Love is a drug … love is all … love is what you want it to be …
I LOVE YOU
“the smallest acts of kindness can make the greatest impressions of love” – Jess Johnson
Love elates the mind, lack of love dulls the mind, and broken love can break the mind. Love is a pain, love hurts, love is not enough, love is crazy, love lifts me up, love is sweet, love is in the air … There is romantic love, platonic love, forever love … Love is an emotion, but what does it do – scientifically – to the mind?
The Psychiatry Advisor website uses the definition of love from the 2001 book A General Theory of Love by psychiatry professors Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini, and Richard Lannon: ‘Our nervous systems are not separate or self-contained; beginning in earliest childhood, the areas of our brain identified as the limbic system (hippocampus, amygdala, anterior thalamic nuclei, and limbic cortex) is affected by those closest to us (limbic resonance) and synchronises with them (limbic regulation) in a way that has profound implications for personality and lifelong emotional health.’ Closeness and synchronicity with others are therefore important components of love. Clinical psychologist and author Dr Tian Dayton says love is about ‘attachment and attunement’ – which mirror ‘closeness and synchronicity.’
Dr Tian Dayton says when we are in love, we take care of ourselves and we want to make something of our lives; what happens in the external world becomes tolerable – love brings sanity and strength to ‘face what we have to face, to feel what we have to feel.’
Much has been written about love. Brain scans give indications of what love does to the brain – initially, at the first signs of a relationship with someone, serotonin increases the feelings of obsession, and dopamine increases the ‘feel-good’ infatuation effect. During the first year of a relationship, serotonin and dopamine in the brain settle down, while oxytocin increases – this is the neurotransmitter associated with a calmer, more mature form of love. Jess Johnson at All Points North says oxytocin is associated with:
- establishing bonds
- raising the immune function
- decreasing depression
- lowering blood pressure
- decreasing stress
- stimulating positive social interactions
- promoting growth and healing.
A positive love environment continues to activate oxytocin in the brain. Not only love – oxytocin is continuously activated during people-to-people transfers of support, warmth, and empathy. Animal-to-people too! Oxytocin satisfies cravings in a healthy way, and therefore reduces cravings for ‘addictive’ things, such as sugar, alcohol, and drugs. Oxytocin also reduces withdrawal symptoms.
What is a positive love environment?
The All Points North website says a positive love environment – healthy love – is about mutual support, understanding, and respect in romantic, platonic, family, or friendship relationships. Healthy love allows individuals to evolve and does not negatively prevent daily functioning in our lives. Healthy love is about:
- Trust, security, and safety
- Communication that reduces misunderstandings and moves forward after a disagreement
- Patience and space to process emotions
- Empathy to willingly see another person’s perspective – understanding them instead of seeing to be understood
- Affection and interest in the other person through words of affirmation, physical touch, acts of service, and quality time
- Adaptability to compromise and be flexible, adjusting to changing factors and finding ways to solve problems as a team
- Appreciation and gratitude – and seeing the good in the other person and in yourself
- Learning and growing through a willingness to challenge yourself individually and as a team
- Respect through communicating lovingly and being mindful of the other person’s wants and needs
- Reciprocity through similar levels of sharing so that the give-and-take is not one-sided.
If love occurs through closeness and synchronicity, what then is the lack of love? Social isolation? The American Health and Human Services links social isolation ‘clearly’ to higher rates of depression and anxiety.
Love stems from feelings and emotions. It can happen quickly or it can develop slowly. The smallest acts of kindness can make the greatest impressions of love, says All Points North.
Psychologists say ‘love-at-first-sight’ can last for years or forever, or it can extinguish as quickly as it began. Gradual love burns slowly, and therefore the initial heat is not as intense as fast love, but the fire lasts longer. Don’t forget about those initial chemicals in the brain with fast love – the brain is full of obsessive and infatuation chemicals in the first few weeks and months!
Self-love is healthy love. Big ego love is not healthy, but self-love is. Psychologists say that the more self-love you have, the more likely you are to establish boundaries, be able to protect yourself and your boundaries, and attract a partner who will do the same. Self-love means that you won’t tolerate toxic people, places, and things, says All Points North.
There is research on a range of topics such as love addiction, obsessive love, codependency, narcissistic love, love bombing, and abusive relationships. Some of these seem like love, depending on how the other person manipulates the relationship. The All Points North website says an unhealthy ‘love’ environment has a ‘pattern of behaviour characterised by a maladaptive, pervasive, and excessive interest towards a partner’ resulting in lack of control, abandoning previous positive interests and activities, not recognising or refusing to recognise inappropriate behaviour, and other negative consequences.
Sometimes the brain cannot differentiate between healthy romantic love and addiction to love. Love activates the dopamine reward chemical and triggers many ‘feel-good’ chemicals – just as addictions do. That’s why it is often difficult to self-correct and get out of an unhealthy love environment – you cannot see what other people can often see. Family members, friends, work colleagues, and associates can usually notice unhealthy relationships.
Being in love does not necessarily address core issues.
“Love, what a rare, inexplicable state of being as well as feeling.” – E.A. Bucchianeri, Vocation of a Gadfly
“When you graduate from “Being in Love” to “Loving Someone” you understand – Love is not about owning, Love is about wanting the best for them. it’s about seeing or helping them achieve great heights, with or without you. Love is not what you say, it’s about what you do.” – Wordions
“I do take very good care of myself, and I’m always in love. And by that, I mean, I have an appetite for life. I’m in love with beauty and things and people and love and being in love, and those things, I think, on the inside, show on the outside.” – Gloria Vanderbilt
“To love and be loved is to feel the sun from both sides.” – David Viscott
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