In my work, I focus on emotions and empathy, and people regularly ask me whether love is an emotion. To my eye, no, it’s not.
Why love is not an emotion
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 of our 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.
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 can be anywhere – 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.
May you be surrounded by love and offer it unreservedly.
(excerpt from pages 123-124 in The Language of Emotions: What Your Feelings Are Trying to Tell You by Karla McLaren, M.Ed.)