Home » My Mind To Yours » Feeling The Love

Feeling The Love

What is love? Merriam Webster defines love simply: “feeling of strong or constant affection for a person; attraction that includes sexual desire; the strong affection felt by people who have a romantic relationship; a person you love in a romantic way.”

The ancient Greeks defined love more comprehensively as: eros- passion, longing or romantic love; philia- brotherly love; agape- love for everyone, often equated with spiritual love; ludus- comradery, playfulness or sociability; pragma- love based on practical concerns; and philautia- love of self.

Whichever aspect of love we refer to, the quality and depth of love moves and evolves along a continuum. Idealistic belief in selfless love underlies many faith traditions. Selfless love is tough to achieve in a world where people judge themselves and others in terms of whom, what and how they love. Notions from fictional love stories affect some peoples’ thinking while real life relationships send other people to therapy. One romantic comedy “When Harry Met Sally” follows a couple whose friendship starts in the personal growth section of a Manhattan bookstore. Meeting someone’s gaze across a stack of self-help books might raise those warning flags single people hear they should watch for. Still, because someone does not seek help from books or therapy does not necessarily mean that that someone might not benefit from help.sunset-hands-love-woman

Our first relationships set the tone for the relationships that follow. Neuroscience suggests an individual’s capacity to bond starts developing early, very early indeed.

In the 2016 Academy Award nominated film “Brooklyn,” based on Colm Toibin’s novel “Brooklyn,” an Irish family’s and community’s practical and loving concern for a young woman, Eilis, manifests in their plans for her to immigrate to the United States. With little input in these arrangements, Eilis complies, learns the landscape of her new world, immerses herself in work and school, and eventually finds romantic love. Practical expectations inherent in her old world suddenly thread their way into her new life. Eilis, conflicted but changed, chooses to choose herself.

Practical love often requires self-love to unify the divided worlds within our heads.

One of the first self-help books I read, the 1985 “Women Who Love Too Much” by Robin Norwood, theorizes that people who are habitually attracted to unstable, sometimes dangerous relationships feel this sort of pull because they learned early on to mislabel unsettled feelings and butterflies in the stomach as love. Anxiety is anxiety. Mislabeling anxiety as love keeps people stuck in damaging relationships and causes many people to project insecure dynamics into situations that could be happy, healthy and fun. Attention to the present moment and intentional, deep breathing prevent anxiety. Some of us, when we were children, became anxious trying to sit quietly to please teacher, trying to ignore our senses thinking our senses were bad distractions. Our senses are good. Our physical senses inform our brains.

We are just starting to appreciate brain health.

Some new studies find very high rates of traumatic brain injury among people in prison and people who have experienced domestic violence. What we think about anything, including love, depends on how well we analyze information. New cognitive research suggests that situational and time pressure, intoxication and distractions such as intrusive noise block the higher, later-to-mature pre-frontal cortex, leaving stressed people to assess and respond to life’s challenges guided by the primal, simplistic amygdala. Good love requires good instincts and the ability to think for ourselves while always understanding that those we love are individuals thinking their own thoughts.

I think of love as natural biochemical energy that grows and filters into our individual lives according to conditions prevalent in the environments around us. We feel the love if we can perceive love. Our feelings around and about love may change; some realities never change. Our minds, feet and everything in between are interconnected and designed to keep us safe, and, for a time, to bring us together for reproducing. My Google search for Merriam Webster’s definition of love listed the subcategories: “hip-hop love,” and “love and mental illness.”

The National Alliance on Mental Illness’s definition of mental illness is a condition that impacts a person’s thinking, feeling or mood and may affect his or her ability to relate to others and function on a daily basis.” Too much, too little or misguided feelings of what we call love can fit that definition. Many people accept stories about what love should be before they feel what love really is. Sometimes, we need to redefine our terms.

Our notions of love grow and evolve with us. Research shows, we grow best, happiest and healthiest with love.

Debra Merryweather