The Role of Love in Mental Health

Love breathes. Love relaxes us, it restores what was lost and mends what was broken. It lets us feel whole and alive, a part of something bigger than ourselves.
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I love words like attachment and attunement, attending and caregiving. I suppose it's because they put me in touch with what I know to be at the center of everything, and that is love. Why is it so much easier for us to talk about "attachment" than love? Because it is blog week, of mental health awareness month, I decided to be much more informal in sharing what is really important to me. Love. It dances around the edges of so much of what we deal with in therapy, it burns hot at the very core of all that we do.

Really, it is love that gives a person a sense that they are worthy and valuable. It is love that motivates us to be more than we thought we could be, that gives us the courage to do something as mind-boggling as get married or have a child. Within love are all of those components that make us able to forge on in a world that is constantly offering up challenges to our sense of self. Within love there is commitment, attachment and patience. With love, most things are possible, without it, life is a constant struggle against emptiness. People do phenomenal things for those they love simply because they cannot bear the thought of losing them or the idea that they may be suffering. Love can help us cope with illness or deprivation on a socioeconomic level. It can give us the strength to tolerate inhuman conditions or the passion to survive and thrive in spite of the odds against us. Love is empowering. It brings hope. It allows for wonder, magic and mystery. Love is that elixir that can turn tears of sadness into laughter, that can, as they say, warm a winter's night. When all else fails, love is there and it is often enough to turn the tide.

Many of the wounds that I deal with as a therapist result from a lack of love, or at least a lack of love made manifest. All of us need to know that we are loved; with it, a moderate salary and modest surrounds can still feel like a gift and a privilege, something to be grateful for. Without it, there is a constant void. Money cannot buy love. Money can fill a house with beautiful things, gadgets and endless amusements, but it cannot fill a heart. Love can. Love can make the most ordinary meal delicious and the most basic surroundings feel OK. We feel mocked by a room that holds everything we could want but is missing what we want the most, it points out so starkly what's lacking. When there is love in a home, there is a place to come back to, somewhere to feel special, to know that someone is waiting for you, someone for whom the world would not be right without you. Love makes us feel seen on the inside. It moves past surfaces and gets into the cracks of our being. It is the glue that holds life together.

When we talk about mental health, we should probably talk about the role that love plays in creating it. How love holds us to another person, how it moves us to empathy, to carful and caring interactions. How it pulls at our insides when something is amiss and makes us react. How it notices when there is too much distance and calls us back. How it makes us responsible to another person, because we feel, from the inside, how much we matter. And knowing that makes us matter to ourselves. We take care of ourselves, respect ourselves, want to make something of our lives for the sake of love. When we feel loved, we feel that the world somehow approves of us. What happens on the outside becomes tolerable, because we have a special place held safe for us by those who love us. Love brings its own kind of sanity because it gives us the strength to face what we have to face, to feel what we have to feel. So much of pathology comes from running away from our inner world when it presses down too hard upon us. We run from what we feel, we hide our painful emotions under a pile of sugar, junk food, liquor, drugs or frenetic activity. We seek out a kind of sex that is really just a frantic search for a pair of arms to hold us. And when we run and hide, our problems just grow, in our misguided solutions we create more pain, more to run from. Love pulls us toward its own center, the way a mother's attention pulls a child towards warmth and brings her back from the edges of aloneness or fear, toward balance and connection. Love breathes. Love relaxes us, it restores what was lost and mends what was broken. It lets us feel whole and alive, a part of something bigger than ourselves. So when we talk about mental health, when we speculate on how it is built and rebuilt, we should probably talk more about love.

For more by Dr. Tian Dayton, click here.

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