Neuronal plasticity and the unbearable loneliness of my heart

Is there a halo of light surrounding you signaling to the world that you are a couple? Does it occur with the first kiss…or the first shag? If your man never really has articulated it, how do you know that you are a couple? That’s what I was discussing last night on Facebook and I went to bed with this worm inside my head, could hardly sleep. Not just because I’m getting to know someone and I’m not sure in which feet we stand, but the fact that my recent love story is crowded with bad examples of behaviors facing a potential love partner does worry me.

Usually I used to call “we” a “couple” after the first date, and now I realize it’s not just a matter of label, a couple is not just two people hanging out, it evolves a whole new concept of life-stile, even the brain connections changes, and it really does as I recently discovered reading a neurophysiology article!

I have never considered that a guy could  still date other people until he’s sure that I am the person he wishes to be committed to. That’s completely natural, but I don’t act like this, I don’t have the skill to deal with more than one person at time. How silly. I would not be offended if this ever happen to me, after all I know there are more oranges out there and I may not be the juicer one. God knows I can be bitter sometimes.

I really enjoyed the text below, about how love affects our brain and our behavior much more than we could expect. I kind of cut off some parts, took of the scientific paragraphs to let the text more fluid. The original one can be found at http://www.nyt.com

 

 

The brain in love

DIANE ACKERMAN

Every great love affair begins with a scream. At birth, the brain starts blazing new neural pathways based on its odyssey in an alien world. An infant is steeped in bright, buzzing, bristling sensations, raw emotions and the curious feelings they unleash, weird objects, a flux of faces, shadowy images and dreams — but most of all a powerfully magnetic primary caregiver whose wizardry astounds.

Brain scans show synchrony between the brains of mother and child; but what they can’t show is the internal bond that belongs to neither alone, a fusion in which the self feels so permeable it doesn’t matter whose body is whose. Wordlessly, relying on the heart’s semaphores, the mother says all an infant needs to hear, communicating through eyes, face and voice. Thanks to advances in neuroimaging, we now have evidence that a baby’s first attachments imprint its brain. The patterns of a lifetime’s behaviors, thoughts, self-regard and choice of sweethearts all begin in this crucible.

We used to think this was the end of the story: first heredity, then the brain’s engraving mental maps in childhood, after which you’re pretty much stuck with the final blueprint.

But as a wealth of imaging studies highlight, the neural alchemy continues throughout life as we mature and forge friendships, dabble in affairs, succumb to romantic love, choose a soul mate. The body remembers how that oneness with Mother felt, and longs for its adult equivalent.

The supportive part is crucial. Loving relationships alter the brain the most significantly.

Just consider how much learning happens when you choose a mate. Along with thrilling dependency comes glimpsing the world through another’s eyes; forsaking some habits and adopting others (good or bad); tasting new ideas, rituals, foods or landscapes; a slew of added friends and family; a tapestry of physical intimacy and affection; and many other catalysts, including a tornadic blast of attraction and attachment hormones — all of which revamp the brain.

When two people become a couple, the brain extends its idea of self to include the other; instead of the slender pronoun “I,” a plural self emerges who can borrow some of the other’s assets and strengths. The brain knows who we are. The immune system knows who we’re not, and it stores pieces of invaders as memory aids. Through lovemaking, or when we pass along a flu or a cold sore, we trade bits of identity with loved ones, and in time we become a sort of chimera. We don’t just get under a mate’s skin, we absorb him or her.

Whether they speak Armenian or Mandarin, people around the world use the same images of physical pain to describe a broken heart, which they perceive as crushing and crippling. It’s not just a metaphor for an emotional punch. Social pain can trigger the same sort of distress as a stomachache or a broken bone.

A happy marriage relieves stress and makes one feel as safe as an adored baby. Small wonder “Baby” is a favorite adult endearment. Not that romantic love is an exact copy of the infant bond. One needn’t consciously regard a lover as momlike to profit from the parallels. The body remembers, the brain recycles and restages.

During idylls of safety, when your brain knows you’re with someone you can trust, it needn’t waste precious resources coping with stressors or menace. Instead it may spend its lifeblood learning new things or fine-tuning the process of healing. Its doors of perception swing wide open. The flip side is that, given how vulnerable one then is, love lessons — sweet or villainous — can make a deep impression. Wedded hearts change everything, even the brain.

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