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Learning to Control Love Feelings Maximises Satisfaction

In the first section of this website, titled ‘Life Satisfaction’, we looked at how strong impluse control can help us in maximising our reward obtained from making important choices in life.  The affect maximising individual attempts to track decisions and choices that will result in maximum emotional reward.  She makes a risk assessment.  If the long-term risks of making a decision or choice outweigh the benefits, her risk assessment will result in her withholding her impulse towards making such a decision.  This is certainly applicable when deciding whether or not to withhold feelings of love. 

Risk-Assessment: Consequences of 'Falling' for Someone

We may find a certain individual highly attractive and stimulating: we cannot avoid being attracted to someone; this is a gut instinct and reflex reaction.  However we can avoid allowing ourselves to begin to fixate on that person and beginning to think about them obsessively.  Remember that as we think about an individual we are attracted to, the VTA is activated and dopamine is released into our brains.  The VTA acts as part of our reward system and the dopamine release causes us to:-

1. Experience a ‘high’ whenever we think about this person – a ‘high’ with similar properties to the high experienced by someone who is high on cocaine.  Many psychologists consider love to be an addiction. 

2. Lowered levels of serotonin may also be involved.  This may well encourage is to think obsessively about the individual.

These effects are addictive, and so every time we think about the individual we are attracted to, an addictive high is experienced.  This will encourage us to think about them more and more.  As we think about the person we are falling in love with more, so the addiction increases. 

Learning from the Avoidantly Attaching Individual

However, the avoidantly attaching  individual has learnt to avoid these feelings.  Her primary concern is the negative feelings that will be experienced if she falls in love and then is rejected.  As we saw – the intensity of these negative feelings is experienced in proportion to those of the positive ‘high’ experienced when initially falling ‘in love’. 

We can all adopt the behaviour of the avoidantly attaching individual if we choose to.  If we are attracted to someone, we do not have to fixate on that person and start obsessing over her.  As we have seen, if we allow ourselves to do this, our brains will trigger addictive mechanisms.  We will experience an intense ‘high’ and this can become highly addictive.  The more we allow ourselves to fixate and obsess about the person we are attracted to, the more addicted we will become.  However, we can choose to divert our attention from thoughts of a person we are attracted to.  In fact, this is one of the key strategies adopted by people who maximise emotional reward.  Distraction is a skill.  We can in fact occupy our mind with other things, perhaps something else we enjoy.  I often occupy my mind with a project, like writing and recording a song, or I sometimes read a book.  I try to do something that gives me a strong sense of reward.  This certainly offsets the loss of immediate ‘reward’ associated with fixating on someone I find attractive.  Those who receive maximum emotionial reward have mastered the skill of appropriately regulating affect. 

Risk-Assessment Checklist

From my perspective, the risk-assessment of someone who wishes to maximise satisfaction from love should look something like this.

1. This process begins when we see someone we are attracted to. 

2. Risk assessment begins.  The underlying question is:

‘If I begin to fixate on this person and experience the beginnings of love for this person, how likely are they to return my affections?’

3. I remember that if I begin to fixate on this person or ‘fall’ for this person, I am allowing my VTA to be activated.  This system is associated with motivating me to obtain goals.  If the person does not return my affections, then my goals have not been obtained and I will then experience a corresponding ‘low’ in proportion to the level of ‘high’ I experienced when I ‘fell’ for this person. 

4. I then only allow myself to begin to experience ‘love’ feelings in proportion to the likelyhood that she will return my affections.