, even if our lives are reasonably happy, there is still a level of the imperfect in our happiness.  There is often a small emptiness somewhere inside that is hungry for something that we may not even be able to name or identify.

questionThis hole in us may be a hunger for more intimacy in a relationship, a spiritual hunger, or that unexplained existential loneliness that haunts us, even when we are with those we love.

I think the Serenity Prayer offers an appropriate response to this hole inside us.  “…grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things that I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

I have found that if I strive and strain to fill the hole, to find the answer to the question raised by that empty space, it becomes more elusive and slippery.  Struggling to meet an unmet need that is beyond our grasp simply drives it further away.  For example, if I am striving to earn the affection and approval from someone who has withheld it, this will just widen the gap, and increase the distance between us.

It is far better for mental health to “accept the things I cannot change” and move on to pursue the other good things in life.  Many have found that in the process of letting go, the frustration and anxiety that are associated with that unmet need subsides and may even go away.   The interesting and paradoxical experience of many is that sometimes letting it go is what allows what is wanted and needed to gently come in to fill the hole without any strident effort. 

I believe that a perfect state of mental health and happiness is beyond our grasp.  I also believe that we can all make progress in this pursuit, even though the price for perfection is prohibitive.



Are Love and Belonging needed for mental health and happiness?

Dr. Ken Larsen

Let me go back in history to 18th century England.  Scurvy was a terrible disease that afflicted many sailors in the British Navy.  In fact, there were more deaths from scurvy than from combat and enemy action.  This was an unavoidable scourge until James Lind in 1747 observed the connection between fresh fruit, especially lemons, and the healing of sailors with scurvy.  One account I read described this situation: At the end of the six day trial…the pair who had received the lemon supplement to their diet made a staggering recovery and were once again healthy, while the others had worsened.” This proved our need for a regular dietary intake of Vitamin C by seeing the scurvy resulting from a deficiency of Vitamin C.

chair-beachCan we make a similar connection with the declared need for love and belonging?  If this is a need we should be able to see what happens when that need is not met.

I’m thinking of the “failure to thrive” syndrome that has been observed when small children in an orphanage are fed and kept clean but often die because they are deprived of human contact and the touch of a caring person.

If these deprived kids survive their childhood, too often they become the depressed, lonely, disturbed person who tragically lashes out in horribly destructive acts of violence.

Many of these people who have been deprived of love and belonging are diagnosed as being depressed and are given psychoactive drugs, presuming a chemical deficiency in the brain.  Sadly, this effort to help simply doesn’t help and has been implicated in worsening rather than helping the lonely isolation that is so characteristic of this deficiency..

I’m not going to tell you I have the solution.  I can stand with the growing ranks of those who are proclaiming that brain drugs are rarely, if ever, the solution.

The great spiritual traditions have all emphasized the need for love and belonging along with the admonition to provide that need for one another.   This is the “nourishment” we need to enjoy mental health and happiness.  Not to be loved and connected is to be suffering from an emerging and more clearly defined deficiency syndrome.

Here is the challenge.  Can we look at what is really deficient for those depressed, lonely, disenfranchised and often dangerous people?  Can we try to understand the real causes of these conditions that result from not being loved?  Can we learn from what Dr. Glasser said years ago, “we either help these people or we have to defend ourselves against them?”




The Miracle of Dialogue

Dr. Ken Larsen

About 40 years ago I read a book.  The Miracle of Dialogue  written by a pastor, Reuel Howe.  It’s out of print but you can sometimes find a used copy.  The book has had a profound influence on my life.  I’ll share with you   Dr. Howe’s  opening paragraph.  It is rich in meaning:

“Every man is a potential adversary, even those whom we love.  Only through dialogue are we saved from this enmity toward one another.  Dialogue is to love, what blood is to the body.  When the flow of blood stops, the body dies.  When dialogue stops, love dies and resentment and hate are born.  But dialogue can restore a dead relationship.  Indeed, this is the miracle of dialogue: it can bring relationship into being, and it can bring into being once again a relationship that has died.”

We have come to realize that meeting our need for love and belonging can only happen when we connect with another.  There are many ways of connecting, but the ability to communicate and share our meaning with another is paramount.

If dialogue is so important, why do misunderstandings and conflict arise among us?  I submit one major obstacle is that each party in the dialogue has a  different meaning for the same experience.


What can we do to overcome this obstacle?  I believe it starts with what we want from our dialogue.  Are we just waiting for the other person to shut up so we can tell it like it REALLY is?  Sadly I see that sort of thing happening a lot.  We start out with the compulsion to be understood and we will push our point of view with that end in mind.

What if we would turn that around?  Rather than being preoccupied with being understood, why don’t we make the choice (Yes, it is a choice and it takes effort) to start with working to be sure that both parties are understood and that a meeting of meanings has occurred?  Dialogue is possible when there is common ground.  It takes a certain level of determination and patience to find that common ground.


Let me share an example I had with one of my daughters a while back.  She was an English major and had been reading a biography of Lord Byron.  I was involved in some project and Naomi came into the room wanting to share what she was reading.  “Dad, did you know Lord Byron’s heart was buried in Greece?”  I blurted in response, “Why would anyone want to bury a heart in grease?”

She looked at me funny, knowing that something wasn’t connecting in our exchange.  She caught it first, “Daaaad (you know how daughters can make that one syllable word stretch out a long ways)  it wasn’t bacon grease, it was the country of Greece.”  We both started to laugh.  After that exchange I began to wonder just how many misunderstandings and conflicts have started with just such a simple missed meaning.

To enhance our mental health and happiness, let’s agree that disagreements have no right to happen until there is agreement that both parties have the same meanings for the same words.

Life is love and love is life…

by Dr. Ken Larsen

Love and belonging is at the top of the list of our basic needs named by Dr. Glasser.  What we do to fulfill those needs is the essence of mental health and happiness.   Love is a word with many meanings.  I’d like to examine some of those meanings.

Anyone who has been to summer Bible camp has probably been exposed to the Greek words we have for “love”.  They are:

  • “Philos”.   This is brotherly love. Think of Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love.
  • “Agape” is the selfless, unconditional love that is often used to describe God’s love for humanity.
  • “Eros” is the intimate affection between lovers.
  • “Storge” is a parent’s love for their children.

Each of these ways of expressing love are lifegiving and enriching of relationships.

We need an infusion of love to live and to enjoy life in health and happiness.


Love is poured into us from the very beginnings of our existence.  A mother looks on her baby with love while caring for her baby’s needs.   We are learning that this life giving, life enhancing connection between a mother and her baby is much more than just a “nice to have” expression of affection.  It is actually essential for the healthy development of the baby, especially  for their social and emotional development.  This connection goes both ways.  Both mother and baby enjoy a release of neurochemicals that support their mental health and happiness.

Sadly, there are some children who are deprived of this early enriching experience of love and care.  Many of these kids grow up and experience difficulties connecting socially.  Often there is limited ability  to self regulate difficult emotions.  This often leads to the self medication that leads to addictions.  Violence and unloving sex are behaviors often associated with people that have not had the early experience of love that is needed for mental health and happiness in a stressful world.

I am convinced that it is better to reach out a helping hand before we read another tragic headline born of the not so quiet desperation suffered by some of our people.

How can each of us make a deposit of love into the accounts of those whose emotional checks are bouncing?  There is no quick and easy answer, at least none that I know of, but I do know that it is better to reach out than to reject and ignore.  There is that wonderful tagline that it is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.

Elvis did a song entitled “Life” back in the 70s.  The closing line is “…for life is love and love is life.”

Here’s the song if you’re interested.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T4cWkMXrGjo

Characteristics of Mental Health & Happiness

By Dr. Ken Larsen

One of the characteristics of mental health and happiness is getting our needs met in and through our relationships with caring other people.

Dr. Glasser describes these needs in a couple of ways.  One, from his first best selling book “Reality Therapy” he points out that we need to “Love and be loved, and to feel worthwhile to ourselves and to others.”

Later, when he wrote “Choice Theory” he listed our basic needs as “Survival, Love and belonging, Freedom, Power and Fun.”


One way I meet my fun needs is by learning.  Recently I was reading a book entitled “The Female Brain” by Louann Brizendine, MD.  One paragraph jumped out at me because it spoke to ways to grow closer to the ones we love.  Having a wife, three daughters, and five granddaughters, the more I can understand the female experience of life, the closer I can be in these very special relationships.

This is a quote from the book: “If she’s married or partnered with a male brain, each will inhabit two different emotional realities.  The more both know about the differences in the emotional realities of the male and female brain, the more hope we have of turning those partnerships into satisfying and supportive relationships and families.”

I highly recommend this book.