Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Understanding the Psychology of Romantic Love - Part II

The following blog is actually going to tie-in to two of my previous blogs: 1) The Biology of "Heaven" and 2) Understanding the Psychology of Romantic Love - Part I. So if you have not read both of those yet you might want to.

I will sub-title this blog: The Biology of "Falling In Love"

For a quick review: As the movie "What the 'Bleep' Do We Know?" points out, the hypothalamus is our body's own "chemical/drug factory", and each emotion is communicated through the body via a unique chemical or chain of peptides.  Joy, sorrow, embarrassment, anger, ecstasy, anxiety, fear, frustration, awe, fascination, curiosity, sexual arousal, love, etc. etc., etc. - every emotional/psychological state you can imagine has its own unique chemical formula. So what your body feels - what you experience as your emotional state is actually the effects of these chemicals traveling to all of your cells and linking up with appropriately matched receptors on those cells, causing additional biochemical reactions within those cells, etc., etc.

As it turns out, it is just as easy to become "addicted" to the chemical/drug patterning of your own body as it is to get addicted to drugs that you take in from outside of your body.  And in order to satisfy the addictive demands of that patterning, each of us will seek out or be drawn to conditions that cause us to experience the same emotions, over and over again, positive or negative, for better or worse.

Upon further consideration, I realized that (apparently) in the last several years I have been consciously conditioning my body, my hypothalamus in particular, to produce "happy" drugs.  And, in effect, I've become "addicted" to Being Happy, naturally. : )) (And that's why I add emoto-smileys to my writing all the time. : )) (See, I just did it again! : )) (Okay, I'm going to stop now . . . .) Granted, this does not mean I ALWAYS FEEL HAPPY, but it is definitely my Preferred State and a) I really do notice the difference when I am feeling "happy" and when I am feeling something else, and b) I generally know how to get myself back to Feeling Happy when I make a conscious choice to do so.

As I began to more closely observe my emotional states, and especially my desires to experience certain emotional states, I began to wonder:  Where are these desires coming from?  What are the underlying chemical patterns that my body is still "addicted" to and under what conditions did they originate?

My first real insight in answering these questions came as a consequence of a relationship I entered into with someone I met online.  After some time e-mailing back and forth we eventually met, and spent some time together, and not too long after that became intimate, etc., etc. After a fairly short time being in the relationship, I found myself longing to "fall in love", to "let myself" take that "plunge". 

Now, it may seem odd to some of you reading this that I was even thinking about "falling in love" as a matter of conscious choice. You may ask, "Isn't 'falling in love' something that just 'happens' to people . . . unconsciously?"

Most of the time, I would say, "Yes".  However, many, many years ago I read, The Road Less Traveled , by M. Scott Peck, so I was already aware of "nature's little trick" as he described it; i.e. the tendency for our "ego-boundaries" to "collapse" spontaneously under certain circumstances, thus giving us the "feeling of oneness with each other" which might motivate us to mate and produce offspring.  As a consequence, I had started observing this mechanism within myself and had learned a certain degree of control over my "urge to merge". Thus it had become more of a matter of choice for me. However, with my new understanding of biochemical patterning, and the "addictive" nature of that patterning, I began to realize that wasn't the real issue; i.e. "falling in love" consciously vs. "falling in love" unconsciously.  No, the real issue was "Why?" Why did I want to "fall in love"? Why did I want to feel "merged" with my partner?  Maybe even more importantly:  Did I need to feel "merged" with my partner to JUSTIFY loving him? In other words, did I have to feel "in love" in order "to love"?  

Once I got to that question, I already new the answer, which was, "No, absolutely not." I knew I knew how to love without having to "fall in love". Nevertheless, those other "Why" questions remained unanswered.  Why was there this deep longing to feel "merged" with the other person and why was it so closely associated in my mind (and body) with "loving" that other person? Where had I felt that kind of "oneness" before and why was it so compelling? Then the puzzle pieces fell into place...

In the process of writing a research paper on "Childhood Depression", I came across a study of specific family relationship patterns that predisposed children to depression later in life. The one pattern that caught my attention in particular was called "enmeshment"; i.e. when the child is "enmeshed" with the primary caregiver, usually the mother.  In this case there are no significant ego-boundaries between the mother and the child; in effect, the child becomes a mere extension of the mother's or primary caregiver's ego.  As I have alluded to in previous posts here regarding my life story with my mother, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that my mother and I were "enmeshed" - totally - pretty much from the time I was born.

And that was my primary love relationship for the early part of my life right up through adolescence.  It was the context in which I experienced what my mother called love, over and over again.  But, as I think I have tried to explain before, she was not loving me for "me"; she was loving a totally dependent and willing object onto which she projected her own self-image; her own ego; in effect she was only 'loving' herself, which is one of the recognized traits of a narcissistic personality, and that is often associated with schizophrenia.   

I came to the conclusion that my original psychological patterning with my mother was also reflected on a biochemical level, and that pattern was reinforced over roughly 20 years; plenty of time for it to become "addictive", but more so for it to feel "comfortable" and "normal" for me, even desirable.

I suspect the tradeoff for my true emotional and psychological autonomy was a sense of security, although all of that was constantly being contradicted by my mother's paranoid fears. The more I think of what a complicated emotional, psychological mess I was really in, the more I understand why it has been so difficult for me to sort it all out and be able to experience truly functional and loving relationships as an adult . . . but I haven't given up yet! : ))

I have learned from Avatar Adi Da that one way of expressing love is simply to Be Happy around others, whether they are strangers or intimates; to consciously and literally embody and/or manifest Divine Consciousness as Love-Bliss-Happiness in all relationships and under all conditions. And, although I'm not yet perfect at it, that's what I intentionally do on a regular basis now. By recognizing yet another potentially limiting emotional/ psychological/ biochemical pattern in my body-mind, I have also been given the opportunity to transcend it. 

I know for a fact that my relationship with my mother was a fairly extreme version of "enmeshment" and resulted primarily from her having very serious mental problems.  However, what I have come to understand about schizophrenia and other extreme mental disorders is that they are part of a continuum, a continuum which includes greater and lesser degrees of similar patterning.

For instance, it is a very natural and normal phenomenon for a mother to form a very strong bond with her newborn child.  In addition, it is well known in psychology that it takes several months of development outside of the womb before the infant starts to experience itself as being fundamentally separate from the mother.  The length of time may vary significantly with respect to when the mother is prepared to "let go of" that very close relationship with her child and give the child the emotional and psychological space they need to develop as individuals.

In other words, even without abnormal enmeshment, and in the absence of some very unusual circumstance where that bond may not develop normally between the mother or primary caregiver and the newborn, just about every human being will experience a period of time during their infancy when they feel "one" with the "other".

Furthermore, given the food taking and nurturance that is experienced in that context, the "feeling of oneness" carries with it many positive associations. Consequently, it is perfectly natural for each of us to want to repeat that experience, and that desire is reinforced by our biochemical patterning. I dare say this is one of the great foundations of the "myth of romantic love". Even Plato's description of the two halves, male and female, finally finding their "wholeness" in intimate union may stem from Plato's latent memories of "oneness" with his own mother while he, himself, was an infant.

People throughout history and up to the current day identify with this idea because, except for unusual cases where the child does not receive early nurturance, we have all had a similar experience as infants and we all carry within us that latent memory and desire as a biochemical imprint. Furthermore, research into the role of Oxytocin as a primary "bonding chemical" would suggest that there are certainly evolutionary benefits to having a chemical reinforcer for the "bonds" we make with others and the feeling we experience when we have oxytocin flowing through our systems.

Nevertheless, there is So Much More to making a long-term intimate relationship work than merely experiencing a rush of chemicals every now and then. Furthermore, getting to experience that every once in a while does not, and cannot, counteract all the negative thinking/chemical patterning a person might otherwise be perpetuating.

It kind of comes back to how responsible you are for Your Own Happiness - FIRST; as in...How You Consciously Choose to Feel in contrast to how you might wait for circumstances outside yourself, or some "other person" outside yourself to stimulate a particular feeling in you.

If your naturally produced "Happy Drug" is the "cake", then sure, "oxytocin" might be the "icing on the cake." Nevertheless, it's a good idea if you have the "cake" taken care of first, because trying to get by on just "icing" will most likely make you sick! : p

So: Here's to "Love" for Real! Not the fleeting, accidental or circumstantial, unconscious "falling in love" kind.

And if you come to the conclusion that you are "addicted to falling in love" then, stay-tuned, as I have yet another story to share that might just help you with that.

Until Next Time...

Peace! : ))