15. 7. 2020

English version | Crazy little thing called love

by Sara Andrade


All thinkers, from all eras, have lost hours analyzing it. It and his love affair with madness. “Love is cure, but it’s also crazy.”, said Sigmund Freud. “The madness of love is one of the greatest blessings from heaven.”, argued Plato. “Love is pure madness”, summed up Shakespeare. “There is always some madness in love. But there is also aways some reason in madness.”, sentenced Friedrich Nietzsche. Apparently, love and madness are in a relationship. Is it an open one?


“Madly in love”, “loco por ti”, “l’amour fou”, even “crazy in love” – a phrase Beyoncé repeated in a loop on a chorus that got her a Grammy, in 2004. But she could have sung it in any other language, because the expression “mad love” or the idea of being “madly in love”, is universal. What might not be universalist the interpretation of it. Being madly in love with someone, as an expression, means an intensity of passion, and doesn’t speak of any kind of insanity, in its core, always referring to the nuances of the brain and not of the mind. Therefore, it’s important, first of all, to separate the expression “mad” - used as a metaphor - from an interpretation that may refer to emotional and/or instability. “The definition of crazy has been explored by several authors throughout the years and it’s pretty wide”, says Joana Canha, psychotherapist. “It’s not possible to see madness as something that’s opposite to rationality; it’s something that’s part of the human being. However, there are many levels in madness, meaning, when associated with a mental pathology, we can see lighter manifestations, like in neurosis, and more increased ones, as with psychosis. Nevertheless, madness is filled with discontinuities, contradictions, thoughtless acts and contradictions. It’s not a mental illness or a disorder on its own, but it can accompany it.” Patrícia Silva, clinical psychologist at Clínica Marisa Rodrigues, also agrees on distinguishing the two ideas, underlining that it is true that, “nowadays, the notion of madness is related to a mental unbalance that manifests itself in a twisted perception of reality, in loose of control, on hallucinations and unjustified behaviors”, warning that “the fact that a specific type of language may contribute to stigmatize people that live with psychological health issues means that, in Psychology, expressions like mad or madness are preferably substituted by ones like erratic or unusual behavior. “ Meaning, when using phrases like “madly in love”, the reference is metaphorical, not behavior-wise. Which doesn’t mean there can’t be associated a certain level of madness and irrationality, in the sense that it changes us as it deals with our emotions, even in the most subtle doses: “when in love, the most activated areas of the brain are the reward areas. When we get stimulated by pleasurable triggers, the cerebral circuit for reward is activated. From this, the brain increases in dopamine (neurotransmitter associated with well-being)  in the reward area”, Silva explains. “The release of cortisol, the stress hormone, also occurs when we’re in love. This hormone, besides contributing to a general sense of well-being, also helps regulate sleep patterns. This general feeling of well-being also leads sometimes to failure in recognizing flaws in a new partner, increasing the theory that sometimes ‘love is blind’.” Joana Canha agrees: “When we love, we’re flooded with oxytocin - known as the love hormone -  and there’s this well-being, a global happiness. The human being feels like it’s capable of everything, not invincible, but maybe braver. However, and thinking of the different ways of loving someone, the way one acts out of being ‘madly in love’ varies according to each person emotional and psychological structure. What for some may be considered crazy, to others are little gestures. It’s related to one’s ability to manifest their love. For instance, let’s imagine someone that struggles with showing emotions (sometimes, as a result of an inability to access them). For this individual in particular, saying ‘i love you’, preparing something special or spontaneous to someone (speaking in the case of romantic love) can be perceived as crazy, but not for others. We can say that love and madness sometimes walk hand in hand, always considering different levels of intensity”, meaning here, madness is assuming atypical behaviors for one’s personality, and not the assumption of mental instability. That’s another debate. Is it possible to be “crazy in love”, in this insanity sense? “There’s an impossibility of a peaceful existence of those two conditions in the same relationship, madness and love”, says Patricia Silva, assuming madness, here, in the same way we ask her about it, as a term that inherent to the idea of crossing the lines, of uncommon behavior, over the top, almost dangerous. “Madness in love speaks to us as an unbalanced relationship, where the obsessive person tends to create fantasies regarding the object of his/her love. That object is perceived as a figure of perfection, unreal, ideal. When someone is mad(ly) in love, he/she loses the notion of common sense, of boundaries, of reality, and starts seeing everything from an exaggerated point of view”.And that happens because madness is part of us: “Freud used to say that madness is part of the human being and is connected to the unconscious; in the same sense, Lacan stated wasn’t possible to understand man, without understand his madness. If we consider these authors (as well as others), the relationship between love and madness always depends on the human being. He is the one with the ability to love and it’s he who has something of madness within”, points out Canha, stressing that this is not a term she chooses to use. 

So, being madly in love may just be referring to someone that is deeply passionate about someone, but the concept can evolve to a more literal perception, if the intensity takes on a dimension that can trigger psychological disorders? “In the right conditions, we are all able to getting in touch with our ‘crazier side’”, says the psychotherapist. “For example, a heartbreak can be so violent as to make someone stop caring for themselves, physically and emotionally (depending on the circumstances, of course. In these kind of situations, we may be dealing with mental illness. Obviously, people with different psychological structures will react in different ways. it’s not related with being stronger or weaker”, she explains, adding that, in therapy, it’s important to understand a patient’s emotional structure; we try to understand what drove him/her to have certain behaviors and emotions, and connecting one thing to another. I usually say that it’s like we created an emotional skeleton and try to discover where it’s hurt. That way, we can find reasons for madness, even in the madness done for love.” And when speaking of reason, here, it’s not rationality, but the possible external and internal factors that may trigger a psychological disorder that can get to a point that society, in a non-specified way, might deem as crazy: “even though a certain psychological health problem tends to be characterized by a group of common symptoms, not everyone will experience it in the same way”, agues Patricia. “The sociocultural context may influence the way people live through the psychological health problems and hoe they understand and interpret the symptoms of that problem. Sometimes, it’s in that interpretation or in the wrong way we do it that deviant behaviors are born”. Behaviors that, in an extreme manifestation, may lead to committing a crime: “we call it a crime of passion the type of crime that is motivated by passion”, continues Silva. In most cases, the reason why this type of crime occurs is due to the loss of control of the actions of its perpetrator, motivated by a sick passion, violent and over the top. Passion, the motivation behind these types of crime, is the feeling or emotion taken to a higher or highest level of intensity, and enthusiasm, or even heartbreak or sorrow. It’s sometimes common that this feeling overpowers reason and clarity, leading someone to commit a felony.” To get ti this point will have little to do with love and mostly with mental instability. In reality, love, or better yet, being sick with love (lovesickness) was once a real diagnosis of mental illness. In fact, Sigmund Freud, in 1915, left us with the rhetorical question: “when we say ‘falling in love’, isn’t it some kind of illness and madness, an illusion, a blindness regarding who the person one fall in love with is in reality?”, and scientifically studies on the matter found that a similar state is caused by using illegal drugs, like cocaine, since certain neurotransmitters in the brain, like several experts have pointed out, trigger a sense of well-being, some sort of high, mimicking the sensation provoked by amphetamines. The idea of lovesickness as a real illness was, in the meantime, in the archives of History and out of psychology’s diagnosis, even though it can be refer on the day to day life as an expression: “Considering lovesickness is a phrase used to describe when a person is feeling overwhelmed and with negative feelings and thoughts in the absence of the loved one, it’s important to think what makes someone so desperate in that situation”, starts by saying Joana. “From my perspective, love is not a trigger for mental illness, the misinterpretation of love might be”, stating that the idea of being love sick doesn’t exist beyond its popular use as a phrase. Which doesn’t mean the emotional unbalance can’t affect deeply the nervous core of he who lives it. It’s, like Joana says, a trigger. Namely the heartbreak part, which many times even promotes the spreading of stories of people that passed away right after losing the “love of their life”. “He died of a broken heart”. Is that possible? That’s be a question for another specialist - maybe a cardiologist? - though Patricia Silva makes an attempt to enlighten us: “The ending of a relationship can be pretty painful. Te first stage might be associated with a disbelief and/or a set of doubts resulting from the new predicament, which may cause physical pain or even depression. A next stage should be marked by feelings like pessimism or resignation. When a relationship ends, some physical effects can also be experienced, like change in bowel movement, skin problems, hair loss, weight loss and trouble sleeping. The a new relationship starts, throughout the interaction period, two hormones are released, oxytocin (the love hormone) and dopamine, hormone associated with well-being. When the relationship ends, the person can experience symptoms similar to those of an abstinence, given to the fact that those two hormones aren’t there in the same way, and it does take some time for the body itself to adjust.” But being “madly in love” can - and does - also have the reverse effect: it gives life, it resuscitates, like Joana Canha says. “Professor António Coimbra de Matos – a reference as a psychoanalyst and a supervisor - has a book called Vária. I exist because I was loved. To me, yes, love can ‘cure’, better your life, give it meaning. 

“From where I see it, Love doesn’t need to be toned down. What needs to be thought of and worked on is whatever takes someone to love another in a way that doesn’t respect its own or the other’s personal state; what drives someone to mistake love with abuse; what type of way is this that one forgets oneself and why does it happen." - Joana Canha


It’s no strange thing that finding love is a sort of life goal: it’s searching for this cure, for this meaning, that love moves us. And the 21st century, with its busy city life and the emergency of new technologies that are swifter and swifter, has offered answers for that search that bring both upsides and downsides: “the internet has brought on a new culture and a new way of communicating. Due to the technological evolution, nowadays communication is made through messaging (text or WhatsApp), social media, videos and a vast majority only with pictures and small copy and emojis. Considering this reality, we can assume technologies have affected the dynamics within the way we interact with each other, as well as the way we look for a partner.”, says the clinical psychologist. “The increase in the search for love with the help of technologies brings the possibility of getting to know other people that would be harder to meet any other way”, says Joana Canha. However, we are also seeing a growing difficulty in relating to someone else in a more emotional way. Without downplaying the number of couples that originated in some kind of technological app, of course, love is something we feel; and to feel, the best way is to actually be with one another.”, referring to a more ‘traditional’ way of romance. This speediness and new human (dis)connection have also contributed, amongst other factors, for a 21st century that already sees mental illness as one of its biggest concerns. “This question couldn’t more accurate for the times we live in”, adds the psychotherapist. “Due to the times we’re facing, where a virus is taking over the world, the way we live has been altered. We’re seeing an incredible increase of matters related to anxiety and depression and being with/touching people became a questionable thing. We need the touch of our family and friends (a hug, a kiss), but the fear of spreading the virus has become, for many, bigger than that need. It’s urgent that we find a way to be close, because solitude is truly damaging. Loving without being there, without touching, can be tortuous.” “In the last 10 years, disorders and the consumption of psychopharmaceuticals has risen, in Portugal”, points out Patricia Silva. “According to the first national study on epidemics concerning Mental Health, about one if four Portuguese people suffers from a mental health problem (23% of population). Nowadays, Portugal is the second country in Europe where mental illness is the most prevailing, within its population. It’s time we face mental illness as a priority, as well as recognizing that the problems of the mental kind are, sometimes more incapacitating than the physical ones.” 

What about love, in this context? Do we need to pay more attention to the way it’s experienced? Should we measure its “madness”, take it down a notch? “From where I see it, Love doesn’t need to be toned down. What needs to be thought of and worked on is whatever takes someone to love another in a way that doesn’t respect its own or the other’s personal state; what drives someone to mistake love with abuse; what type of way is this that one forgets oneself and why does it happen (amongst other questions). This kind of work is done in therapy. A space and a therapeutical relationship /a safe one), where we can talk about everything with someone that is there to help us think, understand and even stimulate change at its own pace”, states Joana Canha, reminding that whoever has mental health issues is not alone - there are always experts willing to relieve internal struggles and trying to figure out sources of disorders, that affect not only those who suffer, but others and they’re relationship with them. Patricia Silva cannot stress it enough: “The borders for what might be consideres normal and what should be perceived as ‘pathological’ is a matter that generates an array of conceptual discussions.When the relationship becomes unbalanced, causing suffering for one of the parts, the desirable solution would be to find the help of a professional.” Because therapy is also some sort of love. And love fuels more love.