by M. Haas
What do you think of or feel when you hear or read the word “love?”
Each person has a unique association with love. Some have a negative connotation that spurs cynicism, resentment, and/or bitterness. Others feel joyful & think of their passions, friends, partner, family, and good times. Love is spiritual, emotional, social, and physical. Love makes babies & art, starves people to death, and escalates conflicts & tragedies. Love is a mysterious component of human experience. We all experience love in some way because we all have some idea about what it is & what it’s like to feel.
The following is the writer’s transpersonal understanding of love.
Simplistically, “love” is a word humans created to describe certain kinds of chemical reactions that happen in our brains/bodies, which each person subjectively experiences as feeling “good” or “happy.” Hence, oxytocin, the bonding hormone.
When a person is not personally experiencing love chemical reactions in his/her brain & body, that person can still identify via a third party perspective that a mom holding her baby is love. Naturally, oxytocin is supposed to “bond” them. Just like between a man and his wife, although that’s a different kind of love bond, or like between a follower of Christ and his/her God.
Existentially, there are three types of love. Each kind of love requires a particular neurochemical makeup, hence an appropriate lifestyle & attitude to experience it.
*Agape (ἀγάπη, agápē)
This is deep, redemptive unconditional love for one and all like between a follower of God & God, a Buddhist monk/holy person & humanity. Agape is equanimity.
*Philos / Philia (φιλία, philía)
This is brotherly, communal love like between brethren & fellowship. Platonic love for one’s local community, family, & friends. Love for one’s squad, platoon, team members, or co-workers. (Philosophy = Philos + Sophia = Love of Wisdom)
*Eros (ἔρως érōs)
This is erotic, aesthetic sexual love like the passion between lovers, boyfriends & girlfriends, married partners, prostitutes & clients, or even just masturbation.
Each kind of love has different levels.
In Eros, the love between a prostitute & client (lust, which some people don’t consider love at all) is no where near the same as between a married couple because marriage is long-term & more involved. Still, lust is a low vibratory level of love because love chemical reactions are taking place, albeit short-term and, maybe, never again between those two people. That’s love coping without the existence & prerequisites of higher erotic love. Likewise, masturbation is self-love to alter the same chemicals in the brain to, again, cope without a higher relationship with Eros love.
In Philos, the level of love between a volunteer & nonprofit organization differs from love between a military unit or punk rock band, yet they are all still an expression of brotherly/communal love working toward a specific unifying purpose in being & doing.
In Christian spiritual context, the highest love of all is the unconditional love (Agape) Jesus Christ had for mankind. In Buddhism, it is the love for all of humanity. In Paganism, it’s the love for mother earth & nature. Some humans achieve Agape through devout religious/spiritual practice & example, like the Dali Llama. Albeit, some believe no human can ever achieve as divine & unconditional a love as that which the monistic God (they believe in) has for all of the universe.
These three kinds of love are how humans differentiate love from the expression of the chemicals in our brains and who those chemicals make us into in the journey of life.
A lack of oxytocin, amongst other neurochemicals, means a lack of love experienced in human embodiment. When a person is fearful of or complicated from bonding with other people, we have defined multiple different psychological disorders to explain this.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Reactive Attachment Disorder
Social phobia/Selective mutism
Psychosis (postpartum or schizophrenic)
Each effects personal experience of love, some more severe than others.
All relate to a debilitating extent of poor quality, ill approach, understanding, & expression of communication due to the respective criteria, dynamics, & circumstances of each disorder.
This is why the mentally ill, drug-addicts, & trauma victims can tend to feel ‘unlovable.’ Fear & pain based chemicals (cortisol & adrenaline) are more prevalent. Physical, medical & genetic conditions can also prevent someone from being able to experience oxytocin. A pituitary brain cyst or tumor may inhibit secretion of oxytocin & other hormones of wellbeing. Some women with endometriosis cannot orgasm because endometrial scar tissue causes erotic pleasure to feel painful. Henceforth, a person experiences the grim effects of a lack of genuine bonding from chemical/physical dysfunction.
Psychologically, trauma victims are fearful of love particular to whether they were traumatized in what was supposed to be a loving act or traumatized with no foresight toward a loving act. A rape victim must heal from the trauma of a nonconsensual sexual experience to be able to experience a consensual loving erotic bond. A person who consented, but was naive to realize they were just being used experiences a different stigma toward love (and self.) Likewise, a failed long-term relationship or marriage also stigmatizes one’s associations with love and self.
When a person doesn’t heal all the way, any sexual/romantic experience will likely cause heartache & pain, a resurfacing of the underlying trauma, conditioning, & ill precepts. Thus, many resort to substances or other unhealthy behaviours to suppress dealing with the resurfaced pain & numb themselves. Many continue on and on completely unaware of this.
In terms of the aforementioned mother & her baby, if mom is in a state of postpartum depression or psychosis, her neurochemical makeup is not influential in developing a bond with her child. A schizophrenogenic mother, or otherwise neglectful, injurious & resentful parent, likely results in arrested development of the child when a counterbalance of loving influences are not present.
Suicide is the ultimate expression of being void of love in any form, and/or simultaneously, the ultimate love for death, otherwise non-existence.
Our neurochemical makeup & actions inspired by our neurochemical makeup dictate our will, ability, & resiliency to heal through such disgraces with love and self. Some have the chemical makeup to experience a healthy self & love. Some are working toward that, while others are indifferent, even hopeless. Some have the insight to apprehend this, and some may only have the love to write about love.
In part, love is all around us in many forms thru many perceptions. Love goes unrecognized while another’s love supersedes anything or anyone else. Love is abstract, yet simple. Love is so much more than many of us will ever notice, know, & experience. This life is ours to taste even but a crumb of love’s larger pie.