What Is Love? Erich Fromm’s Take

What are the different types of love that exist within us? Is it possible to experience more than one kind at once?

Dec 19, 2023By Viktoriya Sus, MA Philosophy

what is love erich fromm


Have you ever wondered what type of love it is when we experience more than one kind at once? Philosopher and psychoanalyst Erich Fromm offers us valuable insight into our many forms of love. Through his work and theories on interpersonal communication and human behavior, as well as an exploration into others’ motivations for living, Fromm presents an array of meaningful criteria that can explain various types of love.


Erich Fromm: What is Love? 

rene margitte lovers painting
The Lovers, René Magritte, 1928, via the Museum of Modern Arts


Love is a complex and powerful emotion, yet so mysterious! What is love, really? The answer might be simpler than expected. Let us explore the depths of this beautiful feeling.


The mystery of love may remain unsolved, yet it is not unknowable. Through the lenses of psychology and its many branches, scientists have come close to uncovering its secrets – one such researcher being Erich Fromm in his work The Art of Loving (1956).


For him, true love involves more than a mere fixation on another person; rather, an individual’s orientation towards the world as a whole becomes altered when they are able to find this feeling within themselves.

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Having emotional intelligence is key if we want meaningful relationships with others, which can stand the test of time. We should take care not to become selfish by expecting too much from our partner while forgetting our own shortcomings. We should remember that genuine acts of loving kindness begin within us before they can extend outward.


Falling in love should be distinguished from “love” itself. Whereas falling in comes easily but doesn’t last long enough to change us profoundly, lasting affection forms stronger bonds over longer periods that shape both people involved positively.


To sum up Fromm’s view: love must be cultivated consciously between two individuals who make each other better every day – only then will you unlock its power for life!


Five Types of Love 

gustav klimt kiss painting
The Kiss, Gustav Klimt, 1907/1908, via Belvedere


Love is the most complex and enigmatic emotion. It has been analyzed, debated, and explored since the dawn of humanity.


Over millennia, scholars from around the world have tried to make sense of love and define its many varieties. Whether you’re looking for answers that apply to relationships, friendships, or a combination thereof, Fromm’s theoretical framework – that of the “five types of love” – offers a comprehensive analysis of the many different forms of love we can experience.


Countless thinkers, philosophers, psychologists, and writers have attempted to understand this emotion’s intricacies that influence our lives in so many ways. One such thinker was Erich Fromm, a celebrated psychologist who proposed five types of love – each one unique in its own way:


  • Brotherly or Agape love – selfless benevolence encompassing acts of compassion, assisting others irrespective of their circumstances.


  • Motherly love – which represents deep nurturing and unconditional acceptance from a mother towards her child.


  • Erotic or passionate love – the intense physical attraction between two individuals, often evolving into profound emotional connections.


  • Self-love – acceptance, respect for oneself, openly addressing areas that need improvement, as well as acknowledging strengths within oneself.


  • Love for God – associated with humility and respect toward all living things with an emphasis on both personal and spiritual growth while keeping empathy toward humanity as a whole intact.


All these types of love represent a unique way of expressing and sharing emotions. And while each has its own distinct characteristics, they all have the common goal of creating relationships to bring peace, joy, and understanding.


Brotherly Love

uros predic happy brothers painting
Happy Brothers, Uroš Predić, 1887, via Wikimedia Commons


In his seminal work The Art of Loving, Erich Fromm proposed that brotherly love is the deep, familial connection between two people. It is the bond shared by siblings and that which binds close friends. Brotherly love is a feeling of profound affection and affinity for one another based on shared experiences, values, and mutual trust.


Fromm argued that brotherly love was essential to human life, allowing us to cultivate meaningful relationships with others in our communities. He even suggested that individuals could create a sense of belonging and purpose beyond themselves.


To illustrate this concept further, think about the Bible’s timeless tale of Cain and Abel. Cain murdered his brother Abel out of envy because God favored him over Cain. In contrast, if we look at brotherly love proclaimed by Fromm, it teaches us that one should never be jealous or envy their familial bonds ―rather, embrace them with purity in their heart.


Brotherly love involves empathy towards others’ experiences and emotions, sharing kindness with each other, and cultivating a collective sense of well-being. It encompasses both emotional support and physical care as needed that comes from your soul. Fromm emphasized the importance of understanding one’s own needs while also being responsive to the needs of others.


Brotherly love manifests in various forms, such as volunteering with charitable organizations, team sportsmanship, or even showing hospitality towards someone who has lost their way in life.


Motherly Love

paul peel mother love painting
Mother Love, Paul Peel, 1888, National Gallery of Canada


In contrast to brotherly love, motherly love is often characterized by selflessness, unconditional acceptance, and nurturing. It is a bond that nurtures life itself, the sort of love that starts in the womb and lasts well past childhood.


This affectionate love emanates from both the physical and emotional connection between a mother and her child – yet it extends well beyond feeding times, playing games, or kissing the forehead while tucking them in bed.


Fromm explains that motherly love transcends ordinary human capabilities; it’s an ability to offer immense patience and support without expecting anything in return. It fosters children’s positive behavior, such as independence, because it encourages exploration without being overly protective.


This type of warmth sometimes goes beyond delivering care at moments when needed to serious sacrifices for the sake of children’s welfare, such as preceding personal aspirations or surrendering basic needs like sleep for long periods at a time.


In essence, motherly love is all-consuming—there are no boundaries or limitations when it comes to offering solace or comfort to our little ones. A relationship with a child built on maternal affection shapes lifelong values of empathy, and compassionate care, among other principles.


Just how do we become expert providers of motherly love? Fromm suggests mindful interactions as a starting point where we engage with our children emotionally, whether they need us for guidance or support as they grow up.


So, every mother understands what it feels like to hold their offspring close and protect them from harm.


Erotic Love

francesco hayez kiss painting
The Kiss, Francesco Hayez, 1859, taken from Wikimedia Commons


The next type, erotic love, is commonly associated with romantic relationships and physical attraction between two people. This type of affection takes on numerous different aspects, such as chemistry, intimacy, and passion.


Fromm explained that erotic love emerges from combining the biological foundation of our instincts for reproduction with civilization’s cultural customs and norms.


He proposed that while physical intimacy may be inherent in human nature itself, the complexity comes from the multifaceted aspects encompassed within sex: emotional gratification, intellectual stimulation, or even spiritual connection.


Erotic love (eros) frequently involves intense feelings of desire and sensuality. This type of bond engenders an ever-increasing closeness between both partners as they physically, emotionally, and intellectually explore the beauty of each other.


However, unlike other types of affection, such as motherly love or selfless giving to something greater than oneself, like in brotherly or agape love, sexual attraction can sometimes fade over time, causing fractures in some relationships.


It may be difficult to maintain a balance between the biological elements involved, such as endorphins released during new interactions, or neurotransmitters like dopamine, whose regular contribution sustains those initial feelings over time. Balancing these aspects needs a conscious effort to be made between partners.


Fromm suggests that we shouldn’t view erotic/lust/passion simply as a physical or immoral urge that leads to risky behavior. Instead, there are deeper and more complex aspects involved that warrant our attention.



caravaggio narcissus painting
Narcissus, Caravaggio, 1599, via Caravaggio.org


Amongst the various types of affection, Fromm identified self-love as a fundamental prerequisite for developing other types of love. Self-love is often considered egocentric or selfish; however, in its true form, it refers to an individual’s sense of self-worth and acceptance.


It involves deeply understanding oneself, both the positive and negative aspects. On the one hand, it requires acknowledging personal strengths and accomplishments; on the other hand, it entails being aware of weaknesses and perceived shortcomings without dismissing them too quickly.


At times, we are harsher judges of ourselves than we ever would be to those we care about most. In learning how to love oneself genuinely, we can unlearn those detrimental patterns that undermine our confidence unnecessarily.


Fromm asserts that self-love is foundational for achieving authentic presence in other areas, such as romantic relationships or friendships, where real connections are built through mutual agreement and trust each partner brings into their interactions.


Self-confidence allows for open communication about your wants and needs without fear or shame holding you back due to anxiety over rejection or disclosure, giving way to more meaningful conversations between both parties involved.


Self-love comprises many different practices, such as treating oneself with kindness by giving yourself permission to make mistakes and learn from them, just like you would offer encouragement when someone else stumbles while pursuing their goals.


By being responsible for your own needs—both physical and mental—you create healthy boundaries when engaging with others in different ways because you understand who you are better than anyone else does, hence avoiding potential vulnerabilities due to attempting validation from outside sources instead of fostering autonomy within oneself.


Self-love runs deeper than achieving self-fulfillment; it represents the foundation of our capacity for empathy and compassion towards others and is vital to authentically developing other types of love.


Self-love is a journey that requires deliberate effort but promises human beings freedom, confidence, resilience, and, ultimately, contentment from within.


Love of God

otto pilny morning prayers painting
Morning Prayers, Otto Pilny, 1936, taken from Wikimedia Commons


Amongst the many different types of love that Erich Fromm proposes, one that stands out as particularly intriguing is the love of God. This is a universal concept linking belief systems across generations and cultures that creates a sense of spirituality between people and their preferred deities.


The love of God can be perceived as an innate desire to connect with a higher power, something beyond our tangible world, reflecting transcendence and emotional/psychological investment in forces beyond ourselves.


Depending on a person’s specific spiritual or religious beliefs, this type of affection takes on different forms ranging from silent contemplation to elaborate displays commemorating holidays or sacred rituals.


Fromm believed that by cultivating this form of affection through prayer, devotion, or meditation, we tap into positive energy flows and foster humility and compassion towards others while deepening our self-awareness.


In simpler terms, just like how we show love to others, like our siblings, without any physical attraction, we can also show love and care towards Mother Earth by being more mindful of our spiritual beliefs and values that guide our actions.


God’s love prompts us to reflect on how we contribute to our cultural or religious communities and take responsibility for our life experiences. This also involves learning and growing spiritually, manifesting in holistic and proactive behaviors instead of being held back by fear or hesitation.


So, What Are Five Types of Love Proposed by Fromm?

rene burri erich fromm photo
Erich Fromm in 1975, Rene Burri, 1975, via Tricycle


In the world of psychology and philosophy, Erich Fromm is renowned for proposing an insightful theory that distinguishes between different types of love.


Using his immense understanding of human relationships and emotions, Fromm identified five distinct forms of affection: brotherly or agape love, motherly love, erotic or passionate love, self-love, and, finally, love of God.


As we have explored in-depth, each form represents an entirely different facet of complicated human interactions. Different types of love have unique features or characteristics. Motherly love involves unconditional nurturing, brotherly love is associated with altruistic values, and self-love involves ego-focused introspection.


Each type of love also comes with distinct features, such as self-acceptance and forgiveness for erotic/lustful inclinations in the case of self-love or unwavering faith coupled with ethical practices for the love of God or a Higher power.


Each type of love proposed in Fromm’s theory plays an important role in shaping personalities individually and communities around the globe as a whole.


As individuals, we need to actively nurture these forms by being open and authentic, exploring different facets, being honest about our strengths and weaknesses, and actively working to develop those skills.


In other words, no form of affection diminishes the value of another. The key to personal growth and positive interactions is achieving balance through individual development, which then extends outward to enhance understanding and positivity in all interactions.


Including different types of love in our lives can enhance relationships at all levels, giving us a feeling of satisfaction and the ability to promote comfort in our personal and professional growth, despite the differing circumstances and practices surrounding these affections.

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By Viktoriya SusMA PhilosophyViktoriya is a writer from L’viv, Ukraine. She has knowledge about the main thinkers. In her free time, she loves to read books on philosophy and analyze whether ancient philosophical thought is relevant today. Besides writing, she loves traveling, learning new languages, and visiting museums.