How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
~ Elizabeth Barrett Browning
The students were eager to take the class taught by Dr. Love. They knew the enrollment was limited, but they were determined to get a seat. No, this wasn’t Tal-Ben Shahar’s Positive Psychology course at Harvard. It was 1972 at the University of Southern California and Leo Buscaglia was teaching Love 101, a unique way at looking at human love through the lens of sociology and psychology.
The study of love hasn’t been lost on the radical humanistic psychology of the 1970’s. It is alive and well today. Robert Sternberg, Dean of Arts and Sciences at Tufts University, developed a triangular theory of love relationships. He claims that consummate or complete love is made up of three components:
- passion, and
Intimacy is the intellectual and emotional connection in relationships. Passion is the romantic dimension, and commitment is the duty to care for the other. When all are in concert, the love relationship is complete.There are many possibilities for combinations of the three elements in the triangle. First, there is the non-loving relationship, in which there is no presence of the three elements. Empty love is likened to committed relationships that have lost their spark, or are committed but never had a spark from the beginning. Infatuated love – the Crush – works on passion. Sometimes this is the start of a romantic relationship. However, if intimacy and commitment do not develop, then the infatuation usually evaporates. True romantic love exists on a strong emotional level through intimacy and passion. And fatuous love is observed in people who are motivated with passion and commitment, sometimes the result of a swift courtship. Liking is akin to friendship and includes the element of intimacy – a closeness to another person. Companionate love is stronger than liking in that it involves a commitment to an other. This is the classic “BFF” Best Friends Forever relationship that is built on unconditional trust with strong intimacy and commitment.
Loving to Hate
Sternberg has also studied the opposite of consummate love and has constructed the triangular theory of hate. He claims that consummate hate is made up of the same intimacy, passion, and commitment elements, but with a different twist. People who hate are passionate when eliciting anger and fear about a person or groups of people. There is also a commitment involved in “devaluing” others. Third, there is a negation of intimacy tending towards disgust: “I am disgusted with you!”
I believe a subtle version of hate comes from the German term, Schadenfreude, which means “taking pleasure in the pain of others.” Sound familiar! We are all fallible beings, and Schadenfreude rears its ugly head in most people at some time, and typically comes alive with concerns about social comparison.
One antidote to Schadenfreude is developing the habit of Active Constructive Responding (ACR), created by Shelley Gable and her colleagues. When people try to find what is good in others, and hear the good things others have to say, then they can help capitalize on their good fortune by responding in positive and empathic ways. In this manner, it helps people to be less self-absorbed in social comparison, and helps others feel understood, validated, and cared for. Sounds like a win-win! ACR is no easy remedy for a seasoned Schadenfreude, but, by developing this different, more positive habit, it can yield wonderful results for all involved.
Can Love and Hate be Addictive?
Can certain types of love become addictive, with an out of control coursing of dopamine throughout the human organism just upon seeing or thinking of the beloved? Helen Fisher, an anthropologist at Rutgers University and the author of Why We Love, has done extensive research on the sociological and biological mechanisms of love that might contribute to such cravings.
The natural levels of dopamine and serotonin in our brains vary from person to person. Some may naturally have a higher level of these chemicals than others. Can this natural level create susceptibility to falling in love or misinterpreting an infatuation as a deep-seated love? For example, Fisher claims that “romantic love” can lead to obsessive tendencies, and in some cases nudge toward obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). The dopamine neurotransmitters are raging, and at the same time, serotonin levels are dropping leaving little sense of satisfaction or calm. With the amygdala and total limbic system highly aroused, we can see very interesting behaviors surrounding how people love, and maybe how people hate!
Dr. Love is probably smiling brightly from the heavens, amazed at how the study of love has progressed.
Buscaglia, L. (1982). Living Loving and Learning. Fawcett.
Fisher, H. (2004). Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love. Holt.
Gable, S.L., Reis, H.T., Impett, E.A., & Asher, E.R. (2004). What do you do when things go right? The intrapersonal and interpersonal benefits of sharing positive events. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 87,, 228-245.
Sternberg, Robert J. (1988). The Triangle of Love: Intimacy, Passion, Commitment. New York: Basic Books.