Although we think of love as an emotion, it is really more like a drive. Emotions come and go, whereas drives, like love, tend to persist. All emotions are associated with distinct facial expressions, whereas love is not. Love (like all of the basic drives I have discussed in this blog) is difficult to control. Furthermore, the most recent scientific research indicates that all drives, including love, are associated with activation of the brain pathway called the mesolimbic dopamine pathway.
Attraction: the first stage of love
Love, like other drives, is associated with wanting to get something. That something we are talking about here is a partner. The first stage of love, then, involves seeking out a partner. Scientists have called this the attraction phase. It is important for each person to understand how the attraction phase works within himself/herself. There are both conscious and unconscious parts to attraction.
The attraction phase involves the senses, primarily sight and smell. There may be chemicals that activate the brain through smell that we are not consciously aware of. Similarly, we may like the way someone looks and not be sure why. Our conscious mind and unconscious mind may be looking for different things in a partner. The unconscious mind plays a big role in our partner selection process.
It is important to realize that we can be taken over and captivated by attraction. Some of the symptoms of attraction or falling in love are “butterflies in the stomach,” clammy hands and racing heart. These symptoms are direct evidence of the physical nature of the love drive.
There is pleasure associated with getting the objects of our drives. In the brain, this pleasure involves many important chemicals like dopamine and the endorphins. Contact with the lover is also pleasurable because it releases oxytocin. This chemical produces reward by calming us down. (It doesn’t matter that it is the lover’s fault that we need calming.) Oxytocin is a powerful, natural anti-anxiety chemical.
The attraction phase usually lasts no more than 18 months. The reason for this is that it is too consuming. People have to be able to function, and when our energies are over focused on a lover, we aren’t as productive in other areas. Furthermore, the attraction phase has only one purpose. That is to get us hooked. When the pleasure chemicals and anxiety relieving chemicals are released in the brain, a compulsion is formed. That compulsion is to be with the lover. So the love that starts out as pleasure in the company of the lover becomes a compulsion. When the compulsion phase sets in, we feel compelled to stay with our lover no matter what. That is when we know “bonding” has taken place.
So the stages of love basically involve attraction, followed by great pleasure, followed by bonding. I would add a fourth stage, caretaking. Normal people feel an urge to take care of others toward whom they feel bonded.
Sociopaths and love
Ability to love, then, involves attraction, pleasure, bonding and caretaking. How is the sociopath’s experience of love different from what I have described? First, I never met a sociopath who did not do exactly what he/she wanted. I have to conclude from this that the attraction phase operates relatively normally in the sociopath. In fact, many sociopaths hang around only as long as the attraction phase lasts. There is evidence that emotional arousal is abnormal in sociopaths. So I would also assume they experience the pleasures of attraction without the “butterflies.”
It is blatantly obvious that sociopaths do not bond in the usual sense. Their love drive is thus stuck in the attraction gear and they can go no further than attraction. But don’t stop there! As the sociopath experienced the pleasures of his/her latest object of attraction, his/her drive for conquest was also activated.
The sociopath simultaneously experiences pleasure in attraction and pleasure in conquest or power. In other words, although the sociopath cannot form a love bond, he/she can acquire a possession which he/she strongly believes belongs to him/her.
If I enjoy something and I work very hard to get that thing, it is mine! I feel entitled to something I enjoy and work for. That thing also should keep giving me pleasure and satisfaction in order to stay wanted. If a possession is no longer pleasant and appealing to me, I throw it in the garbage. Now, if someone breaks in and tries to steal my possessions, I am angry and feel violated. Does any of this sound familiar?
Unlike the caretaking of the true love bond, the caretaking behavior of sociopaths is only self serving. I take care of my stuff because I have to. If I want people to envy me, I make the outside of my house look good and wax my car. Then people driving by see the great looking house with the new car in the driveway and think I really have it made. My stuff gives me status. If I don’t take care of my stuff, my status goes down.
So again we see that although sociopaths have a rudimentary love drive, in the end their drives are all about power and status. Don’t be fooled by the occasional care taking behavior, it is not motivated by empathy or a true love bond.