The author Ken Kesey wrote “People think love is an emotion. Love is good sense.” A simple statement but one with quite profound meaning. Love is, indeed, good sense. As social creatures, love is one of the fundamental building blocks in human relationships and society. Without love, our world would be a very different place.
Attachment theory, first introduced by John Bowlby in the late 1960s, highlights how important loving, nurturing relationships are to people. Extensive research into attachment has shown that a child’s brain is shaped by the experience of love and nurture from a primary caregiver such as a parent.
Developments in psychology and neuroscience (the study of the brain) have enabled us to gain a clearer understanding of how the absence of a safe, loving relationship with a parent can lead to significant social and emotional difficulties later on in life. In the foreword to Sue Gerhardt’s excellent book “Why Love Matters”, Steve Biddulph states that “Love is the key to all mental health, intelligence and functioning as a human being. If someone is a great human being, it can only mean one thing. They were loved.”
Love doesn’t just shape us in our formative years. The way in which we are able to love – both giving and receiving love – shapes our own personal identity. Who we love and who loves us is inextricably linked to our sense of self. One only has to look at the disastrous emotional consequences when an individual is denied (or deny themselves) the opportunity to love whoever they please. The increased tolerance shown towards same-sex couples in modern society is, perhaps, testament to this growing understanding that people have a right to seek out love in whatever way they see fit.
Even more significant are benefits that a loving relationship can bring to our mental health. As already mentioned, human beings are social creatures – our greatest achievements and accomplishments are made when we are working together. Loving, stable relationships (whether friendships, familial relationships or sexual partnerships) provide us with valuable networks of support that we can turn to when needed. Positive relationships help us to improve our ability to manage stress – a key protective factor against mental ill-health. Loving relationships can help to reduce anxiety and depression and are often a significant aspect in an individual’s recovery from a period of mental illness.
Love helps to shape our brains. Love helps us find our true identity. Love protects us against mental ill-health and can aid our recovery. With these facts in mind, the Dalai Lama’s words seem a fitting way to end this article:
“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive.”
Taigh Sàmhchair: professional counselling and psychotherapy
Hereward Proops MBACP, registered member of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy
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