a personal review of “A general theory of love”
tags /limbic-system /posts tagged with the above term(s)
A relationship that strays from one’s prototype is limbically equivalent to isolation. Loneliness outweighs most pain. These two facts collude to produce one of love’s common and initially baffling quirks: most people will choose misery with a partner their limbic brain recognizes over the stagnant pleasure of a “nice” relationship with someone their attachment mechanisms cannot detect. Consider the young man described in the last chapter wrestling with the present-day reenactment of the long-ago love with his fiery, critical mother. As an adult, he faces a binary universe. If he connects with a woman, she turns out to be his mother’s younger clone. But a supportive woman leaves him exasperatingly empty of feeling—no spark, no chemistry, no fireworks.
If a parent loves him in the healthiest way, wherein his needs are paramount, mistakes are forgiven, patience is plentiful, and hurts are soothed as best they can be, then that is how he will relate to himself and others. Anomalous love—one where his needs don’t matter, or where love is suffocating or autonomy intolerable—makes its ineradicable limbic stamp. Healthy loving then becomes incomprehensible.
Adults remain social animals: they continue to require a source of stabilization outside themselves. That open-loop design means that in some important ways, people cannot be stable on their own—not should or shouldn’t be, but can’t be. This prospect is disconcerting to many, especially in a society that prizes individuality as ours does. Total self-sufficiency turns out to be a daydream whose bubble is burst by the sharp edge of the limbic brain. Stability means finding people who regulate you well and staying near them.
Remove a mother hamster’s whole neocortex and she can still raise her pups, but even slight limbic damage devastates her maternal abilities. Limbic lesions in monkeys can obliterate the entire awareness of others.