Insights into Psychology

What Is… Love (And How Many Kinds Are There?)

crafted hearts and flowers representing love

In this series, I dig a little deeper into the meaning of psychological terms. This week’s term is love.

“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…” began a famous sonnet by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. So how many different ways of loving are there?

From a psychological perspective, love is a social and cultural phenomenon as well as an individual emotional and cognitive experience.  It may be interpersonal, impersonal (i.e. focused on an object or a principle), or directed toward the self. Interpersonal love may be mutual or unrequited. Extreme examples include narcissism and erotomanic delusions (believing that another person, often famous, is enamored with oneself).

Psychological perspective

Psychologist Robert Sternberg’s triangular theory of love includes intimacy, commitment, and passion. Different types of love, e.g. romantic or companionate, involve different combinations of these three elements. The consummate form encompasses all three of these elements.

In psychologist Erich Fromm’s book The Art Of Loving, he argued that any sort of feeling of love is less important than the actions that demonstrate commitment. While the initial sensations may be involuntary, as time goes on it becomes a conscious choice of commitment. So we may fall in love, but ultimately we make a choice to stay there.

Evolutionary perspective

From an evolutionary psychology perspective, love is seen as a means to promote ongoing parental support of children and therefore increased survival of offspring.From a biological viewpoint, it’s a primal mammalian drive along the lines of hunger or thirst.

Hormones and neurotransmitters get all aflutter. Parental attachment is promoted by hormones including oxytocin, while pheromones are involved in sexual attraction. During the falling in love stage, there is a rush of neurotransmitters including dopamine.

Philosophical perspective

A philosophical perspective may include questioning the nature, function, and value of love, distinguishing between different kinds, and considering its effects on autonomy. One might consider how they would go about explaining the apparently irrational behaviour associated with love to a hypothetical person who had never experienced that feeling.

Cultural/religious perspective

Love is a frequent theme in various ancient cultures as well as religious traditions:

  • Ancient Greeks: described four types of love: kinship, friendship, sexual/romantic, and divine.
  • China: benevolent love was an important part of Confucianism in ancient China
  • Christianity: love is seen as coming from God
  • Judaism: love between marital partners is seen as an essential part of life
  • Islam: of the 99 names for Allah in the Quran, one is Al-Wadud (The Loving One)
  • Buddhism: recognizes several different terms to denote different kinds of love, which may range from selfish to selfless/elevated.

Is it all one concept?

If there are so many different ways of looking at love, does it make sense to use the same word for all of them? And while some forms, such as parent-child, seem to be viewed much the same way universally, I wonder to what extent our notions of romantic love are culturally derived. Should falling in love happen before or after (as may be the case in arranged marriages) the wedding? And can you love someone and dislike them at the same time?

What are your thoughts?

Source: Wikipedia: Love

The Psychology Corner: Insights into psychology and psychological tests

The Psychology Corner has an overview of terms covered in the What Is… series, along with a collection of scientifically validated psychological tests.

14 thoughts on “What Is… Love (And How Many Kinds Are There?)”

  1. For myself, love has proven to be deaf, dumb, blind and stupid. It is a grossly misused word, and misinterpreted word. I am currently working on developing the self love aspect, as a pure survival method to get through the battles of life. Love can be a great thing, but when the trust is broken or the other action forms of the word don’t live up to the meaning of the word itself…it can be a sad, disheartening thing.

  2. “…feeling of love is less important than the actions that demonstrate commitment” – that’s an interesting one, like actions speak louder than words, so does meaning and action over feeling. Love is such a complex one. I do see a difference between loving someone and being in love, though not everyone makes that distinction. Love is certainly tumultuous, maddeningly complex, joyous, heartbreaking and beautiful all rolled into one!
    Caz x

  3. I wish there were many different words for love (like there are many different words for snow in the Eskimo culture) because there are so many different kinds of love.

  4. When I saw this title the “what is love, baby don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me, no more” popped into my head, haha! One thing I’ve been trying to grapple with is: is it possible to love more than one person at once in the same way? I’ve been reading a lot about polyamory and am not totally close-minded to the idea.

    Rachel ||

  5. Love, in it’s purist form, is uncontrollable. But wherein the love controls the outcome, generally known as peace. Love brings tranquility whether it is a physical, emotional, spiritual or mental love. All other results of love is a jealous cancer that disturbs the very soul of man. AKA as hate.

      1. That is good. Sometimes i wonder at my thought process… one, if i am coming across clearly and two, and most importantly, am i true in intention and purpose. It is one to write and another to be true. Even in fiction, not that fantasy is sin, but there are principles to follow and lessons in life to be learned.

        Maybe. 🙄 (😂) Finally catching up with blogs. Mondays, for now, are officially set aside to connect with others… enjoying your posts Ashley. 🧡j

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