liveonearth (liveonearth) wrote,

QotD: on the Mammalian Response to Separation

This reading, from A General Theory of Love is helping me to understand myself. To summarize, mammals are the only creatures with a limbic brain, and it is where we form attachments--to our young, so that we will rear them, to our lovers, and to our other assorted dear ones notably including other mammals. Reptiles and amphibians don't attach the same way, they lay eggs and leave them behind. Birds care for their young but the attachment seems to be completely instinctive and not personal in the least. But mammals, we attach to individuals.

The bit about separation is particularly poignant considering that I fell in love with someone in another state who is unable to sustain connection over distance. So I have been going through separation, and knowing that what I have experienced is common to all mammals helps. It doesn't remove the pain, but understanding it gives me further permission to do what I can to make attachments here that will sustain me. I have long known that my isolation here is bad for me, but I didn't invest in changing it. I am doing so now. Better late than never. But back to the book, and some quotes:

p76 "Take a puppy away from his mother, place him alone in a wicker pen, and you will witness the universal mammalian reaction to the rupture of an attachment bond--a reflection of the limbic architecture that mammals share. Short separations provoke an acute response known as protest, while prolonged separations yield the physiologic state of despair."

In summary, protest involves two main behaviors: searching and calling. The puppy protest phase is pacing, scanning surroundings, barking, piteous high pitched whining, scratching at the floor. All these noises are designed to get the attention of the individual to whom they are attached. The interesting part for me is in the description of humans in the protest phase:

p77 "...inescapable inner restlessness, the powerful urge to contact the person ("just to talk"), mistaken glimpses of the lost figure everywhere (a seething combination of overly vigilant scanning and hope). All are part of protest. The drive to reestablish contact is sufficiently formidable that people often cannot resist it, even when they understand that the other person doesn't want anything to do with them. Human beings manifest searching and calling in lengthy letters, frantic phone calls, repeated e-mails, and telephoning an answering machine just to hear another's voice. The tormented letter that a rejected lover composes turns out to be an updated version of a baby rat's constant peep: the same song, in a slightly lower pitch."

It's pretty damn familiar. This is what I have been doing, against my better judgment. Pining for connection with one who cannot connect. But I am a creature, and it's a relief to know that this drive to make contact is normal and expected. I am a mammal, and I became strongly attached then lost all communication. There's more, I want to make some notes on the despair phase too, but must run for now.
Tags: animals, brain, communication, isolation, loss, love, my life, relationships

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