Editor’s Note: This month, that is December 2020, FII’s #MoodOfTheMonth is Modern Love and Relationships, where we invite various articles to highlight how love has been fundamental in our lifeworlds and how these experiences and perceptions around love are shaped by our identities in a modern Indian context. If you’d like to share your article, email us at email@example.com.
Right from the movies we have been exposed to, to the narratives we have grown up hearing, the romanticisation of a weakened sense of agency when it comes to matters of heart is far too common to the plot that we encounter. As the lines of an old Bollywood song say “pyaar kiya nahi jata, ho jata hai.” While we all hope to encounter an individual who sweeps us off our feet when we least expect it, the idea that a romantic alliance need not necessarily be put under the scanner of rationality, is what might subconsciously be set in our minds.
Bell hooks in her book, All About Love quotes Erich Fromm’s definition in which he says, “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. It is an act of will—namely, both an intention and action. Will also implies choice. We do not have to love. We choose to love.” She then comments, “Since the choice must be made to nurture growth, this definition counters the more widely accepted assumption that we love instinctually.”
It does not come as a surprise then, that this disempowered idea of self plays its part in what we call toxic-dependency, which mostly is played out in interpersonal relationships that have romantic overtones to it. Considering that a lot of us may have grown without dependable access to social support/community care or homes with dysfunctional dynamics especially in terms of how love and care is shared amongst the members, it is all too common for individuals to repeat the same patterns in their adult relationships.
Pop culture’s obsession with the portrayal of romantic relations as the criteria of a fuller life and the paradoxical inability to represent an emotionally healthy model of the same is what might motivate individuals to find the relief from childhood lovelessness in adult romantic alliances, which however, might still end in disappointment.
Being studying psychology for quite a few years now, I have always found it rather interesting how insight could be a powerful end goal of some of the major therapeutic modalities. Increased self awareness and pattern recognition of one’s behaviours is indeed an empowering tool to have and so when I began delving into the whys of the simple observation that emotionally unhealthy romantic relations are normalised to the extent that they are, I did find it empowering to find some concrete answers.
A core pattern of dysfunctional style of love giving centres around swinging between the two extremes of overindulgence and complete negligence or gaslighting. This pattern of attention-giving leaves the recipient confused with a looming feeling of always having to walk on eggshells. However, what is more important to understand is that although the toxic dependency is easy to call out from the perspective of a third person with an objective view, the individual involved in such a dysfunctional relationship starts to depend neuro chemically on their partner, no matter how toxic the relationship, for a “dopamine rush”.
This phenomena, also called a trauma bond, is formed when an individual is inconsistently provided with the “reward” of attention alternated by periods of “punishment” where the love and care is withheld. Essentially, the person involved pursues the “high” or the rush of dopamine that comes with the brief periods of reward.
What this means is that the task of having to choose emotionally healthy relations as adults cannot be expected to take place in a vacuum when we aren’t fed with narratives and models that arm us with the knowledge to do the same. Having had secure attachments as a child contributes massively to one’s emotional capital. It becomes essential then, that the responsibility to make correct choices as adults depend not only on the individual in question but also on the mainstream systematic representation of love as an ideal.
When movies with misogynistic overtones like Kabir Singh are normalised, what is essentially happening is also the normalisation of an image of an individual who is stifled and disempowered to the extent that their safety is physically threatened under the garb of love. Love here becomes a free pass to emotional and physical abuse. When viewed in the context of a patriarchal setup which thrives on the disempowerment of women, one cannot help but ponder, are these skewed representations systematically constructed, and isn’t love political too?
Bell hooks points out, “Love and abuse cannot coexist. Abuse and neglect are, by definition, the opposites of nurturance and care.”
What we must start with is to have a clear understanding and frame of reference when we talk of love as an ideal. This understanding must also be shared culturally so as to be certain of what values must fall within its ambit. Love, in this sense, must not carry a sloppy meaning which can be moulded to accommodate for justifications of any kind of abuse. It is respect, nurturance, open communication and most importantly a sense of stability and security that lets exercise our autonomy and dignity in a loving relationship.
Simrat has recently completed her graduation in psychology from Delhi University and is about to start her masters too in the same discipline. She is just as passionate about teaching as she is about mental health advocacy and wishes to become a social emotional educator in the future, which she thinks is the perfect intersecting point of her two interests. She strongly believes that personal is political and for the most part is interested in deconstructing everyday language as the means to create more inclusive knowledge systems. You can find her on Instagram.
Featured Image Source: Feminism In India