By NICK CHILES
As the world’s best poets and songwriters have expressed through the ages, love is a powerful thing. But did you know that adult love—which is our emulation of the mother-child bond—could actually lower your blood pressure, improve your health and lessen physical pain?
A startling piece in the New York Times yesterday explored the many ways that the brain and the human body respond to love, revealing that after a baby is born and forms an incredibly close bond with its mother, that baby grows up and spends the rest of its years searching for the adult equivalent of the mother-child bond. And once that adult finds a loving, supportive partner, the relationship is even more beneficial than most of us probably realize.
Diane Ackerman, the writer of the Times story, describes a 2006 experiment done by University of Virginia neuroscientist James Coan in which he gave an electric shock to the ankles of women in happy, committed relationships and measured their anxiety and pain. Then he gave them the same amount of shock while they were holding their husband’s hand and found that their anxiety and pain was significantly lower. Women who were in troubled relationships weren’t soothed by holding their husband’s hand.
“A happy marriage relieves stress and makes one feel as safe as an adored baby,” Ackerman writes in the Times.
But just as love can be overwhelmingly joyful and soothing, as many of us know all too well the end of a love relationship can be so devastating that we feel actual physical pain.
“Whether they speak Armenian or Mandarin, people around the word use the same images of physical pain to describe a broken heart, which they perceive as crushing and crippling,” Ackerman writes. “It’s not just a metaphor for an emotional punch. Social pain can trigger the same sort of distress as a stomachache or a broken bone.”
If we spend our lives searching for the adult equivalent of the bond we had with our mothers, it makes me wonder what happens to those of us who didn’t have the benefit of a strong motherly bond when we were infants. I don’t think a strong mother-child bond is something we can take for granted—not every new mother is in the position or emotional state to create that special relationship. So if it’s not there, how does it affect that child’s love relationships down the road?
These are questions that don’t have easy answers, but it does point to an immutable fact: the mother-child bond is perhaps the most important human relationship we will ever experience. Everything else is just our desperate attempt to simulate it, as often as we can.
Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.