The Genetics and Neuroscience of Love
Neuroscience is on the hunt for the essence of what connects us. The evidence is now clear that we are connected with each other emotionally in deeper ways than we have been able to imagine.
Louis Cozolino in the book “The Neuroscience of Human Relationships” writes:
“There are no single brains…Through the biochemical alchemy of template and transcription genetics, experience becomes flesh, love takes material form, and culture is passed through a group and carried forward through time.”
What Cozolino is getting at is that the very wiring of our brains and the coding of our genetics are formed by the quality of our relationships. Our relationships shape and mold us into who we are. Our ability to trust, the stability of our emotions, and our self confidence are all shaped by the people that are closest to us.
The idea that our childhoods shape our personalities now has a foundation in neuroscience. If our caregivers gave us a safe and loving environment to grow up in our tendency to want to fight or run when we sense a hint of relationship trouble will be reduced. Repeated exposure to volatile emotions, violent behavior, or emotional abandonment will build circuits into our brains that help us survive the trauma. We usually do this by getting out of the perceived path of danger or by shutting down our ability to feel our own troubling emotions altogether.
These survival behaviors can cause us great trouble later in life when we are in marriages or other close relationships that require trust. We will habitually emotionally shut down or attack anyone who reminds us of the caregiver that was unsafe. No matter how much we think about reacting in a different way the emotional part of our brains react before we can stop ourselves often causing a counter-reaction from the person who touched the raw spot of our emotions.
If this reaction is automatic and hard-wired into our neurophysiology how can we escape the cycle of over or under responding to the emotions of others?
Life presents us with hard realities that none of us can escape. Loved ones die, businesses fail, success causes stress. Staying in loving relationship with others during emotion-elevating circumstances is the key to feeling secure and self confident. It is virtually impossible to be healthy without being able to stay securely attached to the people we care about.
Emotionally Focused Therapy is a clinically proven method for helping couples to repair the mistrust that results from cycles of emotional escalation and isolation. Every insecurely attached person who is in relationship trouble will attempt to get his or her needs met by either attacking and demanding that the other person be responsive or by shutting down and refusing to show or feel any emotion at all.
This pattern of attack and withdraw creates a wider and wider distance between partners which at some point is too painful to tolerate.
The repair for this toxic cycle is to recognize that the cycle, not your partner, is the problem. Most of the time we marry someone that is about as secure or insecure as we are. Trading your current relationship for another insecure relationship is not the answer.
Learning together how to navigate your way through your reactive cycle is the key to both healing your relationship and permanently repairing your unhealthy neurophysiology.
“May Your unfailing love be my comfort” Psalms 119:76
We all want and need unconditional love. It is the foundation for healthy identity and for the secure base that allows us to navigate the challenges of life. Trusting in the unconditional love of God can provide a foundation for taking the risk to trust our closest relationships.
Understanding the genetics of love and owning our tendency to attack or flee from the emotions of others is the first step to healing the trauma of the past and to creating a bright future.