The brain on love…

The New York Times recently had an insightful article on how love affects the brain. To me this is further evidence that we seem to be wired for love. Consider some of the quotes from the article:

• “What we pay the most attention to defines us. How you choose to spend the irreplaceable hours of your life literally transforms you.”

• “All relationships change the brain - but most important are the intimate bonds that foster or fail us, altering the delicate circuits that shape memories, emotions and that ultimate souvenir, the self.”

• “A wealth of imaging studies highlight, the neural alchemy continues throughout life as we mature and forge friendships, dabble in affairs, succumb to romantic love, choose a soul mate. The body remembers how that oneness with Mother felt, and longs for its adult equivalent.”

• “‘Scientific studies of longevity, medical and mental health, happiness and even wisdom,’ Dr Siegel says, ‘point to supportive relationships as the most robust predictor of these positive attributes in our lives across the life span.’ The supportive part is crucial. Loving relationships alter the brain the most significantly.”

• “Through lovemaking, or when we pass along a flu or a cold sore, we trade bits of identity with loved ones, and in time we become a sort of chimera. We don’t just get under a mate’s skin, we absorb him or her.” (I would add that this is why casual sex is so destructive; the more we indulge, the more we lose our identity; we don’t know who we are - Nils)

• “As imaging studies by the U.C.L.A. neuroscientist Naomi Eisenberger show, the same areas of the brain that register physical pain are active when someone feels socially rejected.”

• “A happy marriage relieves stress and makes one feel as safe as an adored baby.”

And perhaps the most profound:

• “I saw the healing process up close after my 74-year-old husband, who is also a writer, suffered a left-hemisphere stroke that wiped out a lifetime of language. All he could utter was ‘mem’. Mourning the loss of our duet of decades, I began exploring new ways to communicate, through caring gestures, pantomime, facial expressions, humor, play, empathy and tons of affection - the brain’s epitome of a safe attachment. That, plus the admittedly eccentric home schooling I provided, and his diligent practice, helped rewire his brain to a startling degree, and in time we were able to talk again, he returned to writing books, and even his vision improved. The brain changes with experience throughout our lives; it’s in loving relationships of all sorts - partners, children, close friends - that brain and body really thrive.”

• “During idylls of safety, when your brain knows you’re with someone you can trust, it needn’t waste precious resources coping with stressors or menace. Instead it may spend its lifeblood learning new things or fine-tuning the process of healing. Its doors of perception swing wide open. The flip side is that, given how vulnerable one then is, love lessons - sweet or villainous - can make a deep impression. Wedded hearts change everything, even the brain.”

Love impacts every part of our lives for the better. Knowing that we are loved, and living a life of love, is good for us. As we remember Love personified at Easter, I want to live more like that Love.

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