I love reading, writing and expressing myself in fiction and nonfiction forms.
What we really feel is reflected in what we do. The poet’s song is dazzling and the passion powerful, but the deepest beauty of love is how it changes lives.
— Rabbi David Wolpe.
The Power of Awareness
Moral values or principles of universal compassion can influence our behavior, with or without the flows of dopamine, oxytocin, or serotonin. Being aware of the biochemical factors in action when we feel bonding or love, can help us be resilient and avoid feeling destroyed by the ups and downs of relationships.
Love: Heart or Head? Emotion or Deed?
When we think of love, we think of the heart. To love, we need a brain to deal with feelings and emotions.
Love is generally viewed as a feeling and an emotion. Some people assert that love should be viewed not only as a feeling but as an enacted emotion. To love is to feel and act lovingly.
Rabbi David Wolpe points out that the first love mentioned in the bible (Genesis 22) is parental love. When a child is born, the parent’s reaction to this person who so recently did not exist, is to feel ready to do anything for that child. Love is in the doing when the “feeling is enacted”.
Popular opinion links love to romance. Romance is an emotional feeling of love for, or a strong attraction to, another person. It is only one of a variety of expressions of love.
The first definition of love found in the dictionary is that it is an intense feeling of deep affection. Comparable words for love are fondness, tenderness, intimacy, endearment, devotion, passion, caring, kindness, friendliness, sympathy, and romance.
Love is also taking a great interest and pleasure in something. Similar words are liking, partiality, leaning, and proclivity.
“Love never dies a natural death. It dies because we don’t know how to replenish its source. It dies of blindness and errors and betrayals. It dies of illness and wounds; it dies of weariness, of witherings, of tarnishings.”
— Anaïs Nin
Love Is Different From Passion
Love is different from passion, especially the kind of passion that is expressed in cruelty as in domestic violence, or one that does not express itself like when we are indifferent to our significant other. The feeling of love must connect to the act.
Some definitions of love include lust. I believe that lust belongs to the body, whereas love belongs to the mind and soul. Lust satisfies a biological need; love raises our level of consciousness that is then reflected in our actions.
Humans have a great ability for empathy, communication, friendship, romance, complex social structures, and self-sacrifice. They are also skilled at shaming, emotional cruelty, aggression, envy, jealousy, discrimination, and ruthlessness.
The pleasure centers in our brain get rewarded when we are in love. This makes the brain yearn for what is rewarding —in other words, the beloved. These reward centers are the same ones that become animated when people win the lottery or use cocaine. When we are rejected in love, the insula becomes stimulated. The insula is a part of the brain that is activated and becomes vibrant when we are in physical pain.
The human brain has three central parts, which are the Cerebrum, Cerebellum, and brain stem. It is the Cerebrum —the large, outer part of the brain— that controls reading, thinking, learning, speech, emotions, planned muscle movements like walking, vision, hearing, and other senses.
We hear that committing to a monogamous relationship is not natural, and that people cannot be expected to love and lust after only one person. Neuroscience (term explained below) has an explanation for this opinion.
Being in lust, as opposed to being in love, activates different parts of the brain, particularly the hypothalamus and the amygdala.
- The early records of the teaching of the Buddha translate lust to ‘desire’ or ‘thirst’. It is likely that the hypothalamus plays a role in the feeling of attachment, which is the root cause of suffering.
- Dopamine causes the production of testosterone, which is a major factor in the sex drive of men and women. Dopamine is known as the ‘pleasure chemical’ and suggests an increase in love. It is the chemical messenger of the body that gives the lover a high similar to the influence of narcotics. It is addictive to some extent.
- Otocin is sometimes known as the ‘cuddle hormone’ or the ‘love hormone’. It is a hormone produced by the posterior lobe of the pituitary gland, a pea-sized structure at the base of the brain. Oxytocin is released when people bond socially. It plays a role in social bonding, sexual reproduction, childbirth, and the period after childbirth (Wikipedia).
- The prefrontal cortex is the intellectual command and control center in our brain. Its level drops when we are in love. The amygdala, an important part of the brain’s threat-response system, also drops. This combination makes us willing to take more risks than usual, even ones that we consider irresponsible when we are in a different state of mind.
Crazy in Love
The brain of someone in love undergoes a drop in the neurotransmitter (term explained below) serotonin. Serotonin makes us feel in control and safe from the anxiety of uncertainty and unpredictability.
When the level of serotonin falls, our sense of control diminishes. We then become obsessed with whatever disturbs our certainty and stability. A low serotonin level combined with the unpredictability of love could render us obsessed. This must be the origin of the expression ‘crazy in love’.
Helen E. Fisher, a biological anthropologist and leading expert on the biology of love and attraction, quotes Plato in his The Symposium to show how the brain of a lover works. Plato said that the “God of Love lives in a state of need.” For H.E. Fisher, “romantic love is a need, a want, a craving, a homeostatic imbalance, a drive that arises from primitive regions of the mammalian brain, giving us the energy, focus and motivation to win a mating partner—life’s greatest prize.” It is a “physical and mental addiction to another human being.”
Love and lust can coexist in the brain, but not necessarily for the same person. They both produce a ‘high’, are addictive, and influence many of the same sections of the brain. But they are separate enough that a person can be in love with one person and in lust with another. This difference becomes even more significant as time passes.
As much as I respect and admire the work of Helen E. Fisher, I believe that a person’s upbringing and the values instilled in him or her at an early age, play a big role in the way he or she relates to lust and love.
What Is Neuroscience?
Neuroscience explores the structure and function of the human brain and nervous system.
What is a Neurotransmitter?
Neurotransmitters are referred to as the body's chemical messengers. They are the molecules that the nervous system uses to convey messages between neurons or communicate messages from neurons to muscles.
Love as Remedy?
“We Are Defining Love the Wrong Way” (2016). Rabbi David Wolpe. Time Ideas.
“Love in the Time of Neuroscience: Understanding the neurobiological reality of love need not drain it of its magic.” (2013). David DiSalvo. Psychology Today.
“The Madness of the Gods. Studying Poetry to Understand the Brain in Love.” (2011). Helen E. Fisher.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Liliane Najm (author) from Toronto, Canada on August 20, 2020:
I wonder if impulse control can help in differentiating love from lust in those moments when we feel blinded.
Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on August 20, 2020:
Sometimes differentiating love from lust becomes difficult and I wrote a hub as poem on that recently but you have made it much clear in a precise way that they are differenrt and affect our body and mind differently. Thanks.
Liliane Najm (author) from Toronto, Canada on August 02, 2020:
Thanks Danny. It is in fact the strongest and life-changing emotion.
Danny from India on August 02, 2020:
What an amazing concept Liliane. The awareness in Love.
It's considered the strongest emotion which is lacking today.