Der lange Weg zur Liebe

The long road to love

Physician and psychiatrist Joachim Bauer, along with numerous researchers in the field of psychoneuroimmunology, consistently underscore the importance of thriving relationships for our well-being. Behaviours lacking empathy, along with loveless, derogatory, and dismissive relationships, activate perilous risk genes that lead to low-grade or chronic inflammation within the body. These four antisocial relationship characteristics have also been shown to exacerbate illness or increase the risk of death, surpassing the effects of substance and medication abuse, nutrient-deficient nutrition, and the lack of exercise. Additionally, such a bodily milieu favours neuropathies, allergies, autoimmune diseases, cardiovascular diseases, tumor diseases, and dementias.


One imperative example illustrating the connection between health and environmental circumstances was given by Siegfried Wagner, a physician specialising in general and family medicine in Heidelberg, Germany. He highlighted the health risks associated with mould formation in poorly ventilated, damp spaces. Indeed, medical research, so far, has primarily focused on the development of various types of mould-related illnesses, dedicating little time to investigating the environments conducive to mould formation.


In this blog, we aim to clarify the emergence of the four crucial relationship characteristics that determine the line between health and illness.


To achieve this, we depict bodily and emotional functions in the language and experiential realm of approximately three to six-year-olds. We have chosen this approach primarily because our reactions as adults to emotionally charged situations closely resemble those of a six-year-old child. Indeed, when crying, we revert to our six-year-old selves and cry like children rather than grown adults.


Exploring the Brain's Physical Landscape: The Neural Substrates of Emotional Functions


In my practice, I encounter them daily: individuals grappling with doubt. They carry this uncertainty within, often spanning their entire lives. Some are unaware of what they lack for happiness, while others grapple with life circumstances such as struggling to find a partner, experiencing disappointment in relationships, enduring persistent conflicts with parents, or facing challenges with their children.


Many are also convinced they know the root of their doubts: feeling incapable of forming relationships, encountering an unloving and inconsiderate partner, contending with constant parental interference, and navigating their children's exposure to various influences that could have a negative impact on them.


Unhappiness often manifests as pain, stemming from a "malnourishment" of our nerve cells, which can significantly impact us both emotionally and physically. Nerve cells play a crucial role in our nervous system, requiring consistent care to maintain our mental and physical vitality. Just as we must regularly consume nutrients to satisfy hunger, our nerve cells also require continual sustenance. A lifetime of satiety does not guarantee perpetual satisfaction; similarly, our nerve cells demand ongoing nourishment to prevent emotional and neurological deprivation.


The sustenance for our well-being resides in the four neurotransmitter systems: oxytocin, serotonin, dopamine, and noradrenaline. These systems commence their formation as early as conception. From the very inception of our existence, the origins of these four neurotransmitter systems begin to take shape—intended to traverse the expanse of our inner world like streams and rivers, enriching our emotional landscape into a fertile terrain where emotions can blossom and yield fruit. It is a realm where our well-being and health can flourish, and where contentment can elegantly unfurl its wings.


However, if this process is disrupted, emotional deserts and wastelands emerge: stark, arid, infertile, and vulnerable to erosion, making them scarcely suitable even for skilled farmers. In such environments, the cultivation of mental and physical well-being becomes a formidable endeavour, demanding substantial exertion to safeguard even the tiniest sprout from succumbing to decay. Here, happiness can only sporadically flourish, while empathy, companionship, gratitude, and reverence find no fertile soil in which to embed their roots.


In this context, it is crucial for these four sources to distribute their messengers across our inner terrain. The wider this expanse extends, the more intricate the creeks, streams and rivers, the better. However, these channels must also be consistently refilled—in both volume and frequency—to ensure even the smallest creeks remain full. Should this process falter, or worse yet, if the source dries up entirely, the creeks will be the first to run dry, followed by the streams, and eventually, the riverbeds. At that point, our emotional landscape becomes barren, and desertification sets in.

Already after conception these sources begin to bubble, laying the groundwork for their branching and pathways through our inner world in four distinct stages of life, thereby establishing the neurotransmitter balance essential for our existence. The brain learns to adapt its neurotransmitter activity based on environmental stimuli. During these life stages especially, the brain is particularly adept at establishing these fundamental patterns.


Oxytocin begins to branch out during the time we spend in the womb, laying down the foundational patterns of its network of rivers, streams, and creeks, primarily within the first six weeks of life. To facilitate the proper flow of the oxytocin source, it's crucial that we experience and feel empathy. This begins with maternal empathy, but also extends to that of our closest family members, allowing expectant mothers to experience empathy. Even unborn babies can experience such empathy, for instance, when the father tenderly touches the expectant mother, when a sibling strokes or presses gently against her belly, or when the unborn child kicks against the abdominal wall. As life progresses, the oxytocin source also relies on the empathy of the extended family, including grandparents and close friends. In adulthood, partners, family of origin, neighbours, and closest friends contribute to sustaining this vital empathetic connection.

The serotonergic system, like all other neurotransmitters, already begins to bubble within the womb. It constructs its expansive landscape during the first year of life. To sustain this source, we must experience profound satisfaction, genuine and deep. This begins in our first year of life, as we forge connections with others and find fulfilment in these relationships. Enthusiastic caregivers cultivate a fertile landscape for our life's motivation during this crucial time. The more support we receive as toddlers, the richer the terrain of our dopaminergic system becomes. Dopamine propels us forward when we recognise rewarding goals. Without it, we would lack the drive to pursue anything, unable to lift a finger. Insufficient dopamine can lead to mental and physical paralysis.


Noradrenaline branches its streams and creeks through experiences that occur more frequently in the fourth- and fifth- year of life. This is the stage when we transition from toddlers, and our gender roles begin to take shape. It's a time of playing father-mother-child games, where we observe and absorb male and female behaviours from our parents. If the father's eyes light up differently when looking at the mother than when looking at the dear neighbour, and if the mother's eyes shine differently when gazing into the father's eyes than when looking at the dear neighbour, then we can calmly contemplate what it means to be feminine or masculine. This observation allows us to reflect on gender roles with clarity and composure. Noradrenaline amplifies the drive provided by dopamine, infusing it with a pleasurable tingle.


The brain is a self-learning system and adapts to the conditions it encounters. Children must surpass us; they must solve the problems we could not yet solve. If they have a solid foundation for the development of trust (oxytocin levels), satisfaction (serotonin levels), recognition (dopamine levels), and efficacy (noradrenaline levels), then our children can continue to evolve. They will tackle the challenges that overwhelm our generation with creativity and courage in the future, nurturing their health along the way.

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