| Photo by PEAK99 via Wikimedia Commons
Many of us are familiar with the various shades of love, i.e., brotherly, motherly, romantic, platonic, unconditional, enduring, and finally puppy love (love of dogs, right?).
The overarching principle that binds all these is the human capacity for attachment. Attachment is fundamental in life due to the social nature of the human brain. It is the basic mechanism that underlies human relationships, the engine that drives the formation of family, tribe, and ultimately human society.
Humans are not designed to be solitary. Under the adverse condition of forced isolation, the mind invents imaginary company (remember Wilson of the movie Cast Away?) to maintain sanity and survive. The thinking part of the brain responsible for conscious awareness (known as the cerebral cortex) evolved rapidly as human relationships grew more complex. Adaptive mechanisms of the brain have developed to cope with and negotiate the growing complexity of human relationships.
Attachment evolved to ensure human survival through successful replication of our genes. This survival strategy is stored in every human gene, a script designed by evolution that plays out in the human drama of loving, living, and dying. Since a relationship is fundamental to successful social adaptation, we have a head start on it very early in our existence by forming attachments with our caregivers.
“Attachment evolved to ensure human survival through successful replication of our genes. This survival strategy is stored in every human gene, a script designed by evolution that plays out in the human drama of loving, living, and dying”
Evolution provides both the newborn and the mother’s brains with tools to facilitate attachment formation. The infant’s early attachment experience with the caregiver forms the basis of his future relationships and the ability to successfully harness them to navigate his social environment. When the development of early attachment is inadequate or disrupted, the growing child is bound to suffer from a spectrum of self-regulatory deficits, ranging from difficulties in emotional regulation to problems forming healthy social relationships. We are all familiar with women who repeatedly fall into abusive relationships or men who rely on alcohol to cope with difficult emotions.
A facet of attachment that enhances survival is the emergence of an important emotion called love. Love galvanizes and cements relationships that arise out of attachment. It provides assurance that we won’t only procreate and leave our genetic legacy but also guarantees that the parents will adequately nurture and raise the child. A mother’s love for her child makes it less likely to abandon the child. A man’s feeling of love binds him to a relationship with a woman and his progeny, thereby guaranteeing their survival as their protector and provider. Furthermore, the highly reinforcing reciprocal relationship between a woman and a man bolsters their child’s survival chances.
Although it appears that we consciously select who we fall in love with and choose a lifelong partner, the compelling evolutionary forces that shape and guide this behavior resides in our genes, and they are acted out by our brain. For example, natural selection has created a bias in a man’s brain for a younger and well-endowed woman because she is likely to be healthy, fertile, and capable of bearing a child, thus successfully replicating his genes.
“Meanwhile, we are unaware that thoughts, feelings, and behaviors involved in romantic love follow a script encoded in our genes. In a sense, we become genuinely delusional when in love.”
Conversely, a man of means and power (not so many looks and age) is desirable for a woman because he offers better chances for survival by providing protection and support for her and their offspring. The mind mitigates this deterministic process by rewarding us with pleasurable sensations and the intoxicating high of “falling in love.” Meanwhile, we are unaware that thoughts, feelings, and behaviors involved in romantic love follow a script encoded in our genes. In a sense, we become genuinely delusional when in love.
While attachment is necessary early and later in life to maintain love or sustain a social relationship, it hinders the pursuit of a spiritual path or religious vocation. The same may be said for those called upon to serve a higher cause or public service. Failing to renounce or overcome personal attachment corrupts the mind when responding to a higher calling. The mystics and monks of old went to the extent of renouncing worldly life to purge their minds of the corrosive influence of attachment to find enlightenment or serve God.
Attachment, in this case, is transmuted into the love of humanity or a Higher Being. This type of love directed to an abstract entity expects nothing in return. It is complete, and it is devoid of ego or selfishness. It is the highest form of love, the love of God or whatever name you call a Higher Being.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Dr. Fernando B. Perfas is an addiction specialist who has written several books and articles on the subject. He currently provides training and consulting services to various government and non-government drug treatment agencies regarding drug treatment and prevention approaches. He can be reached at email@example.com.