What are the components of your love relationship? Intimacy? Passion? Decision/commitment? All three components? Two of them?
To complete the following scale, fill in the blank spaces with the name of one person you love or care about deeply. Then rate your agreement with each of the items by using a nine-point scale in which 1 = "not at all," 5 = "moderately," and 9 = "extremely." Use points in between to indicate these values. Then consult the scoring key at the end of the scale.
____1.I am actively supportive of _________'s wellbeing.
____2.I have a warm relationship with _________.
____3.I am able to count on __________ in times of need.
____4._________ is able to count on me in times of need.
____5.I am willing to share myself and my possessions with ___________.
____6.I receive considerable emotional support from ___________.
____7.I give considerable emotional support to _______.
____8.I communicate well with ___________.
____9.I value _________ greatly in my life.
____10.I feel close to ______.
____11.I have a comfortable relationship with ______.
____12.I feel that I really understand ___________.
____13.I feel that _________ really understands me.
____14.I feel that I can really trust ___________.
____15.I share deeply personal information about myself with __________.
____16.Just seeing ________ excites me.
____17.I find myself thinking about __________ frequently during the day.
____18.My relationship with ___________ is very romantic.
____19.I find ________ to be very personally attractive.
____20.I idealize _________.
____21.I cannot imagine another person making me as happy as _______ does.
____22.I would rather be with _________ than with anyone else.
____23.There is nothing more important to me than my relationship with ______.
____24.I especially like physical contact with ______.
____25.There is something almost "magical" about my relationship with ______.
____26.I adore _________.
____27.I cannot imagine life without _________.
____28.My relationship with _________ is passionate.
____29.When I see romantic movies and read romantic books I think of _______.
____30.I fantasize about _______.
____31.I know that I care about _________.
____32.I am committed to maintaining my relationship with _________.
____33.Because of my commitment to ________, I would not let other people come between us.
____34.I have confidence in the stability of my relationship with ________.
____35.I could not let anything get in the way of my commitment to ________.
____36.I expect my love for ________ to last for the rest of my life.
____37.I will always feel a strong responsibility for ______.
____38.I view my commitment to ________ as a solid one.
____39.I cannot imagine ending my relationship with _________.
____40.I am certain of my love for ________.
____41.I view my relationship with _________ as permanent.
____42.I view my relationship with ________ as a good decision.
____43.I feel a sense of responsibility toward ________.
____44.I plan to continue my relationship with ______.
____45.Even when ________ is hard to deal with, I remain committed to our relationship.
Add your ratings for each of the three sections intimacy, passion, and commitment and write the totals in the blanks below. Divide each subscore by 15 to get an average subscale score.
|÷ 15 =||________ |
|÷ 15 =||________ |
|÷ 15 =||________ |
An average rating of 5 on a particular subscale indicates a moderate level of the component represented by the subscale; for example, an average rating of 5 on the intimacy subscale indicates a moderate amount of intimacy in the relationship you chose to measure. Following this example further, a higher average rating would indicate a higher level of intimacy, and a lower average rating would indicate a lesser amount of intimacy. Examining your ratings for each of the three subscales will give you an idea of how you perceive your love relationship to be composed of various amounts of intimacy, passion, and commitment.
Sternberg's Triangular Love Scale (adapted) from The Triangle of Love by Robert J. Sternberg. Copyright © 1988 by BasicBooks, Inc. The McGraw-Hill Companies
They have developed a cream, which has not yet been tested on humans, that switches on the tanning machinery in skin cells.
The breakthrough also raises the prospect of a new way to protect fair-skinned people from skin cancer caused by exposure to sunlight.
The study, by Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Children's Hospital Boston, is published in Nature.
| || It is important to point out that a tan-inducing cream alone is unlikely to be enough to protect those with fair skin from sunburn or to prevent skin cancer |
The cream contains a small molecule that essentially mimics the process that occurs when skin cells are struck by ultraviolet light from the sun.
It is thought people with fair skin and red hair cannot tan properly because of a defect in a pouch-like receptor called MC1R on the surface of the pigment-producing melanocyte skin cells.
This leads to reduced production of a chemical called cAMP, which stimulates the melanocytes to produce pigment.
As a result, fair-skinned people tend to burn, rather than tan in the sun, increasing the risk of DNA damage to skin cells which can lead to cancer.
The World Health Organization has estimated that as many as 60,000 people a year worldwide die from skin cancer as a result of too much exposure to the sun.
Fair Skinned Mice
The researchers genetically engineered fair-skinned, red-haired mice who did not tan when exposed to low levels of UV radiation, but did burn when the dose was cranked up.
They then treated the skin of the animals with a compound known to increase cAMP levels.
The compound, forskolin, is derived from the root of the forskohli plant found in India.
The mice turned dark, proving that melanocytes in redheads can make pigment if appropriately stimulated.
Further experiments showed that this sunless tanning process was virtually indistinguishable from that in dark-haired mice that tan naturally.
The researchers also found that the tans acquired through forskolin treatment protected the skin against cancer caused by exposure to UV light.
Lead researcher Dr David Fisher said it was not yet clear whether forskolin would penetrate deeply enough in human skin to activate melanocytes.
However, he said: "These studies suggest that a drug-induced 'rescue' of the tanning mechanism may correspondingly rescue at least some aspect of skin cancer protection.
"Such sunless tanning may also dissuade sun-seeking behaviours, which undoubtedly contribute significantly to high skin cancer incidence."
Hazel Nunn, cancer information officer at the charity Cancer Research UK, said the study gave new insights into why fair-skinned people rarely tan.
She said: "We welcome this advance in our understanding of the tanning process but it is important to point out that a tan-inducing cream alone is unlikely to be enough to protect those with fair skin from sunburn or to prevent skin cancer.
"A UV-induced tan only provides protection equivalent to that of sunscreen with SPF4."
In academic studies, this view has explored by Swartz (1993) with reference to the difference in the states of consciousness experienced by men and women, and by Davidson (1980), more generally.
Although it's hard for some people to believe, different individuals experience sexual desire with very different intensities. Its not that some people have better controls, its that some have more to control. Nobody can choose how horny they are. While its possible to suppress sexual interest when it appears, nobody can choose how often it happens. There are people who try to suppress all of their sexuality, for example. Some monks and nuns, to name only one such group. They can often stop their sexual thoughts and feelings before they have really formed. But even they cannot choose how often they will have to do it. Mohandas Gandhi, who choose the path of total celibacy, felt he needed to put himself to the test even after decades of practice.
One contemporary spiritual teacher, Paul Lowe, often tells of how he was so horny that sex was simply never out of his mind, but so shy with women that he did not have the courage to ask them to make love with him. The dilemma was so bad that he resolved to kill himself (Lowe, 1988). Eventually, he broke through without a suicide attempt, and began to have the relationships he needed.
Was he just being self-indulgent in feeling his need to be so great? No. He was simply at the extreme ends of two spectrums at once. One was low-self esteem. He thought women would never want him. The other was the spectrum of sexual interest. Sexuality, as its called in clinical parlance. He was experiencing his sexuality almost constantly.
The spectrum runs from a total disinterest in sex, called hyposexuality, to the burning, unrelenting, desire that never lets up, called hypersexuality. Most people, of course, fall somewhere in the middle. And again, I want to emphasize, its not a matter of choice.
Hyposexual individuals often don't have an easy time in life. They are still fully capable of feeling romantic love, often quite deeply. They are liable to think that sex is a crude thing, and that ‘real love' should not depend on sex. After all, they can live without it, and still be deeply romantic, so to them, it can look like sex isn't really an important part of a relationship. When they do begin a romance, they find that they are either having more sex than they want to, or imposing a degree of celibacy on their sexually normal partners. This doesn't make for fulfilling relationships.
Hypersexual people also find life challenging, too. Their unrelenting needs can disturb a relationship when they have a relationship, and make them unattractively needy when they don't.
In Woody Allen's film, Manhattan, there is a scene where he is talking to his therapist saying "we almost never have sex. It only happens two or three times a week." Then the film cuts to his partner talking to her therapist saying "we're always having sex. Its two or three times per week!" When two people with differing levels of interest in sex have a relationship, they may end up with each thinking that the other really should change. Each might think that the other is wrong, and believe themselves to be normal. ‘Something is wrong with her, she never really wants to have sex.' "Doesn't he find me attractive anymore?' The hyposexual one, already having sex more often than they would choose freely, doesn't do anything to make it happen more often. Their partner begins to wonder why they are always the one to initiate sex.
The hypersexual person is not being self-indulgent. The hyposexual person is not just ‘repressed.' Actually, there is no such thing as a right level of interest. Its different for different people, and nobody can change their obsession or indifference about sex just by wanting it to be different. It can change, as we will see, but not by working on sexuality itself. No amount of ‘sensuality training seminars' will make sex exciting for a hyposexual person. And no amount of talk therapy will put sex ‘into proper perspective' for those who are hypersexual.
Sexual arousal is an altered state of consciousness, but it's a normal, healthy altered state. The degree of interest in sex is directly related to how much time a person spends in non-ordinary states of consciousness.
One study (Waxman, 1975) found that temporal lobe epileptics (who go into altered states of consciousness, often very intense ones, during their seizures) were much more likely to be hyposexual than others. The normal states of consciousness for these people are different from those of others. They often have lower self-esteem. They tend to be irritable. They have a burning desire to express themselves that comes out through writing diaries and journals or in doing art, sometimes obsessively. They usually have a preoccupation with spirituality, philosophy, and religion.
I believe that what's happening with these people is that they are spending so much of their time in altered states that their consciousness isn't available to the sexual ones. Its already engaged with states that rule it out. Probably there are many states of consciousness that inhibit sexual interest. Others seem to invoke it.
One researcher (Miller, 1986) has even gone so far as to suggest that changes in sexual behavior should be seen as a possible sign of brain injury.
Why should altered states of consciousness rule out feeling sexual so often?
Altered states are almost always either positive or negative. The positive ones range from a mild mania to total bliss. Fear is the most common emotion in the negative ones, and can include anything from mild anxiety to stark terror. When a person is filled with a sense of well-being, a lack of sex won't won't make them feel that anything is wrong. If a person is carrying that foreboding feeling that something is wrong and/or the sense that they're in some kind of danger, sex isn't going to make them feel better. For both types of people, there won't be any sense that sex is a real need.
Others who are prone to altered states have a different pattern for both sexuality and their experiences of non-normal states. For these people, altered states are not an ongoing thing.
They experience altered states once in a while. While they are having an experience, they, like the group that's having them all the time, are not likely to feel sexual. However, when they are not having an experience, they will still have a sensitive trigger for changes in state.
This group will notice the experience, whatever it is, more pointedly than the first. So like the hyposexual ones, hypersexual people often find spirituality compelling.
These people will have exercise the parts of the brain that change their state, giving them more sensitive triggers. They will be more likely to alter their state towards another normal one in their ordinary range, instead of going into non-ordinary states,
For a physically healthy and normal person, one of the most likely directions for consciousness to shift is towards sex. If the trigger is sensitive enough, the person might be very horny anytime they are not having an experience of an altered state. They might labeled as a nymphomaniac, or as having satyriasis (the male equivalent), as though they were being influenced by sex rather than their consciousness.
The evidence that sexuality relates to our states of consciousness is overwhelming.
The temporal lobes are the portions of the brain that manage our states of consciousness. Rhesus monkeys which have had their temporal lobes removed often demonstrated hypersexuality, including homosexual and solitary sexual behavior (Kluver, 1958).
Hypersexuality has been seen in people with lesions in their frontal and temporal lobes (Huws, 1991), and has been observed in association with limbic seizures (Andy, 1991 & Persinger, 1994).
Most TLE seizures begin in the amygdala, an emotional control area (Gloor, 1992), which explains why they have such intense emotions accompanying them. The amygdala has a large number of sexual phenomena associated with it. One of the more interesting is the observation that gay men have more connections between the amygdala on each side of the brain than straight men.
Just as importantly, the amygdala manages our emotions and helps to manage our states of consciousness.
To state a rough rule of thumb, those who spend all their time in altered states tend to be the hyposexual ones, while those who go back and forth tend to be the hypersexual ones.
One behavior worth looking at is voluntary celibacy. The ordained priest, monk, or nun who has chosen not to have sex at all. Ever. Why would someone make such a choice? Because they have positive altered state experiences, and they give them a religious interpretation. Their joy, they believe, is a gift from God.
While they are actually experiencing life as a gift from God, the idea of looking for pleasure or fulfillment in sex or romance seems just stupid. The trouble with this type of celibacy is that it usually depends on regular, positive, religious experiences. When these are absent, or stop happening for whatever reason, the vow that was easily kept at ordination becomes a burdensome travail later on (Slawson, 1973). When these experiences are kindled through prayer, meditation, or contemplative exercises, they are likely to stop if the practice stops. At that point, the change from regular altered states to occasional ones begins, and the person is likely to change from hypo-to-hyper in their sexuality. They might think that God was testing them, or that Satan was trying to bring about their downfall through temptations to ‘the pleasures of the flesh.'
If their altered states are appearing as a result of a brain difference, like a tumor, birth defect, head injury, or a sclerosis, then these states are much more likely to endure, and celibacy might be quite natural for such people. Some of the brain differences in these people could be quite minute, and might not create any other traits worth mentioning.
The brain comes in two varieties: male and female. They differ in many small ways, but there is a pattern to these differences. The male brain is specialized for doing one thing at a time, and the female brain is more truly a ‘multitasking environment.' Take an average man (if you can find one) and an average woman (if you can find one). Give them both a PET scan. Have them each do something, the same thing, during their PET session, and then look at the brain activity. The woman's brain will almost always show more active regions than the man's brain will. Women ‘cross-reference' things through more parts of their brain than men do, most importantly the emotional control centers in the limbic system (Moir, 1991). Women can often see the subtler implications of things more readily than men can. Because the process involves the whole brain, and isn't localized or stronger in its language centers, women can often find it more difficult than men to put their perceptions into words. Women are more likely/able to make associations than men. While many of these associations might be irrelevant to anything practical, there will usually be something meaningful that an ‘average' man might miss. The sexual regions of the brain are more likely to be recruited into the seizure in women than men. The point is that the involvement of sexuality in enhanced TL sensitivity is different for men and women.
In fact, the range of epileptic phenomena in wider for women than men. For example, women may have orgasms during TLE seizures, while men do not.
Some readers might object to the way we are using the terms normal, average, typical, and so forth. Many object to what are called ‘sweeping generalizations'. The intention here is to state ‘rules of thumb'. Rules with so many exceptions that they really can't be called rules at all. These are not rules for obedience, either. They are more like descriptive rules of grammar, which describes how people are probably going to speak, not how they actually speak. I'll bet that there are as few people who ‘typify' their genders as there are who speak with perfect grammar. We have to make generalizations if we want to see the patterns in human behavior and consciousness. After that, it is much easier to see what's really happening when a specific person is different from those around them. For many of those who experience themselves as different, their differences can be the source of alienation, low-self extreme, and can hinder the growth of ordinary relating skills. To forbid generalizations is to cut off a potential source of healing for these people. Problems only come up when we forget that our general statements, something like working hypotheses, aren't complete.
Finally, we should look at how hypersexual and hyposexual people can respond to their dilemmas.
The hyposexual person who wants to change should look at the chance that their condition might have to do with epilepsy, and that it might respond to an antiepileptic medication. Many psychiatrists miss the proper diagnoses for the types of epilepsy that can create hyposexuality. An epileptologist is a good place to look for a second opinion.
I know of one case where a woman never experienced sexual desire until she became a massage therapist, and began spending several hours a day doing massage. She had been in an ongoing state of fear for almost 25 years. After doing massage for just a few months, she found that her anxiety had dropped to the point where she found herself feeling horny for the first time. At age 41.
The hypersexual person has fewer options. They, also might respond to antiepileptic medications, but stopping the altered state experience that lie behind their intense sexual interest usually has little appeal. Many people who have contacted me about this issue have said that they feel a stronger need to allow the other states than to lower their sexual energy.
I know of a couple of cases where women have taken up Yoga practice only to find that they became overwhelmed by sexual desire for the first few months of their practice. Other women, with more experience in Yoga, found that their desire had become so low that they almost didn't care if they had sex or not.
This may sound good to some readers, but one such case includes a woman yogi hearing her husband tell her that he wanted her permission to sleep with other women, and that if she didn't give it, she was about to become a single mother. He also bluntly refused to leave his kids and settle for 15 years of paying child support and weekend visits.
Some months earlier, she had told me that one of her goals was to "sublimate" her sexuality through yoga. I asked her how her husband felt about this, and she said that was his problem.
But when he faced his problem, it turned out to be hers as well.
Because hypersexuality seems to rely on going in and out of altered states. One simple measure for these states is to look at how often the person has simple, comon altered state experiences. These include deja vu, and the feeling that there is someone standing behind you, but when you turn to look, you find nobody is there ("The Sensed Presence"). There is also "Jamis vu", the sensation that everything is strange, unfamiliar, or a bit alien. There are 'parasthesias'; like the 'pins and needles' or electrical sensations that run through the body, or the chills that run up one's spine when listening to music or that might fill one's body during orgasm. Then there are vestibular sensations, like vertigo, or the sensation that the bed is moving while you are falling asleep. There is also the experience of sudden bursts of intense emotion.
If a person is hypersexual, they may also be prone to these things, or were prone once in their lives.
This suggests a simple and easy response. When they enter a sexual state in moments when their culture or life circumstance doesn't allow, they should change their state. While a 'shot of whiskey' may have the desired effect for some, a more universal approach seems to be cognitive and emotional training.
And the most popular approach to that, across the world and through human history has been spirituality. Spiritual practices such as yoga, meditation
Because sexual desire seems to associate with activation of the left caudate nucleus (deep) in conjunction with the left temporal lobe (surface), spiritual practices that 'task' the left hemisphere so as to activate other structures deep in the left hemisphere might easily provide cognitive alternatives. Choices that can be made right in the moment.
Language centers are on the left, and spiritual practices that rely on it offer one alternative. Many religions offer reciting prayers as an efecive way to avert 'temptations of the flesh'. Mantra practive- repeating short invocations over and over- is found all through the Hindu and Buddhist traditions.
I once spoke to a "Hare Krisna" Devotee, who told me a story about how he had gone to a woman's home and how she had begun to seduce him, being quite forward with her hands and mouth. He began to become aroused, and remembered his vows. First, in his mind, he began to chant Hare Krishna. In spite of his long sexual deprivation and possibly hypersexual past (he had been a pornography addict), he not only 'dropped' his desire, but had an episode of bliss.
He started chanting aloud, and the woman, he said, threw him out.
He said he felt like he'd been chanting the whole day - "totally blissed out". The high levels of left-limbic activation brought on by sex were 'shunted over' to the language centers on the left surface, which long practice with Hindu chanting had connected to the left amygdala (associated with bliss, ecstacy, and other positive emotions).
It's more likely that (Murphy, 2001) his chanting resulted in a supression of other states that demand activation of large portions of the left temporal lobes and limbic system.
When he wanted to supress sexual desire, he had only to "Chant Hare Krisna and be happy". The same held true for him with anger or his desire for tobacco.
Other left-hemispheric practices include Yoga, Sufi dancing, and service to others. Positive socialization involves having other people around and having conversations, both left-hemispheric 'tasks'.
In principle, solitude, which seems to task the right hemisphere, might turn out to make bursts of sexual desire more likely. The appearance of a trigger, such as an attractive person, or even just a picture of one, could trigger a jolt of left hemishperic activity. It's relative quiet after a period of solitude leaves it open for the task. No need to clear one's mind at that time. The left hemisphere is so available that sexual desire can recruit is many pathways through several structures almost instantly, and supress competing tasks more readily.
Choosing activities that engage many people might easily serve to lessen the intensity and frequency of true hypersexual episodes, most importantly the kind that facilitate high-risk sexual behaviors. A day spent with other people, at work or socially, might easily lessen the chances for risky behavior in the evening. Of course, it warrants emperical study.
Prayer, talking to the god of one's belief, can also re-task the left hemisphere away from sexual desire, being both social (self-and-other) and linguistic.
These are all intervention techniques, but they would need practice before the states they create are available at will.
The most important technique will probably prove to be empowerment training that teaches people how to meet their need in a positive way, instead of fending them off.
The most popular and widespread approach to human psychology throughout it's history has been religion, however backward it's beliefs may often appear. It's not surprising that it's traditional practices, when seen as approaches to 'cognitive and emotional managment', emerge as worthwhile. Not to say that modern science can't do better - anticonvulsant medications can treat hypersexuality in many cases, but when these are not available or practical, a return to traditional religious approaches seems much more practical than surrender to high-risk behavior.
Studies among those who engange in high-risk sexual behavior are in order to test the various hypotheses offered here. Nevertheless, if validated, they might also find that patterns of limbic experiences (as evidenced through questionairres) might indicate specific spiritual techniques for specific individuals.
Both hyper- and hypo- sexuality offer severe challenges, and in spite of the cultural biases that continue to surround them. Insights that take their neural bases into account are bound to offer more effective choices when put into practice than the techniques that appear when they are regarded as either addictions or psychiatric cases. If they are instances of human consciousness at it's extremes, then they can be classified as spiritual dilemmas as much as behavioral problems.THE SENSED PRESENCE AND ROMANTIC LOVE
Love is an example of the self/other relationship. Even though it's really about ourselves, we experience it as being to do with another person. To see more deeply into it, we need to look at the experience of 'the other' more deeply.
There hasn't been a lot of research on the subject. There are many studies that have yielded interesting statistics about how being in love affects academic performance, how it affects the immune system, how it influences the perceived quality of life, and a range of other findings. But the experience itself remains elusive, especially in terms of neurology.
There is one line of research that suggests something about the nature of love, and it seems that love is only instance of a larger group of experiences: relating to the 'other'. After looking at the evidence, it seems to me that the 'other' is one's self.
I'm thinking of some research into an experience called "The Sensed Presence." Its that feeling people get, usually at night, where they feel that there is someone or something in the room with them, an 'energy' or a 'presence' perhaps. They might feel simply that they are 'not alone' or that they're 'being watched.' There is an indefinable feeling that there is an 'other' of some kind in the room with them.
To understand this, we need to look at the self, and not the other.
To start, we need to see that the self is more than our ordinary experience shows us. Even in our most quiet moments, when we are still, it can be very hard to see our 'self'. Buddhism teaches that there is no such thing. If they're right, then we're on a wild goose chase in looking for it. Other religions say that the self is God. If these teachings are right, then our self is so elevated that we may have no hope of ever understanding it.
Fortunately, brain science is a bit more down-to-earth than religion. There, we have a chance of understanding what the self is, even though the information won't tell us the whole story.
The latest 'teachings' from neuroscience tell us that we actually have two selves, one on each side of the brain. And they're specialized. Like anything else in the brain, they each have specific jobs to do. One of them, on the left, is the one that experiences things through language. It's very socialized. Language is mostly a tool for relating to other people, so the 'linguistic' self is very conscious of where it stands with others. Its very sensitive to its social rank, as its reflected in the words of others. A simple string of words from another, like: 'you're fired' or 'I love you', can have an amazing impact on the person hearing them. They'll feel that 'they' are affected by these words. And they, as social beings, have been. When we lose a job, our social rank is reduced. When we start a new relationship, or we can feel that we are secure in a present one, our social rank is raised a bit.
The other side of the brain, on the right, also has a self. It experiences the world in non-verbal ways. Its more introspective. Its silent. Its affected by music, art, pictures, and our perceptions of how others feel, rather than what others say. Its more likely to manifest in situations where we aren't able to take the need of others into account. Its usually subordinate; operating underneath the left hemispheric one. It takes this role because the linguistic self is actively interpreting the world and our experiences with words all the time. For most people, this keeps the silent self hidden, so that it operates without out knowing about it consciously. In many ways, the 'conscious' self is the one on the left, with only intermittent input from the one on the right.
The Sensed Presence experience occurs when our two senses of self fall out of phase with one another. The subordinate sense of self is experienced directly by the dominant, linguistic one. Because we can't have two senses of self, the intruding silent sense of self is experienced as an external presence, and 'felt' to be happening outside one's self.
I believe that the sensed presence also happens when we relate to other people. Some presences mean threats, while others can mean support, comfort or safety. We use our experiences of past states as a repertoire from which we select the state best suited to arising situations, and presences known from the past are projected onto presences encountered in the present.
I want to suggest that we are projecting a part of ourselves onto real people whenever we're relating to them. The presences we experience in other people are the creations of our own minds, externalized and projected onto others. Each separate presence will call up a separate state of consciousness, although the differences between many of these states might be slight. From infancy onwards, we have acquaintances; people who are too socially distant to be called friends, but close enough that we must pay some attention to them. The default settings for relating to acquaintances are derived from our own sense of self while we are with such people in the past. Other people are absolutely unique. Some people catch our attention very sharply. We fall in love with them, or we come to hate their guts. These people are not mere aquaintances. Their presence cuts closer to home. Their words, for whatever reason, affects our self-esteem.
Because we are such an intensely social species, our self esteem is largely a function of what we think our value is in the eyes of others. Most of the time, people speak to each other in ways that reflect their respect, or lack of it. Respect has a lot to do with social standing and rank. For the most part, we respect ourselves when we feel respected by those around us, even though it doesn't necessarily have to be that way.
Our self-esteem changes almost constantly. Most of these changes are experienced through our emotions, although it also has a serious impact on the way a person thinks. Our moods can be elevated and depressed through the words of others. Words like ‘you're hired' and ‘you're fired.' Or, ‘I love you' and ‘leave me alone.' Our moods are directly connected to our level of self-esteem in each moment. In normal conditions, our experience of our selves is sensitive to how we are treated and spoken to by others.
Each and every state of consciousness carries its own level of self-esteem. Whether or not one is in a subordinate position in any given situation initiates an appropriate state. The state enables a set of responses that minimize the situation's stress level by fulfilling the expectations of the dominant person in the situation. Each state has its own ways of thinking, feeling, speaking, and acting. Even for the most aware people, its hard to see all these thing happening at once. We live on autopilot, so to speak. If we were to try to make a conscious decision about each way we 'act out' our state of consciousness, we'd crash the system. We have to be on automatic, for the most part, because there are so many controls to adjust for each state.
We want positive states to repeat, and to avoid the negative, unpleasant ones. This creates a tendency to bond with people that feel good to be around. Simple, eh?
Not really. We 'decide' who feels good according to what we choose to project. And we make these choices largely out of habit. It begins in infancy, when we first begin to experience ourselves as individuals.
There has been some research in pre natal psychology that suggests that the fetus experiences its mother's states of consciousness as though they are it's own. Sometime around birth, the newborn begins to experience its own states for the first time. Before birth, the mother gets angry, the fetus experiences the same state, although certainly it will now have very different phenomenological correlates. After birth, when the mother gets angry, the infant no longer experiences it with the same intimacy. The boundaries of the infants new self must be found.
In the womb, the fetus probably didn't distinguish between itself and its mother. She must now be experienced as an external presence. For the first time, the ambient chemical environment in the womb is experienced as its mother's smell. Its mother, now experienced as separate from itself, becomes the source from which all its physical and emotional needs are met, almost without exception.
Many commentators on the experience of romantic love have argued that the experience of early childhood comfort and nurturing provides a template from which later expectations about relationships are drawn. We begin to feel that our lover ought to treat us much as our mothers did. Women, of course, have the additional process of mapping their senses of comforting, loving presences onto men.
In looking for romantic fulfillment, we are looking to find an experience that will change our experience of ourselves. Not by looking for love within ourselves, as so many spiritual teachers suggest, but by allowing a part of our 'self' to manifest through another. When I stop and remember that we're a social species, I cannot help but see it differently.
For some people, or at some times in a person's life, 'true happiness' might be found only outside one's self. Our brains and minds are configured for relating to others in so many ways. Humans have a long childhood compared to other primate species, and most of it is spent relying on others to meet their most basic needs. Children are so engaged with the presence of others that they can usually play with anything and imagine it's alive.
Children imagine their toys have a presence to them, so that a crayon becomes ‘Mr. Crayon'. The Buddhist faithful imagine that a Buddha statue has the presence of the Enlightened One. The disciple sees God in his Guru. And these are projections. In the same way, lovers project their own loving presence onto their romantic partners.
I want to suggest that falling in love is the process of projecting one's right-sided sense of self onto one's beloved.
Because the same pathways that are involved in the maintenance of the right-sided, silent sense of self are also specialized for negative feelings, the maintenance of the romantic illusion is delicate at best. It's easily broken, and rarely lasts for more than a few weeks in most cases and a few years in cases where people feel strongly enough to marry.
People often want to feel really passionate love before starting a relationship. But that kind usually doesn't last. When it fades, very few people escape disappointment of one kind or another. People are angered when their lover turns out to be who they are instead of who they were supposed to be. Sustaining relationships past this point calls for either denial or relationship and communication skills.
I can use a fancy neuro scientific phrase to describe the nature of love (a sustained interhemispheric intrusion), but even I don't enjoy seeing my romantic side reduced to so sterile a set of words.
Like the sensed presence experience, being in love happens when the silent sense of self comes out where linguistic sense of self can see it, except that instead of being sensed as a feeling that one is being watched, its projected directly onto the beloved. In the process, the normal division of other and self is blurred. Lovers speak of losing themselves in the other, or that they can't tell where they end and their lover begins.
So long as one is able to sustain the illusion that one's partner will be the source of fulfillment, the projection continues undisturbed. It's been said that, when it comes to relationships, everybody is looking for a tailor-made fit, even though its an off-the-rack world. Inevitably, something happens to disturb the illusion. The 'interhemispheric intrusion' ends. The honeymoon is over. 'Hemispheric intrusions' are often very brief events. A vision of an angel might last just a few seconds. The first flush of ‘true love' might continue for only weeks or months.
There was a study of the relationship between hemisphericity and self-esteem, and it found that the higher a person's level of right hemispheric 'dominance', the lower their self-esteem. Right hemisphericity means that a person's experience of their self is dominated by their right side. This is the side of the brain that is specialized for both negative feelings and non-verbal ways of processing our experiences. All other conditions being equal, the more intuitive and spontaneous a person is, the lower their self esteem will be. Of course, people compensate in various ways, so that 'all other conditions' usually aren't equal.
When a person is in love, their right hemispheric ‘self' has access to the positive emotions on the left. Love feels good. However, after the experience is over, the person finds themselves more vulnerable to fear and sadness in response to things that threaten their sense of self. Such threats occur almost every moment in our lives. Those whose sense of self is mostly derived from the left side are much less vulnerable. They are better able to feel good about themselves even in the face of verbal assaults, but they are also less likely to fall so deeply in love in the first place.
The typical aftermath of a mystical experience finds the person feeling somewhat shaky. They will avoid those whose ‘energy' tends to ‘bring them down.' In other words, they won't be able to cope well in many social interactions. They may even retreat into solitude, and avoid relating to others as much as they can. They tend to reject the mind-set that supports the opinions of those whose company they don't enjoy. At the same time, there can be an almost obsessive desire to ‘share' their experience with anyone willing to listen. They seek out validation in the eyes of those around them; 'shouting it from the rooftops', making up for the fragmentation their sense of self sustained in their epiphany. They may cling to those whose company they find supportive. Left hemispheric personalities are judged and labeled using such phrases as ‘there are none so blind as those who will not see.' Ideas about karma are invoked to explain how some just ‘aren't ready to hear the truth.'
Someone who is in unrequited love, or is losing a lover they still want to be with, finds themselves in much the same position. They, too, are vulnerable. They also feel that others ‘just don't understand.' Their self esteem falls. They may cling to those who are willing to support them, just like those ‘processing' in the wake of spiritual experiences and awakenings. They may also feel that they are not the same person they were before they experienced their romantic disappointment, just as the religious experient is also a ‘changed' man or woman.
In the Sufi tradition, God is referred to as the beloved, and it preserves many metaphors that convey the idea that separation from God is as painful as separation from whoever one is in love with. Union with God is seen as similar to romantic fulfillment.
I suggest that romantic love is underpinned by the same brain mechanisms that are involved in the experience of God. While a mystic experience is often short and intense, romantic episodes may last a long time. Both of them involve the silent, right-sided self coming out where the left-sided self can see it, along with intense positive feelings.
Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.