Love is the greatest single human motivator. Yet one of the least understood aspects of love is its impact on children. Love encompasses a wide range of positive and strong emotions, from the highest personal virtue or vice, to the easiest personal joy, to the most profound interpersonal bond. It is the power to love that is most appealing to children. The more I study love and relationships with children, the more I am convinced that learning about love is crucial for our schools and our nation.
Love is an emotion that is rooted in both neurology and neurophysiology. Neuroscientists believe that love encompasses both visual and auditory experiences as well as the limbic system. Love produces two very different kinds of responses: joy for bonding with others and displeasure for rejection or hurt. It seems that there are two different kinds of love.
One kind of love is affection. This is the most powerful form of love, and it involves physical touching or affectionate touches of another person, whether it is verbal or nonverbal. Affection is a powerful motivator of love, as it allows us to connect with someone deeply without physical contact. Touching another person transports us to a place of love, and we feel moved to share and give support. In fact, tender loving care is one of the strongest motivators of intimacy in relationships.
However, affection can be conditional. It can only be expressed if love is reciprocated in kind. To love someone unconditionally means to show that you are that other person’s best friend. Without this, our actions in choosing to be with another person are not motivated by love. Thus, a person with whom we are romantically involved may treat us badly or behave abusively. We need to demonstrate affection in these cases by being unkind or by showing the proper behavior for which we are thanked in return.
Another form of love is attraction. In attraction, there is something specific that attracts one person to another. In this case, the attraction is not so much an emotion as it is a mental construct. Attraction is a way of organizing the mind in order to create a particular result. So, unlike affection, attraction is actually directed at a particular person rather than at people as a whole.
All three styles of love are important for healthy and mutually satisfying relationships. However, they are also very different from one another. While attraction relies on mental associations, love is more emotional and relies on real connections and sharing. Lastly, attraction only works in a relationship where the relationship’s goal is compatibility. Love, on the other hand, can work in any relationship since it is based on similarities.