The Connection Between Trauma and Love?

The Connection Between Trauma and Love? September 25, 2016

Whether it’s a result of conditioning of brain chemistry, are we so wired to hang onto love that we experience its loss as traumatic?

Photo by Sebastian Pichler from Unsplash.
Photo by Sebastian Pichler from Unsplash.

This is a highly speculative post, inspired by a quote from a book I was reading, Against Love: A Polemic, by Laura Kipnis. The book was provocative, but in many ways not all that revolutionary for someone accustomed to studying non-monogamy and sexual subcultures.

Kipnis notes of the connection between love and commitment:

The problem here is hardly lack of commitment; this is commitment in overdrive: being less committed might mean being able to walk away. But these emotional bargains of ours do prove obdurate, and few of us manage to uncommit, when this proves necessary, without leaving big bloody clumps of self behind. Because in the current emotional regime, as we know, falling in love also commits us to merging. Meaning that unmerging, when this proves necessary, is ego-shattering and generally traumatic. The fear and pain of losing love is so crushing that most of us will do anything to prevent is, especially when it’s not our choice. And since forestalling trauma is what egos are designed to do, with anxiety as an advance warning sstem (unfortunately a largely ineffective one), this will mean that falling in love also commits us to anxiety – typically externalized in charming behaviors like jealousy, insecurity, control issues (the list goes on) – or, in some cases, to externalized violence – the response of a system in emotional overload. The ego experiencing intimations of impending loss – real or imagined – is not a pretty sight. (57)

I like Kipnis’s language, in describing breakups as “leaving big bloody clumps of self behind.” It’s visceral, but an accurate metaphor. And I like the idea of love being hounded by its shadow, trauma, in the trappings of anxiety. It’s as though love and trauma are so intertwined that you’ll never have one without the other.

If love = merging, and we culturally and individually prize love above all else, it follows that unmerging = painful, traumatic. Is there something tied to the nature of being human that makes all loving experiences necessarily obsessed with the possibility of loss? And in a culture where women are largely charged with kin-keeping tasks, who bears the brunt of the emotional labor of maintaining relationships, hmmm? Throw in the sunk cost fallacy as well, and we’ve got some messy relationships going on for longer than they possibly should be.

See also: Emotional Labor and Gender


But does falling in love commit us to merging? Or is that simply the monocentric, marital-focused version of love we’ve been spoonfed culturally?

I wish I had some answers. Mostly I wanted to share this evocative quote with y’all.

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