The Promise of Belonging - the World's Most Powerful Narcotic!
Have you heard this song which goes like, “Just like nicotine, heroin, morphine; Suddenly, I'm a fiend and you're all I need.” If you are an old school at heart, you might relate more to, “Vaada raha sanam, honge judaa naa hum.” Either way, we have all experienced the gravity of promises of belonging, which sometimes seem to be more powerful than any other promise ever kept or broken. Why is this the case?
When we talk about an addiction, we mean behaviour that seems almost compulsive, even if it may have adverse or risky consequences that we are aware of. The promise of belonging seems to fit well into that category. Whether you’re a student of Business Studies or Psychology or anything else, you are more likely than not, to have heard of the Hierarchy of Needs Theory propounded by Abraham Maslow. In this universally known theory of motivation, the need to belong has been placed right after the physiological needs that are necessary for survival and the need for safety and security. Even though we often take it for granted, that is precisely how much we crave the feeling of belonging. While talking about being on either end of a promise of belonging, one thing that strikes most of us immediately is, the high risk-high reward factor. This applies to narcotics as well; the reason why people tend to get addicted to them is because they temporarily make us feel good or even euphoric, thus getting reinforced to continue or get repeated.
Poetry, music, films, paintings - there has been no form of art that we can think of which has not been used to express the addictive nature of romantic love. Behaviours that lovers engage in may often overlap with “addictive” behaviours, including craving their partner’s company and feeling anxious or disturbed when separated from them, obsessively thinking about them, changing one’s habits and routine to accommodate them, and many others.
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Love and belongingness, however, covers an area that extends much beyond romance. Scientists have found a relationship between physical proximity with the caregiver right after birth and during the first year of development of an infant, with formation of specific types of attachment and other social behaviours later in life. In fact, do you remember crying on the first day of school? Why do you think that happened with so many of us? It was because when we saw our guardian leaving us alone in a new environment for the first time, we perceived them as breaking their promise of belonging made to us, at least temporarily, and thus causing separation distress in us. What about the first time you lost a dear friend?
Biological evidence has also been gathered by researchers on just how powerful a narcotic a promise of belonging can actually be. Through fMRIs, falling in love has been seen to cause release of the neurotransmitter dopamine, also known as the reward-centre of the brain and linked to psychological reactions such as feeling ecstatic and motivated. Further, it has also been associated with other biochemical reactions commonly experienced while using an addictive substance, such as release of oxytocin, vasopressin and serotonin, responsible for feelings of pleasure.
These reactions have been seen to increase even further when love is not returned, or rejected. Crimes of passion are proof that in love, people tend to think, feel and act in extremes. This explains why, after the break up of a relationship, many people report feeling depressed, anxious, frustrated or even suicidal. It is simply because a promise of belonging has been broken. A lot of us have been personally there, and others have lived vicariously. However, there is no doubt about the fact that getting yourself back on your feet after a heartbreak is just as challenging as getting rid of an addiction. Perhaps that is why it is called “falling” in love. From dependence to withdrawal symptoms, there is no symptom that love-addicts do not have to go through when trying to get rid of their substance.
The truth is, a broken promise of belonging is never easy to deal with. There are no exceptions to this. Nobody can be prepared for it, or avoid it completely. It does not reduce with age, or experience. Teenagers often take to unhealthy coping mechanisms to find temporary distractions. Similarly, adults too, may experience the empty nest syndrome, i.e., the grief that many parents feel when their children move out of home. What we can control, however, is how we choose to deal with it. Thus, it is important to acknowledge that experiencing deep grief after a heartbreak or loss is common to the entire human species, and that it is okay to need a little time and extra care to heal. Whether it is being a little kinder than usual to yourself, taking a break, or seeking help, we need to actively take certain steps to overcome an addiction, and this applies to coping with a broken promise of belonging too.
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The point of sharing these facts was definitely not to make the promise of belonging seem scary. In fact, that would be as far from the truth as possible. Belonging has been defined as having an affinity towards a person, object or situation. Human beings are social beings and most of us do not just want to spend our lives trying to survive, but making the most of it. Thus, the need to belong becomes as central to our happiness as food is to live. Right from not being able to hold back our tears when an adult told us they were too busy to play with us as kids, to crying on the day we graduated, the promise of belonging holds an unimaginable level of authority over our minds and hearts. Research has even gone on to prove that when we simply know that we have someone to fall back on, listen to us or tend to us, we are able to deal with any stressful or challenging life situation in a much quicker and healthier way than those who are not blessed with this assurance. If we look around, we can see how consistently close relationships have the potential to act as a safety net, like a trampoline that can save a life after a high jump. Making a promise is simply an expression of a basic human emotion - love. There is not and cannot be anything wrong with that.
To conclude, anything that has the potential to turn into an addiction also has the capability to make us feel extremely happy and joyful. None of us can imagine life without attachments and the risks associated with them. Being able to give as well as receive love, in various capacities, is what makes life meaningful and fulfilling. Our emotions exert an unparalleled influence on our mental health, impacting our level of subjective wellbeing, thus affecting virtually every aspect of our lives, and deserve to be catered to. Hence, while it is perhaps true that the promise of belonging indeed feels like the world’s most powerful narcotic, this story, like any other, has two sides to it. No wonder why ... Enrique Iglesias was “addicted” and Elvis Presley, “could not help falling in love”!