Why love is not an emotion — revisited

June 3, 2015

Every emotion has a unique purpose

Emotions are extremely important aspects of your cognition, your conscious awareness, your social skills, and your ability to communicate — and each one has a unique reason for arising.

Cover of The Language of EmotionsEvery emotion has a specific function, a specific purpose, and a specific action for you to complete so that it can move on and make room for your next emotion, your next thought, and your next idea. I explore emotions empathically as unique and separate entities that require unique responses, and if you’d like to develop your own empathic sense for emotions, you can start by observing something that isn’t an emotion: Love.

When an emotion is healthy, it arises only when it’s needed, it shifts and changes in response to its environment, and it recedes willingly once it has addressed an issue. When love is healthy, it does none of these things.

If emotions repeat themselves endlessly, or appear with the same exact intensity over and over again, then something’s wrong. Yet real love is a steadfast promise that repeats itself endlessly through life and beyond death. Love does not increase or decrease in response to its environment, and it does not change with the changing winds. Love is not an emotion; it doesn’t behave the way emotions do. Real love is in a category of its own.

Those things we’ve learned to equate with love – the longing, the physical attraction, the shared hobbies, the desire, the yearning, the lust, the projections, the addictive cycles, the passions – those things move and change and fluctuate in the way emotions do, but they’re not love, because love is utterly stable and utterly unaffected by any emotion. When we love truly, we can experience all our free-flowing, mood state, and intense emotions (including fear, rage, hatred, grief, and shame) while continuing to love and honor our loved ones. Love isn’t the opposite of fear, or anger, or any other emotion. Love is much, much deeper than that.

Yet for some people, love is really just adoration, which is merely a form of bright-shadow projection (see my work on the shadow). These love-struck people find the person who best typifies their unlived shadow material – good and bad – and live in a sort of trance with them. Though I wouldn’t call that sad game love, it’s what passes for love in many relationships: You find someone who can act out your unlived material, attach yourself to them, and enter into a haunted carnival ride of moods and desires. When the projections fall, and you see your adoration target for who he or she truly is, you become disillusioned and try to reattach your projections or even seek another person to project onto.

But that’s not love, because real love doesn’t play games with other people’s souls, and it doesn’t depend upon what you can project onto your partner, or what you can get out of the relationship. Real love is a prayer and a deathless promise: an unwavering dedication to the soul of your loved one and to the soul of the world. Emotions and desires can come and go as they please, and circumstances can change in startling ways, but real love never wavers. Real love endures all emotions – and it survives trauma, betrayal, divorce, and even death.

The truth about love is this: Love is constant; only the names change. Love doesn’t just restrict itself to romantic relationships. Love is everywhere – in the hug of a child, in the concern of a friend, in the center of your family, and in the hearts of your pets. When you’re lost and you can’t seem to find love anywhere, you’re actually listening to love in human language, instead of listening to the language of love. Love is constant; it’s not an emotion.

If you want to explore love as an emotion, you’ll have to read a book by someone who wasn’t raised by animals and isn’t an empath – because I sense a visceral difference between love and emotion. I can be furious with people I love, frightened of them, and utterly disappointed in them, but the love never wavers. If my loved ones are too damaged or dissimilar for our relationship to work, I don’t stay with them (and I don’t let them keep my credit cards!), but I don’t stop loving them.

Love for me lives in a realm far deeper than the emotions, and in that deep and rich place, words don’t carry a lot of meaning. So I’ll let words about love fall into the meaningful silence all around us, and we’ll move on.

(excerpt from pages 123-124 in The Language of Emotions: What Your Feelings Are Trying to Tell You by Karla McLaren, 2010)

5 Comments

Robyn August 15, 2015 at 8:36 am

Hi Karla — I appreciate the wisdom in this post, thank you. One concept I can’t get either my head or heart around is how it is possible to “love” someone (and I like your words “an unwavering dedication to the soul of your loved one”) and yet not stay with them. I have people in my life that are “damaged or dissimilar” and relationships with them are mostly painful or fraught with stress and I want to withdraw from the relationship, but in doing so, it feels as if I am withdrawing my love for doing so. Do you have any insight to add to this challenge of mine?

Karla August 17, 2015 at 2:48 pm

Hello Robyn, and thanks for your question. The concept of self-love and self-empathy become important in situations like this. We can love people and not be with them, as you do with best friends who’ve moved away, or past lovers after you’ve grown apart. It’s very easy to love people and not be in direct everyday contact with them.

But I wonder if the crux of this question is whether you have the right to ask for what you need? I think that if you can speak honestly with the person about what isn’t working, and then see if he or she will make adjustments, then you can know if your needs have any chance of being met. If not, you can move on with thanks for the honesty, without having to tear the person up. Leaving without consciousness, or without telling the person why, can be very unloving, as we’ve all experienced.

What I was commenting upon in my piece is that there’s no reason to try to destroy people or dehumanize them — in the way many people do during divorce proceedings or breakups — or to think that love ends simply because the relationship can’t work. I make a distinction now between the ability to love and the ability to be in a working relationship. They’re not the same thing.

Love really isn’t enough to make a relationship work. Love is natural for many of us, but relationships are work; there has to be reciprocity, compatibility, the willingness to grow and change, and the capacity to work with emotions and difficulties. Many lovable people simply don’t have relationship skills, and that’s sad. But it’s important to know that if you want to have workable relationships.

Emma Michelle August 29, 2015 at 4:06 pm

It’s so difficult when society models love as being contingent on having the relationship we want. I really empathise with the fear that withdrawing from relationships is withdrawing love. I’ve recently had some real growth in this area as my ex husband and I have been separated for nearly 4 years and our friendship is deep and genuine, and yes, there is love, but it doesn’t mean we ought to be marriage partners, and in fact we are re-partnered. Once I let go of my need to define what love can and cannot be, I embraced our friendship and in fact, it’s helped me so much become more compassionate towards myself and others. Love your work, Karla. I use “Auras and Chakras” in my practice and with myself…

Karla August 30, 2015 at 8:45 pm

Thanks Emma — good points!

Robyn September 16, 2015 at 10:49 am

Just saw your reply, thank you Karla. In the particular case I was thinking about when I wrote this is that I have asked for what I need (and yes, you got that right, I have had major issues with that), it was acknowledged, verbally agreed to, and then ignored and forgotten, then denied that anything was agreed to. This has happened multiple times. When I have distanced myself out of a need to protect myself, I was the one accused of harming them for doing so. Perhaps the real issue is my need to grieve the loss of a relationship, but it is difficult to fully part because they are extended family. I appreciate your points that it takes more than love to make relationships work and that there is a difference between the ability to love and the ability to be in a working relationship.

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