Discovering Love Languages

Jun 24, 2024

Dear Souls and Hearts Member,

Chapter 7 of Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell’s 1997 book, The 5 Love Languages of Children: The Secret to Loving Children Effectively is aptly titled “How to Discover Your Child’s Primary Love Language.”

Only one primary love language?

While acknowledging the need for parents to speak all five of the love languages and that love languages can change (especially in adolescence), the authors assert that “As your child grows, you will begin to see that one of the love languages speaks far more deeply of your love than the others; also, when that one is used negatively, your child feels very hurt.” [p. 111].  The assumption behind this is that children have a relatively stable, homogenous, unified personality which determines their primary love language.

In this chapter, Chapman and Campbell give the following five recommendations to discover the primary love languages.

  1. Observe how your child expresses love to you.
  2. Observe how your child expresses love to others.
  3. Listen to what your child requests most often.
  4. Notice what your child most frequently complains about.
  5. Give your child a choice between two options [with each option reflecting a different love language]

And these are quite thoughtful and helpful as far as they go.

But I don’t buy into the idea that children have a primary love language.

Bringing nuance to the loving

Let us think about primary love languages in a more nuanced way, bringing in parts and systems. Once we do that, some vistas and possibilities open.

As I described in the reflection from August 24, 2022 titled Why I Reject the Concept of “Personality” and in the Interior Integration for Catholic podcast episode 116 Why a Single Personality is not Enough, what most people are only identifying the characteristics of primary manager parts, the parts that are most consistently “in front” and “outward facing” when they describe a “personality.”  That leaves all the other parts out.

That’s like just considering the part of the iceberg that is above the waterline, and ignoring the much larger portion of the mass that is below the surface.

Each part has a primary love language

In my experience, I’ve observed that each part of a person has a primary love language, rather than each person.  And what are these parts?  Let’s review with my description:

Parts feel like separate, independently operating personalities within us, each with own unique prominent needs, roles in our lives, emotions, body sensations, guiding beliefs and assumptions, typical thoughts, intentions, desires, attitudes, impulses, interpersonal style, and world view.  Each part also has an image of God.

Because each part experiences and holds different attachment needs and different integrity needs from other parts, each part seeks to be loved in a different way.  Each part of a child needs attunement from the parents in its own particular way.  And each part of you looks for love from your innermost self in a way that aligns with its needs.

Tuning in with both the innermost self and parts

My concern with this chapter is that it is too simplistic and reductionistic in assuming that there is a primary love language for a child.  I think that’s why empirical efforts to validate the five love languages, in general, have come up short (see here for an academic but digestible review of the empirical research on Chapman’s love languages).

There is both a multiplicity and a unity within a human person — we are both a whole and we have parts – like a jazz band is both one body, one whole, but with several distinct musicians.  The innermost self is like the leader of the jazz band.

Let’s review my summary of how Richard Schwartz, founder of Internal Family Systems thinking:

The innermost self is the core of the person, the center of the person.  This is who we sense ourselves to be in our best moments, and when our self is free, and unblended with any of our parts, it governs our whole being as an active, compassionate leader.  In IFS, the self is “seat of consciousness.”

The self has intrinsic qualities — inherent, innate qualities.  In IFS, we call them the 8 Cs, because each of them starts with the letter C.  Here is my understanding of each of these qualities:

  1. Calm:  tranquility, peacefulness, serenity, equanimity, placidity, quietness
  2. Connectedness:  “being with” the other, rapport, engagement, mutuality, bonding, collaboration
  3. Curiosity: genuine interest in all of myself and all of others, wonder, awe
  4. Compassion:  kindness, tenderness, benevolence, “suffering with”
  5. Confidence: assurance, poise, grace, gravity, security, childlike trust
  6. Courage:  fortitude, conviction, spunk, grit, adventuresomeness, stoutheartedness, intrepidness
  7. Clarity: lucidity, broad perspective, a sense of vision and direction even with unknowns
  8. Creativity: originality, innovation, artistry, inspiration, vision

Check out episode 71 of the IIC podcast, A New and Better Way of Understanding Myself and Others, for a primer about Internal Family Systems.

If one accepts that each person has an innermost self with such great qualities, and that we have parts that are often burdened, exiled, or in extreme roles, it might seem tempting to assume that it is just the innermost self that loves others.

Nope.  I don’t think so.

Loving wholeheartedly – with all your parts

Rather, in a well-integrated person, the innermost self together with the parts engages in the loving of others.  Each part of us, with its unique qualities can contribute to the way we love, making our love for the other much more multifaceted and attuned.

Why? Because parts of you that are well-ordered and under the leadership and guidance of your innermost self can help your innermost self tune in to and resonate with their counterparts in another person.

St. Thomas Aquinas emphasizes the necessity of good “self-governance” in order to love yourself and your neighbor in an ordered way – see Chapter 5, the section on “Love and self-governance” in Anthony Flood’s 2018 book The Metaphysical Foundations of Love: Aquinas on Participation, Unity, and Union.

The Thomistic description of self-governance can be framed clearly in IFS terms when the parts are in right relationship with the innermost self – neither blended or exiled, and in ordered, adaptive, healthy roles within your system.  IFS called parts like this “self-led.”

When parts are self-led, when they are in right relationship with your innermost self, they bring their special contribution to bear in loving others.

Discovering the love your parts need, so that you can better love others with your parts

The theory is valuable, and the conceptualization are important.  But the rubber really meets the road when we don’t just stay in our heads, but we move to our hearts.

So here is a 20-minute experiential exercise titled Discovering Parts’ Love Languages to help you understand how different parts of you speak different love languages and need different forms of love.  When those parts get the love they yearn for, when their attachment needs and integrity needs are met, they can so much more readily engage in your collective effort to love others wholeheartedly, in a collaborative and cooperative way – in good self-governance.


The Resilient Catholics Community is accepting new application for six more days!

Perhaps you’ve thought about it.  Joining the Resilient Catholics Community.  Committing to a structured, year-long program.  And why?  To help you get to know, accept, understand, and love yourself in your parts, informed by Internal Family Systems and firmly grounded in a Catholic understanding of the human person in a very experiential, heartfelt way.

And not just to love yourself.  That’s just the beginning of the adventure.  Loving yourself is a good, and it’s important – not least of all because it opens the door to loving God wholeheartedly, and loving all of your neighbor, not just the obvious or appealing parts of him.

In the RCC, we work to get to the natural roots of why it’s difficult for you to love others in their parts.  In the RCC we seek inner unity – interior integration – in a deliberate, structured way in a way that’s gentle, that feels safe enough, taking time — the course of a year — together, on a pilgrimage to better human formation.

Catholic adults who agree with what the Church teaches in the Catechism of the Catholic Church  can register for the RCC with this link and you can find out more including hearing the stories of our members on our RCC landing page.  Nearly 100 have applied so far in this cohort, on their way to join the nearly 300 already in the RCC.

IIC Episode 140 Your Personal Formation: Experiential Exercises and Q&A released

IIC episode 140 with a live audience released last week; check out the video or audio.  Join our audience members and me to experience a guided meditation on your parts’ needs for integrated formation. Guided by John Paul II’s four dimensions of personal formation (human, spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral) you have an opportunity to see what a part of you needs. Several audience members debrief from the exercise and we all discuss with some Q&A.

Recollecting Your Parts for Reconciliation and the Eucharist – In-person event in Indy on July 17

As a preliminary event to the 2024 National Eucharistic Congress, before the Eucharistic Congress kicks off with the 7:00 PM Eucharistic Procession, Dr. Gerry and I are hosting a Souls and Hearts gathering for the pilgrims who can come early, and for those who are local, earlier in the afternoon, ending with a taco bar supper.

Find all the details and register on our Souls and Hearts’ landing page – it would be great if you can join us in Indy on July 17 from 1:30 to 6:00 PM for the half-day workshop titled Recollecting Your Parts in Reconciliation and the Eucharist.

I will be presenting on the Sacrament of Penance and the difficulties our parts can have with Confession.  Dr. Gerry will share on how to connect with our Lord more wholeheartedly, with all our parts in the Eucharist.  Each presentation will be followed by a 20-30 minute experiential exercise.  And as a special treat, Fr. Boniface Hicks, OSB will also be present.

My personal spiritual director, Fr. Terrance Chartier FFI, will be in the confessional from 3:15 onward to hear confessions, especially from those who might have struggled with the sacrament.

Dr. Gerry and I will also be attending the Eucharistic Congress (we have media credentials for the IIC podcast episode we’ll be shooting there) so perhaps we will see you, if you can come.  Dr. Gerry will be signing copies of his book Litanies of the Heart at the Sophia Press table at some points during the Congress, so come to meet him in person.

For those Catholics who accompany others in formation…

Calling all Catholic formators! That means YOU! Catholic therapists, spiritual directors, Catholic coaches, seminarian formators, and anyone else who accompanies another professionally in a one-to-one relationship. We have expanded what was formerly called the Interior Therapists Community to become the Formation for Formators community, and we are now starting the process of setting up our fall Foundations Experiential Groups or FEGs.

The FEGs are small groups, meeting twice per month, facilitated by IFS-trained professionals to help you connect with and love your own parts, in your own human formation, to shore up your natural foundation for loving God more wholeheartedly and your neighbor as yourself.

To learn more about the FFF community and the FEGs, check out our landing page. If you’re ready to sign up, the possible dates and times are in this meeting survey. Let us know when you’re available, and we’ll reach back out when we have enough formators to fill a particular group.

Staying connected

If you have questions about the Resilient Catholics Community, the Formation for Formators, or the July 17 gathering in Indianapolis on Recollecting your Parts for Reconciliation and the Eucharist, you are welcome to call me on my cell at 317.567.9594, especially during my conversation hours which are every Tuesday and Thursday from 4:30 PM to 5:30 PM Eastern time.

Praying for one another

As always, keep us all in your prayers. Thank you!

In Christ and His Mother,

Dr. Peter

P.S.  Time is short to apply to the Resilient Catholics Community for the cohort that launches in September.  The link to apply to join the RCC is here.  Learn more on our RCC landing page. You can listen to our 19-minute experiential exercise to help you make the decision on whether or not the time is right for you to apply.

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