The Science of Love: How Our Brain Evolved to Create Attachment and Fulfilling Relationships
Love is one of the most complex, profound phenomenon known to us humans.
It’s something that poets, artists and philosophers have long tried to explain.
Yet, scientists too can offer valuable insight into why and how we love.
Experts Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini and Richard Lannon dare to explore this challenging territory in their book A General Theory of Love.
The authors discuss how our brains evolved over time to enable us to form attachments with others, as well as how our adult relationships may be affected by our childhood experiences.
They also give insight into the role psychotherapy plays in helping us rewire our brains and develop healthy relationships, offering such potential benefits as reducing severe emotional pain for some people who self-harm.
They even differentiate between loving someone and being in love with them.
All in all, A General Theory of Love offers a unique perspective on human connections; delving deep into our biology and psychology in order to discover what science can teach us about why
How the Human Brain Evolved Over Millennia: Shedding Light on Relationships
The development of the human brain over thousands of years can be seen in its three subsections – Reptilian Brain, Limbic Brain, and Neocortex.
The Reptillian Brain lies at the top of the spinal cord and controls our most basic biological functions and impulses, such as instinct and survival instincts.
Further down is the Limbic Brain, where you can find parts such as the amygdala which are responsible for producing fear.
This part of the brain was crucial to the evolution of mammals as it gave them increased emotional attachment with their young unlike reptiles.
Finally, there is the Newest Brain or Neocortex which accounts for higher-level thinking abilities like reasoning and planning.
This three-part structure of human brains allows us to understand why we act so differently in different social situations due to these evolved parts – from pure instinct to careful thought!
Love and Attachment Are Controlled by Neurotransmitters in the Brain
It’s a common misconception that feelings of love and attachment come from something mysterious and profound.
However, in reality, these emotions are actually the result of chemical reactions in our brains.
Neurotransmitters like serotonin, oxytocin, and opiates all play a role in how deeply we feel attached to another person.
Serotonin can reduce both anxiety and depression while providing relief from the pain of losing someone you were close to.
People stuck in an unhappy relationship may find it helpful to increase their levels of serotonin through antidepressant medications like Prozac.
Oxytocin is released during childbirth and is therefore responsible for the bond between mother and child.
It also contributes to feeling attachments throughout life too.
Studies have shown that species like voles display more social behavior when exposed to higher levels of this neurotransmitter whereas creatures like montane voles generally demonstrate less connection as they practice promiscuity commonly abandoning their young.
Pain and Opiates: How Our Brain Helps Us Deal with Emotional Suffering
Natures of humans, and indeed a lot of animals, is that they prefer to avoid physical and/or emotional pain.
And one shot in the arm when it comes to reducing both these discomforts comes courtesy of the neurotransmitter known as opiates.
Opiates are remarkable in the way they are able to not only reduce physical pain but also provide some reprieve from emotional suffering as well.
This dual capability found in opiates can be traced back to when our limbic system was first established.
With it came with it a need for mammals to become strongly attached to each other and adequately deal with the pain that strikes when an attachment is lost.
As the brain had already developed an efficient system for experiencing and relieving physical pain (through its production of opiates), this same chemical system was adapted for dealing with emotional suffering too.
The possibilities don’t end there as darker implications arise too; namely that this double function of opiates might even underpin why certain people opt for self-harm whenever feeling emotionally distressed.
Many adolescents who resort to cutting themselves tend to do so out of a desire to escape their internal trauma caused by difficult social situations they find themselves in.
By feeding their brains those pain signals, it helps stimulate it into releasing more opiates which has a twofold effect; on top providing them some relief from their physical wounds, any lingering emotional distress is alleviated too.
The Power of Attractors: How Our Experiences Shape Our Perception and Attachment
Our brains are built to connect the memories we build through our life experiences.
These connections form what are known as Attractors, and they play an important role in how we learn, experience, perceive, and even feel.
For example, when reading text, if you spot a typo (like “taht” instead of “that”) it’s largely due to an Attractor which governs perception by linking your memory of the correct spelling and prompting the autocorrect of any misshapen letters or typos perceived.
Thanks to the presence of these Attractors in the human brain, readers can understand a scrawl like “H” being mistaken for “A” as “house.”
The same is true when it comes to feelings such as attachment.
When it comes to this emotion, Attractors help us form ideals according to our life experiences, and so they dictate how attachment is experienced and towards whom it is felt most intensely.
In short, the connections in our brains – the Attractors – inform both our memories and feelings depending on those connections that were established earlier on in life.
The Key to Lifelong Emotional Growth: Forming Healthy Connections with Others
Attachment is essential for us all to emotionally develop.
From a newborn, who hasn’t picked up the necessary skills needed in order to live life, to an adult who needs stability and trust in his or her relationships – attachment plays a vital role.
The premise for emotional development starts with the limbic brain of a newborn infant being completely unregulated.
That’s why it’s so important for infants to have their mothers around – to help them construct their ideal emotional prototype which will guide them as they make further emotional experiences in life.
Just take it from the example of a toddler falling on grass – if his mother expresses concern and worry, he will experience those same emotions himself and start crying; however, if she expresses amusement at the fall, he can even laugh along with her.
What this shows us is that we have an innate power of connection with other people that continues on into adulthood which helps shape our emotions and continue growing both mentally and emotionally.
All we need are solid connections which can start with family but can extend onto other close relationships such as our intimate partners and best friends.
How Psychotherapy Can Help Us Break Unfavorable Emotional Programming from Childhood
When it comes to our emotional well-being, the way we experienced relationships during childhood can influence our ability to form and maintain relationships as adults.
This “emotional programming” can be passed down through generations, leading to less than favorable outcomes.
Fortunately, psychotherapy is a tool that can help us rewire our brains and alter our “attractors.” We do this by engaging in limbic revision – basically, reconfiguring the network of attractors so that we are able to make healthier decisions when selecting friends and romantic partners.
With long-term therapy, it is possible to change our brains for the better and optimize how we connect emotionally.
To put it simply, psychotherapy helps us to see beyond green – enabling us to open up a much wider range of experiences and relationships in our lives.
Love is Flawed Yet Enduring: How Being in Love Leads Us to Believe in the Impossible
Our culture perpetuates the myth that being in love and loving are one and the same thing.
Unfortunately, this fallacy can lead to an incredibly disappointing reality when we come face-to-face with the truth: that love is fleeting.
The feeling of being in love is indeed very intoxicating; it makes us believe that our partner will be the only one for us – leading us to be riveted to them both emotionally and physically.
We become extremely devoted to them, blocking out or disregarding any other aspect of our lives that don’t directly relate with them.
But this idea of eternal ‘happily ever afters’ – so often portrayed in books, films, TV shows etc.
– is an illusory suggestion that fails to recognize the eventuality that a period of being in love must end eventually as it merely serves as a prelude to true loving which envisions long-term attachment and commitment between two people rather than sheer infatuation.
This crushing bombshell certainly isn’t something anyone wants their hearts (or heads) wrapped up in; yet despite knowing better, couldn’t help but trust in those false impressions sold by today’s media culture.
Loving Requires Time and Intimacy to Create a Powerful Limbic Connection
When two people love each other deeply, something remarkable happens.
Over time, as they get to know each other in more and more intimate ways, both of their brain structures begin to change – so much so that they are able to sense the world in the same way.
This is known as a “limbic attunement” and it occurs between those who have developed a strong emotional connection with one another.
When this happens, it can be said that “A part of me is gone,” because the two individuals have become intertwined in such a way that it’s almost like losing an appendage or limb.
The attractions and networks that had been established become shared as the couple grows closer over time.
By understanding how this limbic attunement works and why we experience it when we lose someone we love, The General Theory of Love is able to shed light on why adult love requires more than just being in love – and instead requires long-term intimacy between two people.
The final takeaway from The General Theory of Love is that to create meaningful, loving relationships with others, it’s important to take the time to nurture and understand our own emotional state.
We should strive to separate the feeling of being ‘in love’ from the genuine act of loving, and gain a sense of understanding about our own feelings.
Additionally, it’s important for us to put in the effort of creating and maintaining profound empathic connections with others; not just romantic partners or friends, but also therapists.
If we can learn how to nurture these types of connections and truly develop an understanding for ourselves emotionally that allows us to form healthy relationships with others, then we can reap all the benefits that meaningful relationships have to offer.