Tag Archives: love is a mental illness

Book Recommendation #3

Love Sick: Love as a Mental Illness

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Finally, A Book on Love That Isn’t Self-Help, Sappy or Full of Stereotypes!

No one likes to admit they read self-help books. I sure don’t. And since I’m a guy, I’m even more reluctant to pick up a book concerning love. But what’s great about this book is its overarching academic tone that makes it much more accessible without feeling that guilt or shame of being a hopeless romantic looking to books for advice.

Have you ever been rejected by someone you really loved? Have you ever had to reject someone that really loved you? Very few escape it all-encompassing wrath. The book describes the experience of being in love akin to a mental illness – obsessive thoughts, erratic mood swings, weird impulses, delusions, the inability to concentrate – and I absolutely agree with his analysis. The  roller coaster ride of ecstasy and despair, rapture and grief encapsulates my experiences with my ex to an uncanny degree. Why do we fall in love? What is love for? Do all cultures see love the same way? If you want to know the answers to these questions, I highly recommend reading this book. On the other hand, if you’re wanting to know how to fall in love or how to deal with people who are in love, you should look elsewhere. If you’re looking for answers to those kinds of questions, you won’t find them here.

Perhaps the most noteworthy part of this book is its last chapter. Psychiatrically speaking, love and its symptoms can be objectively classified as a mental illness. And while many authors tend to embrace a patronizing stance on the matter and prescribe their own “cure” for the “problem,” this kind of pejorative interpretation reflects nothing more than our own socially constructed attitudes. This author instead embraces love as a mental illness wholeheartedly as part of the human condition.  Our extraordinary susceptibility to love suggests that it is somehow an adaptive trait. The author maintains that love, even if it’s categorized in modern times as a mental illness, it is an evolutionary advantage.

Reviews

“Very good book. I can very much recommend this to two groups in particular; Those who love psychology and those in unrequited love. It will be of great interest to one and of great inspiration to the other.” – Graham

“This is a very well-written, thorough exploration of how romantic love has been experienced and regarded throughout history in different cultures. Drawing on an impressive store of knowledge of history, literature and psychology, the author makes a very persuasive case that romantic love is an evolutionary adaptation to encourage pair-bonding of sufficient length for the male of the species to participate in protecting and providing for offspring…” -INTJ

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Love is a Mental Illness – Part 3: Why Love is Necessary For Human Survival

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Left To Their Own Accord, The Human Race Would Cease To Exist

When humans gained their prefrontal cortex, it was a tremendous boon for the human species. The ability to differentiate among conflicting thoughts, future consequences of current activities, working towards a defined goal, predicting outcomes, and the ability to control urges, are all moderated by the amazing prefrontal cortex.

But this was a problem for nature and the future of the human species. If humans were always in a rational state of mind and had the ability to easily overcome emotions or urges, no one would want to have babies. Think about it: Raising children is a huge drain on our individual resources. Not just time and money, but our mental and emotional resources too. Not only do we have to feed this baby, clothe it, and provide shelter for it, when it reaches the age of twelve, they start hating you for no apparent reason. They start demanding that you buy them clothes with esoteric logos that makes them “unique.” They think they know everything and can live independently on their own. They talk, yell, and scream back at you. And when they’re finally 18, you have to refinance your mortgage because your kid is compelled to go to this place called college, which is essentially a 4-year-long party for most kids who attend. Who, in their rational mind, would want to put up with that?

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If we could take the essence of nature, or evolution – I’m using both terms synonymously – and give it a voice we could understand, we would probably hear it saying “OH F*CK” when it realized people wouldn’t want to procreate anymore after doing a rational cost-benefit analysis. What essentially gave humans the ultimate edge in the world would simultaneously lead to their demise if nothing was done about it.

A serious problem, if evolution’s goal was to have organisms procreate into perpetuity successfully. They needed to break the humans’ rationality; not disassemble it completely, because that would be a waste of many millions of years of evolutionary work, but just enough so the species can reproduce without thinking so much about the burden of parenthood. What nature ingeniously came up with was temporary insanity, or what we would nowadays call it: Love.

Once someone becomes enraptured by love, they are no longer the calculating, rational being we once were. They are overcome by madness, thinking about this one person day and night; when they wake up in the morning, as they brush their teeth, as they work, as they eat dinner, as they fall asleep. They shower this one person with gifts. Even the most linguistically and culturally challenged person is able to sudden gain the ability to sing and write poems for this person. In the throes of love and passion, they dismiss the use of contraception even after years of being taught about its importance. Love is an obsession. Love is expensive. Love is time-consuming. Love is wasteful. Love is irrational. But love is necessary.

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Love is nature’s way getting what it wants: progeny. It inflicts us with temporary insanity, not enough to incapacitate us completely, but just enough to have us mate, procreate, and continue the human race. The conflict between intellect and evolutionary objectives does not arise in animals because they simply follow instinct. When it comes to sexual reproduction, they become automata – females go into heat, they release pheromones, the males go crazy for them, they mate, and the species continues. And to a large extent, this is what happens to us too. But the fact that we can self-reflect and rebel has necessitated the evolution of a safety mechanism. This safety mechanism throws reason and rationality out the window and enslaves us, albeit temporarily, to our primitive mating instincts. This is love. It is a drive created by evolution to ensure the continuation of our species. 

Love is not merely an unstable state of mind, it is a drive – perhaps even more powerful than the sex drive. If you ask someone to go to bed with you, and they say “no thank you,” you certainly don’t kill yourself or slip into a clinical depression. But around the world, people who are rejected in love will kill for it. People live for love, they kill for love, and they certainly die for love.

Sources:

Love Sick: Love as a Mental Illness

Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love

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Love is a Mental Illness: Part 2 – An Evolutionary Adaptation

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What is Love? vs. What is Love for?

Let’s take a brief look at Darwin’s theory of evolution. His theory suggests that traits and characteristics that arise from random genetic mutations are passed on from one generation to the next if these traits are advantageous to the survival of the species. In competitive environments, those who are better equipped to survive are more likely to produce offspring. Thus, beneficial traits will gradually appear with greater frequency, while useless or redundant traits will gradually diminish and eventually disappear. Memory, language, emotion and consciousness all serve some sort of function, resulting from the many millions of years of natural selection. All of these traits had to have some sort of beneficial advantage over those who did not possess these abilities or traits. The psychological state of mind that we call love should also, therefore, serve some kind of function to make us more adaptive.

Men and women are fundamentally different from one another. But please, before you whip out that feminist cudgel and start beating me with it, keep in mind that I’m speaking strictly in the sense of biological reproduction, not social roles in society. The optimal strategy for reproductive success is not the same for men as it is for women and so, some conflict of interest is inevitable. A male can increase his chances of reproductive success by simply having more sex and impregnating more women. A women’s reproductive success, on the other hand, is severely limited by biological factors. She has a very limited number of eggs compared to the amount of sperm men produce, and she cannot carry more than one fetus in the womb at a time (usually). In a hunter-gatherer society that humans lived in for most of their existence, resources were ridiculously scarce. Since women were going to be nearly incapacitated when she is carrying for a child, both in the womb and several years afterwards, she needed to be picky and choose that one mate that would give her the best odds of delivering and nurturing a healthy offspring.

Although, it may seem like men are less inclined to be faithful than females, the human race has evolved such that both males and females have to expend a great deal of energy on their young in order for them to survive. A pattern of promiscuous couplings and swift departures would have translated into less reproductive success for human males. Genes that produced promiscuous behavior would be strongly associated with infant mortality, which would translate into fewer offspring, and effectively diminishing them from the gene pool. In contrast, monogamous pairs that direct and expend their energy into one mate and one offspring have a higher likelihood of raising their vulnerable offspring into sexual maturity. Thus, natural selection has shaped us into a predominately monogamous species.

Love Helps Our Species Survive

Love organizes our behavior in such a way that compliments monogamous pairings, which, as mentioned before, increases the likelihood of reproductive success. One of the most prominent symptoms of people who are in love is obsession. The most obvious similarity between someone with OCD and people who have fallen in love is their inability to govern the contents of their own mind. Thoughts and images of loved ones enter our awareness and cannot be dismissed. Lovers ruminate, worrying excessively about the relationship not ‘working out,‘ or read into every little detail of their partner for hints of infidelity to the point of paranoia. But how is this adaptive?

We tend to view obsession in modern times as problematic and disruptive, it is actually an evolutionary advantage. Obsession works so that we do not easily forget our mate and makes us focus our energy and resources on that one person. Resource allocation is vital to both parties and if the male cannot remember which woman is carrying their progeny, well, he has other problems. But the bottom line is that if he cannot focus his energy on one mate and spreads his resources thin, the chances of him having a successful offspring are greatly reduced.

Sources:

Love Sick: Love as a Mental Illness

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Is Love a Mental Illness?

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Falling In Love

The expression “falling in love” is ubiquitous in our culture. People say it all the time – I find it somewhat annoying. As a society, we seem to relish the experience of falling in love and I have no doubt that if you were to ask a tween or teenage girl if she wants to fall in love, they would unanimously say “yes.” It seems like a happy, romantic thing, but if you think about it, the phrase actually maintains a negative connotation. People usually “fall in” a hole, a rut, a trap, or a pile of poop. No one ever says I “fell in” a job, a friendship, a goal, or a pile of money. You are hired for a job. You build a friendship. You attain a goal. You dance in a pile of money. This suggests, quite accurately, that we fall in love like we fall over, by accident rather than by design.

So, logically, shouldn’t we try to avoid falling in love like trying to avoid driving into a pothole? Why would anyone welcome the agony and misery that love usually accompanies?  Are all humans either hopeless romantics or closet masochists?

Love vs. Limerence?

If love and limerence were twins, love would be the caring, loving and loyal twin, while limerence would be its unwanted doppelganger, anxious, obsessive, and irrational. It’s not unusual for love to start off as limerence but it would be wise to understand the subtle differences between them and act accordingly. Limerence is a similar state of mind like love, which comes from a romantic attraction to another person but he or she is preoccupied by an overwhelming obsessive need to have their feelings reciprocated. There is no established precondition for limerence, but research suggests that there is a high rate of coincidence between limerence, and dysfunctional attachment environments in childhood. What this means is that individuals who had parents that neglected or abused them would have a higher chance of experiencing limerence.

The symptoms of limerence are also very similar to drug addiction, probably because they both involve the same dopamine-using pleasure circuit of the brain. When you first start dating, you feel great pleasure being with your potential lover; similar to the first few times you use cocaine or heroin. However, you soon realize that you don’t feel the same high you once did when you first started the relationship. As the addiction to your partner progresses, tolerance, dependence, and cravings emerge, and the euphoria that was once felt gradually diminishes. It’s a double whammy. You need more and more attention from your partner to feel good but you derive less and less pleasure from it. Eventually, being together no longer produces much pleasure and the liking for your partner becomes a need for you to function normally. If you are a coffee addict like me, you know what I’m talking about. Days when I don’t drink coffee is almost always unproductive and I am much more irritable and tired.

Love As Humanity’s Greatest Illusion

The intense, euphoric pleasure that comes with falling in love is simultaneously accompanied by several distortions in the brain brain. When in love, there is heavy deactivation of the prefrontal cortex, the judgment center of the brain, as well as deactivation at the temporal poles and parietotemporal junction, regions that are involved in social cognition. These patterns of activation and deactivation in the brain resemble those who are diagnosed with, unsurprisingly, obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Why Do We Love?

Like everything else, attraction, arousal, and love, are the products of millions of years of finely tuned biological engineering. And there’s really only one goal behind the engineering—to get you to have sex.

Falling and staying in love—the pair bonding that keeps a couple together long enough to have, raise, and care for children—almost certainly involves chemical processes that are a product of millions of years of evolution.

Across most animal species, male reproductive success hinges on mass distribution, and female reproductive success depends on careful selection and conservation. Sperm are small and continually replenished. Eggs, on the other hand, are large and precious. To put it more bluntly, sperm are cheap and eggs are expensive. Therefore, from an evolutionary standpoint, the best way for a male to increase his odds of passing his genes on is to distribute his sperm as widely as possible among fertile females. Females, on the other hand, have an interest in seeking partners who will give her the healthiest offspring so that the huge investment her body makes in pregnancy and child-rearing is worth it.

That’s the way it is in most species; they’re polygamous. But it would be foolish to believe in such genetic determinism. Knowing our biological weaknesses can help us overcome them and have fulfilling and long-lasting monogamous relationships. You could say, “Oh, it is just my DNA, and I am going to ignore it.” We all heard that line before and it’s a pathetic excuse. Biology is not destiny.

Genetic tendencies can influence our behavior, but we have the capacity to exercise control over our impulses. Similarly, you can choose to be a vegetarian for moral and ethical reasons but that smell of crispy bacon wafting in the air will still make you salivate just the same.

Conclusion

You want to know what the magic ingredient to a good relationship? Understanding. Realize that it may not be possible to completely escape evolution’s grasp. So what can we do? Be open and adapt. Understand what you like, and why you like it. Learning about the influences that millions of years of trial and error have played in our evolution as a species can bring us closer to breaking free from instincts and make informed choices. The more we understand how love works, the greater the opportunity we have to enjoy one of evolution’s greatest gifts.

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