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The good man should be a lover of self (for he will both himself profit by doing

noble acts, and will benefit his fellows), but the wicked man should not; for he

will hurt both himself and his neighbors, following as he does evil passions.

Healthy Philautia

In contemporary philosophy, healthy philautia is the custodian of positive self-qualities (i.e. self –esteem, -compassion, -love, -regard, -respect, -value, -worth, and other intrinsic wholesome attributes). In psychological terms, healthy philautia adjuncts to other behavioral modification programs as a method to overcome or replace maladaptive self-beliefs and behaviors that have supplanted positive self-qualities due to a disruption in natural human development, the weathering of life, or in times of emotional or physiological crisis. In its current state of development, healthy philautia serves as a more focused revitalization tool in CBT’s self-esteem reinforcement and or positive psychology’s optimal functioning.  In fact, the three concentrations appear to work more effectively as a conversion method for persons n behavioral crisis than standard CBT alone.

We envision healthy philautia’s primary psychological applicationwill be to persons experiencing what we call a spiritual disordera personality or anxiety disorder that doesn’t rise to the category of physiological disease but is triggered by a deficit of intrinsic self-qualities. Generally, it comes during times of emotional crisis or as when life offers more than you can handle. If it chronic condition, it’s often related to child/adolescent abuse, which is a generic term used to describe a broad spectrum of offenses:any non-accidental event that interferes with the optimal physical, cognitive, emotional, and social development of the child.  The period of onset for personality and anxiety disorders is generally adolescence or childhood ―youngsters who have experienced detachment, exploitation, and or neglect, whether the cause be hereditary, environmental, or the result of some traumatic event. This abuse, accidental or otherwise, disrupts their ordinary course of human motivational development affecting Maslow’s first three human needs: physiological, safety, and belongingness and love. That unfortunate lacuna obstructs the development of the intrinsic self-qualities essential to one’s natural emotional and physiological maturing.

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Much of the following is borrowed from Dr. Mullen’s “Enlisting Positive Psychologies to Challenge Love within SAD’s Culture of Maladaptive Self-Beliefs” in C-H Mayers and E. Vanderheiden (eds.) upcoming Handbook of Love in Cultural and Transcultural Contexts (Springer). 

To Aristotle, healthy philautia is vigorous in both its orientation to self and others in its potential goodness. By contrast, its darker variant portends disastrous consequences due to its narcissism, arrogance, and egotism. The philosophy of healthy philautia encourages the development of our intrinsic positive self-qualities―attributes that determine our relation to ourselves, to others, and the world. It’s the revitalization of our awareness of our value, the renewed knowingness that we are loveable, necessary to this life, and of incomprehensible worth. It is through this reaffirmation of self-worth that one rediscovers the intrinsic capacity for empathetic interaction.     

The Greeks broke interpersonal love into eight basic categories: philia, eros, agape, storge, ludus, pragma, and healthy and unhealthy philautia. The unhealthy aspect of philautia is narcissism; the other embraces the positive self-qualities that generate self-love. To Aristotle, healthy philautia is vigorous “in both its orientation to self and to others” due to its inherent virtue.” By contrast, its darker variant encompasses notions such as narcissism, arrogance and egotism.” In its positive aspect, any interactivity “has beneficial consequences, whereas in the latter case, unhealthy philautia will have disastrous consequences.”

Philautia is a binary category of classical Greek love, which embraces both its healthy and unhealthy aspects. Unhealthy philautia is akin to clinical narcissism―a mental condition in which people function with an “inflated sense of their own importance [and a] deep need for excessive attention and admiration.” Behind this mask of extreme confidence “lies a fragile self-esteem that’s vulnerable to the slightest criticism.” Citizens of Athens could be accused of unhealthy philautia if they placed themselves above the greater good. Today, hubris has come to mean “an inflated sense of one’s status, abilities, or accomplishments, especially when accompanied by haughtiness or arrogance.”

The Greeks believed that the narcissism of unhealthy philautia could not exist without its complementary opposition of healthy philautia, commonly interpreted as the self-esteeming virtue―an unfortunate and wholly incomplete definition. Rather than self-esteem only, healthy philautia incorporates the broader spectrum of all positive self-qualities.

Rather, we are concerned here with various positive qualities prefixed by the term self, including ‐esteem, ‐compassion, ‐regard, and ‐respect. Indeed, Aristotle argued in the Nichomachean Ethics that this was the precondition for all other forms of love.

Positive self-qualities determine one’s relation to self, to others, and the world. They provide the recognition that one is of value, consequential, and worthy of love. Healthy Philautia is important in every sphere of life and can be considered a basic human need.” To the Greeks, healthy philautia “is the root of the heart of all the other loves.” Gadamer (2009) writes of healthy philautia: “Thus it is; in self-love one becomes aware of the true ground and the condition for all possible bonds with others and commitment to oneself.” Healthy philautia is the love that is within oneself. It is not, explains Jericho (2015) “the desire for self and the root of selfishness.” Ethicist John Deigh (2001) writes, 

Accordingly, when Aristotle remarks that a man’s friendly relations with others come from his relations with himself… he is making the point that self-love (philautia), as the best exemplar of love … is the standard by which to judge the friendliness of the man’s relations with others.

Individual’s experiencing a mental complication have significantly lower implicit and explicit self-esteem relative to healthy controls due to the deficit of positive self-qualities which have been obscured (hidden away) by a culture of maladaptive self-beliefs and the interruption of the normal course of natural motivational development. Positive psychology embraces “a variety of beliefs about yourself, such as the appraisal of your own appearance, beliefs, emotions, and behaviors,” and so on. It points to measures “of how much a person values, approves of, appreciates, prizes, or likes” themselves.

Healthy philautia is essential for a good life; it is easy to recognize how the continuous infusion of healthy philautia and its reacquisition of positive self-qualities supports self-awareness and an appreciation of your potential. “One sees in self-love the defining marks of friendship, which one then extends to a man’s friendships with others”[i]This engenders self -worthiness, -respect and -confidence, which opens the door to a productive life of positive living. Recognition of one’s inherent value generates the realization that he or she is “a good person who deserves to be treated with respect.” A good person is spiritually, one that is loved. “To feel joy and fulfillment at being you is the experience of philautia.” The healthy philautia described by Aristotle, “is a necessary condition to achieve happiness.” which, as we continue down the classical Greek path, is eudemonic. In the words of positive psychologist Stephen Joseph,

Eudaimonia describes the notion that living in accordance with one’s daimon, which we take to mean character and virtue,’ leads to the renewed awareness of one’s ‘meaning and purpose in life. 

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Aristotle touted the striving for excellence as humanity’s inherent aspiration. He described eudaimonia as “activity in accordance with virtue.” Eudaimonia reflects the best activities of which man is capable. The word eudaimonia reflects personal and societal well-being as the chief good for man. “The eudaimonic approach … focuses on meaning and self-realization and defines well-being in terms of the degree to which a person is fully functioning.” It is through recognition of one’s positive self-qualities and their potential productive contribution to the general welfare that one rediscovers the intrinsic capacity for love. Let’s view this through the symbolism of Socrates’ tale of the Cave. In it, we discover persons chained to the wall. Their perspectives generate from the shadows projected by the unapproachable light outside the cave. They name these maladaptive self-beliefs: useless, incompetent, timid, ineffectual, ugly, insignificant, stupid. The prisoners have formed a subordinate dependency with their surroundings and resist any other reality until, one day, they find themselves loosed from their bondage and emerge into the light. Like the cave dwellers, the persons with spiritual disorders break away from the maladaptive self-beliefs symptomatic and characteristic of his or her disorder into recognition of their positive self-qualities.

As positive psychology turns its attention to the broader spectrum of healthy philautia’s positive self-qualities, integration with CBT’s behavior modification, neuroscience’s network restructuring, and other non-traditional and supported approaches would establish a working platform for discovery.

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