170. Sex & Dating: Love Sickness: The Problematic & Pathological Side of Love

14 takeaways from this lecture:

00:01:08 Lovesickness is the “informal physical and mental afflictions and negative feelings associated with rejection, unrequited love or the absence of a loved one.”

Symptoms of love relative to a mental illness can include:

  • Mania – an abnormally elevated mood, inflated self-esteem, and extravagant gift-giving
  • Depression – Tearfulness, insomnia, loss of appetite & inability to concentrate
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) – Preoccupation, impulsively checking text/email messages, hygiene rituals, hoarding valueless but resonant items

Italian scientists have found that the presence of serotonin in the brain is similar for humans in love and humans suffering from OCD.

Frank Tallis theorizes our body’s reaction to love is to override our logical mind, causing humans to do what we normally wouldn’t do, or what goes against logic.

00:05:14 If being in love is painful, the loss of love and unreciprocated love is excruciating. Researchers have found that the degree of pain registered in the brain resulting from the loss of love and unreciprocated love is equal to being physically burned on your skin.

The same limbic system areas of the brain are activated whether a person is experiencing unreciprocated love or trying to overcome a drug addiction. Note: this was found on a group of people who identified as having lost love but ‘had not yet given up on fixing the relationship with their ex-lover.’

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Recall in the documentary How to Run A Business: Superbrand Secrets From The Fashion Industry that most of human behavior is driven by unconscious brain processes. The human brain evolved to make us better at surviving and breeding:

  • The limbic system is where humans feel emotions. This is why the acts of eating and having sex are so enjoyable.
  • The neocortex is the intellectual part of our brains and developed on top of our limbic system as we evolved. While your neocortex allows you to make sense of your decisions and explain them, it doesn’t change the fact that deep down your decisions, reasoning and preferences originate from your emotions.

Also, priming is “a process in which the processing of a target stimulus is aided or altered by the presentation of a previously presented stimulus.” When you see things that you have been primed to like, the pleasure centers in your limbic system responsible for reward, craving and addiction activate.

Connect one stimulus with another enough times, and your brain unconsciously connects the two.]

00:08:30 Studies show that social rejection has measurable consequences on the autonomic nervous system – the part of the body which “regulates bodily functions such as the heart rate, digestion, respiratory rate, pupillary response, urination, and sexual arousal.”

A study was done where participants where told that an attractive potential mate had said s/he found the participant unattractive. The researches noticed the participant’s heart rate slowed down and took longer to return to normal. This reaction was greater if the rejection wasn’t anticipated: saving the fight for another day.

Your sympathetic nervous system is responsible for gathering resources for fight or flight and energy expenditure, whereas your parasympathetic nervous system is reserved for calming you down and gathering and preparing resources for future use.

00:10:28 The immense grief that comes with losing a partner has been shown to actually lead do premature death. “40% of men and 26% of women die within 3 years of their partner.”

00:12:20 Mending a broken heart:

  • Is in many ways similar to overcoming a drug addiction.
  • Don’t blame yourself or your ex because there are many reasons why relationships end.
  • Seek out social support rather than drive them away.
  • Distract yourself with hobbies & work projects that evoke old memories.
  • Avoid the photos, locations and objects that bring back associations related to your broken heart.
  • Stay healthy and in good shape.

00:14:26 There are two dimensions to attachment style which can actually help to predict how people will respond to a broken heart:

  1. Avoidant – feeling uncomfortable when people get too close to you
  2. Anxiety – feeling constantly afraid your partner will abandon you

[EDITOR’S NOTE: For more on why relationsihps end, watch Frank Conner’s lecture Sex & Dating: The Psychology of Love & Phases of The Breakup Process.

Also, recall from Frank Conner’s lecture that successful relations depend on your ability to form attachments. Babies are innately attracted, both physically and emotionally, to its care givers. Those attachments developed when you were very young stay with you throughout your life, and are broadly defined as either:

  • Secure – you feel good about other people and about yourself, and you trust yourself and other people in relationships.
  • Anxious/ambivalent – you feel good about other people, but not so much about yourself, worried that other people may hurt or leave you. As a result you tend to be clingy and ‘do everything you can’ to keep a person interested in you.
  • Avoidant – you don’t trust other people, and don’t really care whether or not you have a relationship.

While the baby’s early years are critical to which of these attachment strategies are formed, they are not absolute, and with effort can be re-oriented. Likewise, a series of really bad and disappointing relationships can cause you to begin questioning your values, which would also re-orient your attachment style.]

00:17:12 Pathological love is defined as an ‘uncontrollable, over-possessive caring for a partner that is recognized by the individual themselves as detrimental to other aspects of their lives.’ (Sophia et al (2009))

The personality profile of pathological lovers tend to be impulsive, reward-dependent, spiritual and with a low self-esteem, and have a more anxious attachment style (explained above).

00:19:18 Pet owners have been shown to be more attached to their pet than to their partner. In part, this is because:

  • Pets emit infant signals that arouse their owner’s parental instincts. Often pets may serve as child substitutes.
  • Pets don’t argue, complain and leave.
  • Pets reduce stress and can actually increase life longevity.

00:20:10 Jealousy is a normal protective human emotion (if kept in check) and serves to behave in a way that keeps your partner from leaving you. Men tend to be more jealous of being their partner’s only lover, while women more jealous of being their partner’s only emotional provider.

But jealousy can vary according to the above mentioned attachment styles:

  • Women tend to be more jealous of being their partner’s only emotional provider, and jealousy is increased when their competitor is attractive. Also, contraceptive pills high in synthetic oestrogens such as ethinyl oestradiol increase jealousy.
  • Men tend to be more jealous of being their partner’s only lover, and social dominance is priority, with physical height being a key element. Shorter men tend to experience more jealousy than their taller competitors, and men with low prenatal testosterone tend to be more jealous.

00:24:35 Stalking is defined as the ‘repeated, unwanted following or harrassment of another person.”

About 8% of women and 2% of men have been stalked. Reasons for stalking may vary from:

  • An ex-lover’s refusal to let the relationship end
  • An effort to start a relationship with a celebrity or someone ‘out of reach.’
  • Social incompetence – the person doesn’t understand that his or her ‘clumsy courtship’ is construed as stalking.
  • Revenge
  • Planning a sexual assault. Serial killers will sometimes stalk their victims.

Women have been known to qualify men and test their devotion by putting them through ‘tests.’ The man’s persistence can pay off, provided he correctly reads her cues.

00:28:47 Second to being stalked by a serial killer is being stalked by an ex-lover because:

  • Ex-lovers who stalk are usually ‘controlling,’ psychopaths with a history of abusive relationships, and so are likely to have stalked before.
  • Phrases such as “The relationship is over and I never want to see you again” are interpreted as provocation.
  • They can be extremely intrusive because as ex-lovers they intimitely know you and have some influence in your environment, i.e. your children, colleagues and neighbors, etc.
  • Their stalking can last years, resulting in an increase in anxiety, fear and depression; particularly when there are threats of violence.
  • There tends to be a 50% chance the ex will become violent.

00:30:36 Around 50% of murdered women are killed by an ‘intimate.’ Studies have shown that 2/3rds of the women murdered had been assaulted prior to the murder attempt. Those women who had been spied on were twice as likely to be victims of murder/attempted murder. Also, women with children had a 9x higher risk that their children may be harmed if the woman did not get back together with the ex.

00:32:26 De Clerambault’s Syndrome, or erotomania, is the ‘delusional belief that one is loved by another person.’ A common example of erotomania would be a middle-aged woman who believes that a high status male is secretly in love with her but he is prevented for one reason or another from declaring his love for her. “See, he is wearing my favorite color” is an example of the logic associated with erotomania. Extreme cases may result in the person harassing or even murdering their lover’s wife so that the man can now declare his love for her, or murdering the man out of anger of his ambiguous signals and mixed messages.

But not all erotomania is delusional, as it may begin with a fling or an affair followed by the person developing an obsession for the person.

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00:38:23 Evolutionarily speaking, the various forms of lovesickness may be understood as evolutionary adaptations that have become exaggerated, or have gone wrong:

  • Obsessional love likely comes out of the mechanism for narrowing your mate choice. Lust is based on sexual desire, while obsession is narrowing your range of partners so you don’t waste your time chasing too many partners; this, according to Helen Fisher in her TED Talk ‘Why We Love and Cheat,” is what ‘being in love’ is all about.
  • Depression may be an advanced form of your parasympathetic nervous system (mentioned above) calming you down gathering and preparing resources to fight another day.
  • Extreme jealousy and stalking may be extremely clumsy courtship and mate retention tactics to the point where they are counter-productive.
  • Female erotomania may stem from a woman’s parental investment theory and evolutionary desire to acquire high-ranking, long-term mates who can protect and provide for them.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: For more information on the biological and evolutionary implications of extreme jealousy and female erotomania, watch Robert Sapolsky’s lectures Intersexual Competition & Male/Female Hierarchies and Where Game Theory & Evolution Collide for Standford University.]

Males do tend to be more dangerous in whatever it is they’re doing.

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