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Why love is not an emotion

Every emotion has a purpose

Emotions are extremely important aspects of your awareness, your intelligence, your social skills, and your ability to communicate — and each one has a purpose.

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. As we explore emotions as distinct and separate entities that require unique responses, I thought you might like to get an empathic sense for emotions by looking at 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.

(from The Language of Emotions: What Your Feelings Are Trying to Tell You, Karla McLaren, 2010)

14 Comments

hadrien February 6, 2013 at 3:45 pm

wow, just WOw……

Kaitlyn February 7, 2013 at 9:14 am

I love this! For me it was the most profound part of your Soundstrue course.

Jude March 2, 2013 at 9:56 am

Thank you for this reminder of what love really is!

Susan August 31, 2013 at 5:05 pm

Hi Karla,
You write above that when we love truly we can experience all of our emotions even rage etc and still honor ppl whom we love. When I read this I notice that you are saying I can experience mine–rather than I can experience yours…I think this is an important distinction because I can love a person truly and limit my exposure to them when they are in the raging rapids of a particular emotion. Am I perceiving this as you intended it?
Susan

Ajit Karve September 1, 2013 at 4:21 am

That was insightful. Thanks.

Karla September 1, 2013 at 8:47 pm

Hello Susan! Let me clarify; are you asking if you can still feel the love of others when they’re dealing with an intense emotion?

As to your second point; certainly. Love and self-care can co-exist, and if your loved ones are behaving in ways that are endangering to you, the loving them from afar is awesome.

raviteja October 30, 2013 at 12:05 am

karla.
1. when we have true love towards our loved ones …how to handle the news of their death

2. if love is constant why we all dont experience it..i mean true love…

3. what is value or final result we get when we love some one truly.

4. U said love is constant we can find it any where ,,then what is value of loving one person truly and staying in relation for long time..

Karla October 30, 2013 at 1:27 pm

Hello raviteja,

1. The Gifts of Grief
2. Romantic love is not constant, but love itself is. Sometimes, focusing on the idea of an idealized “true” love obscures the actual, tangible love of friends, family, and animals.
3. Rumi can tell you.
4. The value is different for everyone. Some have no interest in long-term relationships; others live for them.

keith Schneider November 25, 2013 at 12:41 am

Given by the grace of God
This feeling of pain,
This feeling of grief
this chance to be human and humble.
Given by the grace of God
This awareness of fear,
this awareness we ALL feel fear.
Given by the grace of God
This ability to witness all these contractions of spirit,
Given by the grace of god
The ability to stare all of this in the face,
eye to eye- toe to toe and still by the grace of god to choose the ability
to love to reach out my hands again and again to understand ,
how to manifest love .
To use every challenge as a chance and a choice to open my heart ,
and soften my judgement .
To choose the determination to stay present and not withdraw .

TO INVITE the SPACE to open and allow something new to arise in my heart

GIVEN BY THE GRACE OF GOD

Karla November 26, 2013 at 10:29 am

Thank you Keith for your lovely poem. As an agnostic atheist, I’m very interested in people’s experience of God or gods, and as I read through your poem, I think that if I were to attribute this intelligence to anything specific, it would be to the emotional realm itself. In The Language of Emotions, I included a poem about emotions by Rumi, because it speaks to the way I experience their wisdom.

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

– Jelaluddin Rumi,
translation by Coleman Barks

ivan robles February 23, 2014 at 7:02 pm

i LOVE this!! i have a personal acronym for love.. LeaveOutVulgarEmotions :)

Karla February 24, 2014 at 10:00 am

Hah Ivan! But of course, there’s no such thing as a vulgar emotion; only vulgar people not knowing how to work them!! Sometimes when I see people using emotions in creepy or mean-spirited ways, I want to say “Give me that emotion, you hoser! There’s perfectly good intelligence in there, and you’re wasting it!”

keith Schneider February 24, 2014 at 10:58 am

A Question and quest ; what is the positive intention we want to feel in ourselves but are having a hard time finding the right address for it ??
perhaps the content of vulgar would be sweeter at the right address.
And of course perhaps I am off base??

Karla February 24, 2014 at 12:04 pm

Keith! That’s like a koan. I like it.

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