Love is a powerful influence in our lives.
But, as I have found, writing about love is not an easy thing to do. People have so many different experiences that shape their perspective on what love means to them.
Love comes in all different shapes and sizes: romantic love; the love of a child; the love of a friend; the love we share with the animals in our lives. Love shapes who we are and even our physical and mental health.
Love is particularly vital in childhood. Research has shown that affection may be as important as good nutrition and appropriate clothing, in its effect on a child’s development.
UCLA researchers found that while chronic childhood stress, caused by child abuse or lack of parental affection, can take a mental and physical toll that causes adverse health effects in later life, having a loving parental figure has a protective effect. In other words, this research has demonstrated the importance of nurturing and love for children’s development, especially from the earliest age, altering neural pathways that influence health over a lifetime.
Receiving love and support from family, friends or community can help us in times of struggle and sorrow. Research has shown that social connections, and having a good relationship with peers, can help us through difficult circumstances in our lives. Feeling connected can also have a significant impact on our health.
A recent study on the impact of a sense of social ‘belonging’ on symptoms of depression, anxiety, stress and loneliness, by psychologist Catherine Haslam and colleagues at the University of Queensland, found many health problems were more likely to present in people who were socially isolated.
Practising loving and forgiving ourselves is a powerful healing force. According to Buddhist meditation teacher and author Sharon Salzberg, “Loving-Kindness and compassion are the basis for wise, powerful, sometimes gentle and sometimes fierce actions that can really make a difference in our own lives and of others”.
Loving ourselves, our children, our family and friends requires responsibility, respect and nurturing. Giving love is not always easy. But we need love like we need water, food and warmth.
Written by Jackeline