Have you ever wondered why even the smartest people make dumb decisions when it comes to love? You have probably heard the expression “we are all fools in love”. But a little known fact is that there is an actual biological reason why.
Humans are born about three months premature. If we were born completely developed (the way that most other mammals are) we would not be able to fit through our mother’s birth canal. Because we are born immature, we have absolutely no way of meeting our own needs in the first few months of life, and so our survival is entirely dependent on our caregivers. More than that, our survival is entirely dependent on our caregivers loving us. The first thing we learn in our lives is that if our caregivers do not love us, our needs won’t be met and we will eventually die. Because of this, it becomes very important that we do anything we can to get love because our brain (the organ that is in charge of ensuring our survival) equates love to survival. The sympathetic nervous system is in charge of our survival response. The part of our brain called the hypothalamus (which is a very primitive part of the brain) triggers our sympathetic nervous system to react when it perceives danger. We call this reaction the fight or flight response. The fight or flight response is an intelligent design as far as evolution is concerned because it enables us to jump out of the way of oncoming danger in a split second; as opposed to using our more evolved, rational processes to asses whether something is in fact a danger to us before jumping out of the way.
The hypothalamus accomplishes this survival technique by “hijacking” the rest of the brain. It releases signals that override the parts of our brain that are in charge of reasoning (such as the cortex). The parts of our brain that are in charge of reasoning are the parts that we associate with intelligence. But those parts of our brain are not the parts that are in charge of our behaviors or actions when our survival is threatened. Only the most primitive parts of our brain are in charge of our behaviors and actions when our survival is threatened. So what does this mean for humans and love?
Because humans harbor a deep-seated association between love and survival, when we feel as if we need love from someone, suddenly our survival mechanisms are triggered. The part of our brain that begins to rule relative to the object of our love is our primitive brain. When our primitive brain is in charge of our behaviors and actions, we can no longer remain rational relative to whatever we want love from. Our evolution has primed us to act for survival before we act for logic. Our thinking mind is incapacitated. And when we feel threatened with the possibility of loosing love, our bodies react as if our survival is being threatened. In other words, when it seems as if we are loosing love, we biochemically react in a similar way to how we would act if we were being held under water. We cannot understand that the matter at hand is not a matter of life and death. This is the real reason that it feels so risky to stop seeking approval from others. This is the real reason that it seems so risky to end relationships that no longer serve our highest good. And this is the real reason that even the smartest people act like fools when it comes to love.
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