“I May Not Be a Smart Man, But I Know What Love Is. “
I can’t remember when I first heard the term “self-love”. Probably some internet meme or post relating to “enlightenment”. Certainly, more than one conversation with past romantic connections who notice my very obvious self-loathing. From the very first time I ever read/ heard it, the term never made sense. But it sure has gained in popularity. However, I am often confused at what people describe as the meaning of, and what “love” is. You can ask 20 different people and get 25 different definitions. Everything from something that seems “magic” and undefinable, to a flavor or a type of basket. But we do have evidence of a much more definitive description/ definition. This post is going to delve into that which we seem to think is so elusive.
East Meets West of Love
For many in this Western self-centered, splintered family, “individualist” society, love is a “thing”. A tangible noun that can be possessed but at the same time “magical” in that it is without any tangible way to detect it. This is of course silly and in direct contradiction to everything that is known and understood about human emotions. It is magic, but it is human magic. Something magnificent and very “human” that is still difficult to simply quantify even as we have learned much about it. Mostly because we all need to believe we are “loved” in order to survive. It is a driving force that has caused wars and created our greatest inventions. Contradictory to cultures where love is more “forced” with elements like arranged marriages and more appreciated with the lack of materialistic enhancements in their lives. There, “love” can be held more sacred and not as easily just abandoned. Part of that is the understanding of sacrifice that is required to sustain a tribe or family.
“Is This (Dopamine, Oxytocin, Adrenaline, Seritonin) Love That I Am Feeling.”
So what is “love”? I went over this before in a post written a few years ago here. I think the post was about “overuse” of the word. Part of that overuse is because there are different perspective. It is like a scientist and an artist describing a beach scene. One focused on the chemical makeup of the sand, the UV rays, and properties of the H2O. While the other describes the feel of the heat of the sun, the beauty of the horizon, and the comfort of the lover laying next to him. Both are accurate, but neither completes a picture.
On a neurochemical level, “love” is when the flood of calming, disarming, antianxiety neurochemicals such as oxytocin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and more discovered routinely in the system that trigger the sensation of being perfectly supplied needs. We sense a pattern that is interpreted as being safe and even necessary, the brain triggers behaviors to ensure that resources remains available. Those first experiences where our caretakers ease our discomfort form the very first sensations of “love”. This is why we find it necessary for dad to be there in the room now, and mom to have the baby placed on her chest ASAP. A newborns every second is a “first time experience”. They are forming those first ideals of what “love means to them.” The chemical rewards associated with the caretakers shuold last a lifetime.
“Calling Doctor Deep Seeded Emotional Triggers”
On a psychological level, love is one of the crude communications that flows between the subconscious and the conscious. When a pattern is identified that we recognize as being something that has in the past supplied pleasure or comfort, we associate that feeling of values to it. We can love anything from another person, to an animal, to objects, to other stimulus. We can love a band, or a type of music. We can love a smell such as coffee in the morning. We can love the taste of a favorite food. We can love the beauty of a sunset. We can love a touch of a warm ray of sunshine on a summer day. When it comes to other people, it is a combination of all these senses. Their voice and their words. We can love the very image of them or seeing them in motion. We can even love things that they have given us that reminds us of them. That is the crude senses, that do not have to be in direct contact. Then there are the “intimate senses” of people close to us. The touch of their flesh pressed against our own. The feel of the hair are all stimulus that paint an emotional picture. The taste of the lips of a lover or the food shared with friends and family. The smell of the cologne or the hints of pheromones that we can hardly detect. The smell of a mom’s cooking that reminds us of the best days of our childhood. These are stimulus that our minds have associated with improving our chances for survival. A baseline that dates back to when we were in the womb and a database we build starting from birth. We see a person or a thing that literally is interpreted to our subconscious as “This is important for our survival”.
In this is the reason why breakups are harder for the one that didn’t see it coming and/ or has not replacement for the benefit given by the association. The person doing the “breaking up” has been desensitizing for some time. The benefit of connections have already been resolved to nominal. This also explains why some people feel so strongly at the breakup that they will do the most irrational things to secure that connection. It is literally “life threatening” to some. In prehistoric and really up until modern times, it was in fact an increased risk to life and livelihood. Thus “hate” is born of love. Hate is the thing that threaten ones security.
Conjunction Junction, What’s Your Function?
From a philosophical perspective, love is a force. Not a noun, a “thing” or even an action or “verb”. It is a bonding force that ties two nouns together. A “conjunction” if you will. It is the reason behind the deed. It is the connection between two bodies. It is a fluid that flows between cylinder and piston. It is both the action and the reaction. In many ways, philosophically it is “chemical catalyst” that sets off a chain. But most of all the one thing that describes love is “sacrifice”. It is the result of one giving something away that brings them comfort for the benefit to or for the benefit of another. Most often current of future protection.
This shouldn’t be as foreign of a concept as it seems to be to so many people. We are taught about it from the moment our parents stumble tired, into our crib, to care for our needs. Their choice could have been to continue to sleep, to ignore our cries. But they didn’t. They sacrificed that comfort so we could be comforted. We are taught that our “soldiers” love their country because they are willing to sacrifice their own lives so we can continue the life we lead, to “be free”. We are taught it in our churches when we are told “God so loved the world that he gave his only son to suffer for our sins.” Or in the actions of that son who accepted his fate was tortured and crucified so we may have an example of what “love” looks like. Songs that endlessly proclaim “love hurts”. Every dramatic movie about what somebody goes through to save or reach the people they love.
If I could paint a picture of “love” it would be two people standing face to face, with outstretched hands holding their own hearts and saying simultaneously. “this is my heart, you have a unique way to harm me. I have only your words and your promise to protect me from you. Still I have no fear.” When it is healthy between two people, that is what it looks like. Both putting something on the line, sharing a trust and forming a single unit that together is stronger and more protected than the two are separate. I have since come to realize I take that image from a picture my parents had of Christ holding his heart.”
To really drive this idea home, consider the idea of “unconditional love”. What does that mean? “I will be there whenever times are great and whenever you are acting towards me in ways that are enjoyable and pleasurable?” No. It means “when times are bad, when it would be better for me to disconnect from you, to not risk my own comfort or security to try and bring you some. Even if you are acting hateful towards me, I will still put myself on the line. I will sacrifice for you.”
The phrase “I love you” literally can be translated to “I put your wants, needs, desires, and my very well being, ahead of my own and for your well being.”
It Takes Two… At Least
This is why the term “Self love” is confusing to me. All of these perspectives of the emotion of “love” require one common element. Another person or object. It requires the transfer of emotional energy. This being the case, you can’t “love” yourself. This sounds as funny as saying “I made love to myself”. In intimate settings, loving is a feverish pitch of giving and receiving. Which the individual actions of masturbation or buying of services may resemble the same, as “making love”, it doesn’t work emotionally the same. It is like eating candy with immediate gratification but empty quickly burned calories. It doesn’t provide any long term sustainability. Neither does the notion of “self love”.
With this being the case, this understanding of the force of love, “self-love” is impossible. You can’t put your own wants, needs, and desires ahead of your own wants needs and desires. What people say, “self-love” what they mean is self-care. They mean they stop doing things that are harmful, damaging, and for no apparent reason. They mean they have stopped torturing themselves for mistakes they made in the past. They mean that they stopped doing things that will shorten their lives and start doing things that will keep them in the world and in the comfort of people that (are willing to sacrifice for) love them.
For The Love Of Hate
One common misperception is that “hate” is the opposite of love. Hate is more adjacent to love. Referenced earlier, an idea better explored in a different post. Hate cannot stand alone without love. To hate somebody or something, it has to threaten somebody or something that you love. A person will sacrifice themselves to terminate something they hate for something that they love. The opposite of love is indifference. The utter lack of concern over the well being.
That brings us to “self-loathing” or “self-hating”. This IS possible, and even healthy at times. It is possible to hate ones own behaviors and want to “destroy”, to stop repeating them. That self-loathing can be the reminder of how intensely the long term consequences of a action that feels good can be. You do not like the way you look. Dieting and working out are really forms of self-punishment. Nobody wants to do those things for pleasure. It doesn’t feel good when somebody else tells you that you are fat. But it does when you see that yourself and it leads to healthy behaviors.
There is of course, very much room for dysfunction in self-hatred. When the behavior being done to repress the memory or desire to do something else is just as bad if not worse., it is not healthy use of self loathing. There is a danger even when love of others mixed with self loathing can turn deadly. When a person feels that your very existence is harming somebody they love, and seek slow ways to reduce your longevity. That seems to be better off included in a post about hatred itself though.