Psychology of Love

Haven’t we all heard and read enough about the concept called love— in Shakespeare stories, in Neruda’s poetry and in countless sappy movies? We know the concept exists since man came into existence. Compassion is the fundamental aspect of life. Sometimes it is limited to only the biological responses of arousal and sometimes it may be the safety and security of being in one’s presence. The approach of people indulging in this concept is generally logic defying or so I’ve seen, be it a love for progeny, a partner or a pet. I don’t like the mystery and surreal philosophy behind it so I wanted to understand the psychology of love and I have tried to explain what I could fathom from all the theories and ideas.

The phenomena has been studied by a lot of psychologists over time and yet not comprehended fully, though some agree now that it is a state of mind or a situation rather than an emotion. A subject can be emotionally attached to an object or a person and the object may reciprocate those feelings or not leading to a positive or negative behavioral impact on the subject. [For the benefit of the reader, there’ll be a lot of mention of this so called subject and object because I couldn’t come up with the right characters to explain a scientific phenomenon.]

It is inconsequential to understand the definition of love but rather important to understand the symptoms. According to University of Maryland psychologist Sandra Langeslag, working with her Dutch associates Peter Muris and Ingmar Franken the “romantic love” has four major symptoms that fall into the categories of behavioural, affective (emotional), cognitive, and physical. It is a combination of both attachment or the feeling of bonding with the object and infatuation or the heady feeling that everyone has experienced once in their life.

Infatuation can aggravate any one of the four symptoms mentioned above because it may lead to feelings pertaining to pleasure, distress, misery or anxiety which can lead to actual physical discomfort. It has been studied by Langeslag’s team that infatuation causes higher arousal levels than attachment and might be the reason for some of the more silly things we do in front of the object of our infatuation. On the other hand, when attachment is strong and secure, the emotions tend to be generally stable. For example, couples who have been together long enough are hardly ever susceptible to fight over trivial matters compared to insecure new lovers who tend to fret about each other’s foibles or detach easily in a tough situation.

In his book, The Colors of Life, John Lee suggested three styles of love and depending in the combination in which they work in the brain, the response towards the subject of one’s love varies. The styles of love in combination are:

  • Three primary styles:
    1. Eros – Loving an ideal person
    2. Ludos – Love as a game
    3. Storge – Love as friendship
  • Three secondary styles:
    1. Mania (Eros + Ludos) – Obsessive love
    2. Pragma (Ludos + Storge) – Realistic and practical love
    3. Agape (Eros + Storge) – Selfless love

I’d like to discuss Freud’s ideas on love in some detail because they are generally more frank. Freud explains the phenomena of love by explaining another phenomenon of sexual over- estimation—the fact that the object of one’s love is exempt from any criticism and its characteristics are valued more than anybody else’s or that of subject’s own self. There tends to be confusion of the perceived merits with actual qualities because of a sensual charm of the object. Person tends to idealize the object of love in the same way as their own ego which means some of the innate narcissistic tendencies flow into the object and in many cases a strong libido is established for the object who fulfills imperfections of the ego.

Freud elucidates that as the sexual over estimation increases, the sentimental passions completely take place of the ego. The traits of self injury are also intensified in most cases and get further aggravated if the sensual claims are withdrawn. Like the above mentioned theories of psychologists, even Freud makes precise distinctions between the so- called love and the infatuations. He says the major distinction is when in love, the ego of the subject enriches itself with the properties of the object whereas in the latter case the ego is impoverished because it has been surrendered to the object.  He compares being in love to hypnosis claiming that in both the degree of subjection, compliance and degree of tolerance towards criticisms of the object are same. Just like the hypnotist, one’s object of love also takes place of the ego ideal and becomes the only concern. It is easier to juxtapose love against hynoticism and not the other way round because everything is clearer and intense in hypnosis and easier to explain to the subject. When one’s ego is replaced by the object the sense of reality is lost to some extent.

After going through all the complex ideas and innumerable TED talks, scientific journals and articles I think that altogether we can fully classify emotions but not understand them. It is one of those science experiments that can only be proven in observation and not understood in theory or concluded objectively but the existence cannot be countered either.

Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage. -Lao Tzu

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