Understanding Your Brain on Love
We have endlessly searched the nooks and crannies of our hearts and minds to conjure up some semblance of understanding to try and define love and longing. Shrouded in enigma yet simpler than breathing, we have spent lifetimes living and dying for this feeling. What happens to our brains, to our bodies when we’re in love and lust? When we understand this, we can start to make the connection to its effect on our emotional selves and vice versa. Helen Fisher, a researcher on love, lust and attachment, put people who were madly in love into an MRI scanner and studied their brains. She found that when showed a picture of their loved one, their brains reacted as if they had just taken cocaine. Their heart rates increased, breath quickened and body perspired. What that also means is, there was an instant spike in dopamine and oxytocin levels. She further talks about three specific brain systems and their evolutionary purposes: The sex drive, responsible for sexual attraction, that occurs for more than one person is basically, spreading the seed if you will to as many partners as possible to ensure survival of the species. The second is romantic love. This is the elation we feel with early love, blossoming romance. This enables focus on just one person, the best possible option to mate with. The last is attachment. This means long term intimacy and nurturing. Biologically, to raise a family together. These can all go together and sometimes they don’t, and in matters of romance they most definitely do get confused! We can feel wholly attached to one person while feeling romantic toward another while fantasizing about even more. This is why:
The Chemistry of Love and Attraction
“Anyone who is in love is making love the whole time, even when they’re not. When two bodies meet, it is just the cup overflowing. They can stay together for hours, even days. They begin the dance one day and finish it the next, or–such is the pleasure they experience–they may never finish it. No eleven minutes for them.” ~ Paulo Coelho, Eleven Minutes
Dopamine, our internal thrill receptor goes up every time we encounter a new and interesting person, situation, drug or sexual experience. We experience rising heart rate, shortness of breath and our bodies begin to flush. Usually it is quickly followed by adrenaline rush. The novelty of the situation sends our inner reward system ringing and we are absolutely addicted to the object of our desire. Dopamine is also sent rushing out during the time of orgasm. This is why ‘casual’ sex can leave people longing to be physically united with each other again. A phenomenon that has been studied and noted by many poets through time, is that the craving for dopamine rush becomes stronger the further away you are from getting it. So the less you have the more you want, the more you get the less you want. Just like a drug, you can suffer withdrawals and it can be very hard to extricate yourself from the rush associated with the individual. You may feel dejected, unmotivated, pained and unsatisfied. Dopamine in a sense, is disguised as love and can make you very well believe you’ve truly connected or belong to someone, even when you don’t know much about them and possibly have very little in common with. When the feeling isn’t reciprocated or very short-lived, we end up feeling absolutely destroyed, like the ground beneath our feet has been ripped out. It’s the feeling so many artists through the ages have illustrated endlessly. Oxytocin, as opposed to dopamine is a feeling of attachment. It comes with a more sustained and calm longing. Literally, it is the intimacy we feel (or think we feel) after connecting on several levels. It’s in the knowing that you share the same favorite books and movies with somebody, have the same humor and receive familiar hugs from them.
Oxytocin helps us feel truly understood, cared for and loved. It’s released not only after the dopamine from an orgasm, but from simple hugs and gestures of comfort and compassion. Its level increases when a couple has a baby together. They feel more loving toward each other as they begin to get into raising a family. It is based on trust, eases us into relationships as opposed to the violent mood-swings of a dopamine induced rush. This would naturally indicate that for long term well-being, oxytocin is a necessity. However, since it usually comes after dopamine (during orgasm), just like dopamine it can also create a sort of fake connection feeling. Naturally, this would wear out much sooner than a genuine oxytocin build.
Serotonin is a mood-stabilizing neurotransmitter. When you’re feel like everything is under control and well balanced and calm, that’s serotonin at work. It’s secreted when you feel or think you are significant, confident and capable. The lack of it is prominently found in people with depression, social anxiety and feelings of loneliness. What is interesting is, when levels are high, a lower libido is witnessed. The sex-drive is sort of calmed by this fascinating biochemical. One key facet of serotonin is that it gets re-activated with just the memory of a happy event. This is why practicing gratitude gives us such a great sense of well-being. On the other hand, similarly to Oxytocin, it’s been associated with feelings of love. It’s recorded to be higher in females than males; dopamine being higher in males than females. This could possibly explain why on an average, women are more focused on bonding aspects of sex as opposed to men. Since time immemorial, women have been nurturers, providing the emotional stability that’s so important for their infants and partners. Men have been dedicated to providing the practical, physical nourishment needed for survival and physical well-being. Therein lies balance and although we perceive men and women to be so achingly dissimilar, each spoke in the wheel keeps it turning, each is interconnected. MRI scan shows those who were currently in love have the most activity in certain regions of the brain when compared to the other two groups. Sex is possibly the greatest expression of love and union in existence. When we make that union, we invite someone to combine our energy fields with. Every exchange no matter how small or big, changes us and all our intentions towards others are noted down energetically and eventually manifest physically. Often, we let in energies that don’t suit us, we bond with them through this most sacred exchange as if it were as mundane as passing the salt. We race to orgasm to let the familiar feel of neuro chemicals flood us. The next day we wake up with a sexual hangover. We are tired, unsatisfied, feel unloved, alone and still incomplete. Choosing the right person to be honored by and to honor through this cosmic union is imperative. We need to know them, connect with them on several other levels and let our instincts tell us what where to take it. Usually we know before making love whether we have made a connection with someone or not. Trust is built and so when we do get together with them, we feel the safe, secure and loved.
The Cosmic Climax
Barbara Marciniak in her book Bringers of the Dawn writes, “The orgasm has been distorted from its original purpose. Your body has forgotten the cosmic orgasm of which it is capable because society has taught you for thousands and thousands of years that sexuality is bad. You have been taught this in order for you to be controlled and to keep you from seeking the freedom available through sexuality. Sexuality connects you with a frequency of ecstasy, which connects you back to your divine source and to information.” According to Marciniak, orgasm is a doorway to our multidimensional selves. Making love to someone is literally like saying you accept them as you. It does not matter how conscious you are of this, it is still the ultimate oneness. If you have not been kind, loving and gentle with yourself, chances are you will attract a partner that is reflective of that. We are constantly being mirrored the unhealed aspects of ourselves. It is only a call for us to love ourselves better. So if and when we have that sexual hangover, it’s important to confront the question “did that make me feel loved” and if not, “what can I do to love myself better?” We may find ourselves in a period of static sexuality where we spend a greater time alone while we try to wrap our heads around the whats and whys of these unhealed aspects. This occurs so we can start to make sense of all the information we’ve begun to receive and re-align with our newly realized wants, needs and decisions.
Finding Love Within Yourself
When we start to feel whole within ourselves, when we stop looking outwards for love, approval and empathy, the process of self-completion and fulfilment begins. Once this is set into practice, the partner or partners we will attract will be a match to that same love. We will feel the same rise of neurochemicals, but this time they will be founded on better terms, ones that serve our expansion and propel us into even deeper states of love and unity. It does not matter the gender, creed, or even the type of relationship (monogamy, polyamory etc.) or it’s duration, for we will be resonating what’s only in our best interest. The intimacy and love we have for ourselves will set the standard for all we let into our lives!
Pia ‘Llama’ is a visual artist specializing in photography, illustration and comic strips.