‘What is Love?’ – Why We Need to Reframe the Big Questions

Cell-Phone-at-table diningMarion McGunnigle, Contributor
Waking Times

Sometimes, I come across a piece of  information, a statement or happening from around the world that knocks me for six. An event that signals the direction in which humanity is heading. The sort of harbinger that I like to imagine Orwell, Huxley or Bradbury used as inspiration. While the media fixes its lens firmly upon the latest war zone, little alarm bells are ringing in our living rooms.

The Crisis

Of what crisis do these alarm bells warn? Put simply, it’s a breakdown of human communication. Evaporating emotional intelligence. You’ve heard it before, but consider it’s impact. It strikes at the core of our being and leaves us resorting to harmful coping mechanisms. Evidence suggests a growing trend towards people intellectualising their emotions instead of feeling them.

The therapists and healers among you will know this is old news, but it’s a neurosis that’s rapidly evolving.

And then the Divorces.  In 2009, The Guardian reported a growing number of US Lawyers claiming Facebook [is} a top cause of relationship trouble. “We’re coming across it more and more. One spouse connects online with someone they knew from school. The person is emotionally available and they start communicating through Facebook,” said Dr Steven Kimmons, a clinical psychologist and marriage counsellor at Loyola University Medical Centre near Chicago.[1]

Are they really emotionally available or using Social Media as a means of escape?

The next time you are in a restaurant where couples are dining of an evening, have a look around and count how many are actively engaging with one another. When they stare into their smart phones instead of one another’s eyes, does that signal a healthy connection to social media and work commitments?Perhaps their relationship is unfulfilling and  connection to the tablet or phone seems a fair substitute.  However, is the permanent connection to the internet actually causing their relationship issues?

Have they ceased to communicate with one another on a heart level?

  • Although we use the term more loosely today, Freud first theorised intellectualisation as a psychological defence mechanism used by humans to avoid emotional pain. The interesting point here is that unlike rationalisationintellectualisation is a pseudo-rational justification of irrational acts.[2]

    We need only witness the demonisation of entire nations to glimpse these psychological mechanisms at play. While dehumanisation lies at the far end of the spectrum, emotional absenteeism is the thin end of the wedge. It’s a horrible, barren human interplay that has emeshed with family dysfunction over many years. Smart gadgetry has recently been identified as the new agent of this dysfunction.

    Historically it was the misuse of alcohol and drugs.

    The crucial distinction is this: Substance abuse ultimately kills both human spirit and human bodies. Gadgets can keep us alive, merge with us, make our lives more convenient until we’re pushed onto the threshold of transhumanism. So convenient that our opportunity to feel human emotion is removed. But the need is still there. So convenient that the sacred journeying of human existence is eliminated. But the child is still within.

    I’ve had many conversations with people at dinner parties, networking groups or with friends on the topic of emotional dysfunction. I found it striking that so many have discussed the trauma of being raised in an emotionally barren family. Struggling for years to maintain the false construct of their lives, they finally “cracked” around their mid thirties, and ran from the rat-race at one hundred miles an hour. Straight into the consulting room of a therapist.

    I’ve heard it so many times, it’s almost a rite of passage. But are we repeating the same destructive pattern with the younger generation?

    Alarm Bells

    On 26th August 2014, The Independent reported on a recent experiment carried out by scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles. That study suggested that a heavy use of screens from a young age may be impairing children’s ability to develop social skills.[3]

    “The study, published online in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, found that a group of 11 and 12-year-olds who went five days without looking at a smartphone, television or other digital screen became better at reading human emotions than a group of their peers who continued to spend hours every day looking at their devices.”

    No surprise there then.

    I’ve also heard from shocked friends and parents. A few have found their primary aged child searching the internet using words picked up from the playground. Words the parents didn’t think to block and filter. Google can be a cruel teacher. This is not a reason for censorship, however. It’s a wake up call to have a human conversation.

    A recent party political style video made as part of the Scottish Referendum campaign depicted a mum stating that her kids “Never have their heads out their phones.” Is this really the norm in today’s society? It’s not in my household.

    I believe humanity becomes the product of its own behaviour. Sometimes it’s a good thing. An athlete who trains daily for a long distance race calls it discipline. For the person who has their behaviour modified through a process of reward or punishment,  until they associate an action with pleasure or distress, it is conditioning. When an egocentric parent, partner or sibling uses this tactic upon a subordinate to exclusively further their own agenda, the seeds for emotional dysfunction are sown.

    When parents are emotionally absent from their children’s lives, either through alcohol, gadgetry, workaholism or keeping up with the Jones’, their preoccupations ensure that they set the wrong example. They fail to teach their children about feelings. They can’t show them what real love feels like because they don’t know. Kids then look for stimulation elsewhere.

    In 2012, Google announced the most searched for term by humans on planet earth that year. There are over 2 Billion internet users, and those who used Google in 2012 made 1,873,910,000,000 (One trillion, eight hundred seventy-three billion, nine hundred and ten million) searches. [4]

    For me, that’s an unfathomable number of searches.

    Even more unfathomable, then, is Google’s revelation that the most searched for term that year was:

    “What is Love?”

    Is that love as a noun or a verb?  The definition of an abstract concept is totally different from human experience of it.

    In seeking a definition or explanation, we are looking outside of ourselves for a the answer. How utterly bizarre to imagine so many souls across the globe asking a computer, an electrified metal box, to define love. That was the news that knocked me for six.

    And herein lies the problem with gadgetry and it’s harmful effects upon social skills and emotional intelligence. My friend, Life Coach and NLP Specialist Colette Reilly suggests the key to solving this problem lies in reframing it. “The only way to find out what love is, is to have a conversation with another human being. So, if someone asks, ‘What is love?’, perhaps we should be responding with, ‘What is love, to you’ and ‘How do you know you are loved?’ or ‘What makes you feel loved?’”, Colette advises.

    Marriage is a commitment. A promise to nourish one another with our intentions and our actions. It’s a promise to engage and support one another on the human level, meaning heart as well as head. It’s practising loving behaviour. It’s finding out what makes your partner and family feel loved and contributing to that.

    When humanity asks a computer “What is love?”, I’m reminded of this line from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, “With how many things are we on the brink of becoming acquainted, if cowardice or carelessness did not restrain our inquiries.”

    So you don’t need to ask a computer about emotions. And why wait until someone asks you? Go, tonight, and ask your loved ones:

    “What makes you feel loved?”

    guarantee they’ll put down their tablet or mobile, and you can start being human again.

    About the Author

    “Marion McGunnigle is a Creative, an Alternative Thinker, Visionary Healer and Wedding Celebrant living in Scotland. This article was originally posted on Marion’s website marionmcgunnigle.co.uk


    1. The Guardian http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2011/mar/08/facebook-us-divorces
    2. George E. Vaillant, Ego mechanisms of defence: a guide for clinicians and researchers (1992) p. 274
    3. The Independent, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/parents-set-bad-example-by-staying-glued-to-smartphones-9689979.html
    4. Google Annual Stats, http://www.statisticbrain.com/google-searches/

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