“Ever more people today have the means to live, but no meaning to live for.”
Viktor E. Frankl
During the several years I worked as an inpatient mental health therapist, I completed somewhere around 900 mental status exams on children (5-17) admitted for severe psychiatric concerns. Entering the program for stabilization, many of them were experiencing severe symptoms of depression and had attempted suicide. During my work with these kids–when they were ultimately able to identify a “reason” to continue living–9 times out of 10, their reason was a connection with another being.
More and more I am discovering and re-discovering that people aren’t meant to be alone. The soul searches and longs for companionship and connection. Love connects us. Psychologists and researchers have proposed a number of different theories of love. Love is a basic human emotion, but understanding how and why it happens is not necessarily easy. In fact, for a long time, many people suggested that love was simply something that science couldn’t understand.
Psychologist Zick Rubin proposed that romantic love is made up of three elements: attachment, caring, and intimacy. Attachment is the need to receive care, approval, and physical contact with the other person. Caring involves valuing the other persons needs and happiness as much as your own. Intimacy refers to the sharing of thoughts, desires, and feelings with the other person.
According to psychologist Elaine Hatfield and her colleagues, there are two basic types of love: compassionate love and passionate love. Compassionate love is characterized by mutual respect, attachment, affection, and trust. Compassionate love usually develops out of feelings of mutual understanding and shared respect for one another. Passionate love is characterized by intense emotions, sexual attraction, anxiety, and affection. When these intense emotions are reciprocated, people feel elated and fulfilled. Unreciprocated love leads to feelings of despondence and despair. Hatfield suggests that passionate love is transitory, usually lasting between 6 and 30 months. Hatfield also suggests that passionate love arises when cultural expectations encourage falling in love, when the person meets your preconceived ideas of an ideal love, and when you experience heightened physiological arousal in the presence of the other person.
Ideally, passionate love then leads to compassionate love, which is far more enduring, and what long-term relationships are based on. While most people desire relationships that combine the security and stability of compassionate with the intensity of passionate love, most researchers believe that this is rare.
So what is the point? What happens when you have a broken heart? The term is used to describe those terrible feelings of unreciprocated love, damage to our ego, and ultimately disappointment. But I would suggest that it is not only humans who break our hearts, but society as well. We become disillusioned and jaded when injustice occurs, when we suffer despite our best efforts, and when there is no end to this suffering in sight.
However, I would argue that love is bigger than a broken heart. In all of its complexity, love remains capable and present, despite being bruised and battered. When I look at the ways in which a person can love and be loved, my spirits are lifted. We form attachments that include caring for others and their needs. We value other peoples needs and happiness as much as our own. We share, respect, and trust. All of these are choices that we are capable of making as human beings, time and time again. We have freedom to choose our attitude, despite our circumstances.
There is no way to describe the feeling of caring for another person, such that it enables them to identify their own reason to live.
I hope that I will always choose to love and serve others.
What meaning do you live for?