“All you need is love” sang The Beatles in their 1967 song with that title. Perhaps part of that classic song’s enduring popularity is that as well as being a fantastic tune we all sense something deep inside ourselves through John Lennon’s lyrics.
But is love all we really need? Certainly, in terms of mental health conditions, there are some experts who believe there is fully something in that belief.
Renowned psychiatrist M. Scott Peck, author of bestselling recovery book The Road Less Traveled, wrote: “Love is the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth…
“Love is as love does. Love is an act of will – namely, both an intention and an action. Will also implies choice. We do not have to love. We choose to love.”
So what happens to someone in childhood if one or both of their parents seem incapable of choosing love? Many mental health experts think this is precisely why and when the problems start.
Nature or nurture
Of course, mental health problems are incredibly complex and there can be a multitude of issues behind them. Is it due to nature or nurture – or both as many experts think?
For instance, why does one sibling seem so affected by growing up with dysfunctional parents while the other seems fine? Why does one person become an alcoholic and another person can take or leave a drink?
How is it that some people can receive opiate painkillers in hospital and stop with no problem when they are released. Yet other people try heroin and become instantly addicted?
Or is it as respected counselor John Bradshaw, author of bestselling recovery book Healing The Shame That Binds You, says due to toxic shame and the wounded inner child? Or as physician, addiction expert and bestselling author Dr Gabor Maté speaks about, that it’s because of trauma?
Indeed, not all mental health issues can be traced back to childhood. We can see how experiencing trauma in later life can cause huge emotional problems too.
Then there are the theories of chemical imbalances with, for instance, low levels of the “happy hormone” serotonin in people suffering from depression. Research has been extensive into this for more than 50 years now and it is still ongoing.
Disorders of love?
So what about love being anything – or everything – to do with today’s pandemic of mental health disorders? How could that be?
“We are by our very nature shaped and motivated by mutuality, cooperativeness and love,” says psychiatrist and ex-consultant at the National Institute of Mental Health Dr Peter Breggin. “Nearly all emotional disorders are disorders of love – and we heal from these disorders to the degree that we learn to give and to accept love.”
In an article he wrote entitled Are Emotional Disorders Really Disorders of Love? Breggin explained how unlike most creatures, humans are born with an essentially fetal brain – that doubles in size during our first 12 months.
This extremely rapid growth in brain size means that our brain’s structure and function is formed by the nurturing influences around it. It leaves us utterly dependent upon other people. That is our parents in most cases.
“Nurturing in the first few years of life guides the development and expression of our social nature and our power as a species to survive and thrive,” says Dr Breggin, a psychiatrist for more than 50 years. “A lack of that nurturing leads to psychological and social impairments.
“Love and empathy are key to our social nature. Across the psychological, spiritual and political spectrums, many thoughtful people have concluded that love and its expression as empathy are the central principles of living a good and productive life.”
Other renowned mental health experts say something similar. Psychoanalyst Erich Fromm wrote a book called The Art Of Loving and one of his best known statements is: “Love is the only sane and satisfactory answer to the problem of human existence.”
As part of this we also have to acknowledge that modern society plays its part. As author Matt Haig puts it in his bestselling book Notes On A Nervous Planet. “We are more connected, yet feel more alone. And we are encouraged to worry about everything from world politics to our body mass index.”
Another eminent mental health expert, psychiatrist R. D. Laing is known to have put love at the center of the therapist’s healing qualities. He said: “The main agent in uniting the patient, in allowing the pieces to come together and cohere, is the physician’s love, a love that recognizes the patient’s total being, and accepts it, with no strings attached.”
This suggests then that a lack of love, including self-love, is what is behind the patient’s problems. Perhaps this concept is explained by Carl Jung who stated. “I cannot love anyone if I hate myself.”
We give time to the things we love
Then it is something that brings it back to having parents who seem incapable of choosing love. That includes to their children – and so those children will be missing a basic human need.
“Love, belonging, connection, and joy are irreducible needs for all of us,” says research professor, lecturer and author Brené Brown. “But we can’t give people what we don’t have.”
So if somebody has no self-love it is very hard for them to show love. This is even if they become a parent, and children are very quick to recognise things like this with their new life and its innate need to survive.
“Children aren’t fooled,” said John Bradshaw. “They know we give time to the things we love. I believe that this neglected, wounded, inner child of the past is the major source of human misery.”
This is so often intergenerational. It’s what Dr Gabor Maté describes as “the compressed torment of generations”.
Love and joy
But how can people break this intergenerational cycle of compressed torment? It will nearly always need therapy with somebody who has expertise in these matters.
“Remember that you can’t give away what you don’t have, but you can change your life by changing what’s going on inside,” said self-help author and motivational speaker Wayne Dyer. “To begin to change what’s inside you, become more loving toward yourself.”
He suggested making a pact to remind yourself of this fact that we cannot give away anything that we don’t have. Then he said what is needed is to work on a personal program of self-love, self-respect, and self-empowerment.
As The Beatles also sang, in their song The End: “The love you take is equal to the love you make.” With the intricate complexity of mental health problems, it is certainly all something to be considered.
At Tikvah Lake’s family-run recovery center we always care for everyone as individuals. As such, we offer a completely personalized treatment program that will work best for each person for a swift and enduring recovery.
Tikvah Lake’s friendly experienced team has years of experience in treating people with all types of mental health problems. Contact us today to have a chat about how we can help you or someone you love.