Keynote lecture at the 3rd Adolescence Health Conference at the Royal College of Physicians in London, October 2000.
The Meming of Love; Invention of the Human Heart.
By Claude Steiner PhD
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Meming of Love; Invention of the Human Heart.
Claude Steiner PhD
am enormously pleased
to be speaking here in London, in such a prestigious venue to such a wonderful
audience, in support of that most fascinating, beleaguered and important group
of people, our adolescents.
I have come all the way from California
to make a point about a subject near and dear to the adolescent heart. What I am
going to speak about, is love. How very California wouldn’t you say?
The point I am going to make is that it is possible to teach, learn, relearn and
enhance our capacity to be loving human beings and I will show you five specific
things you can do to achieve that purpose.
No subject is as often on people's
lips, especially on the lips of adolescents, in their songs, their TV and
movies, their books and thoughts, as is love. With all that interest it should
be an easy subject to explore. But there is a problem: Allow me to quote Diane
Ackerman from her excellent book, A Natural History of Love
. In her introduction she says:
“As a society we are embarrassed by love. We treat it as if it were an obscenity. We are reluctant to admit to it. Even saying the word makes us stumble and blush. Why should we be ashamed of an motion so beautiful and natural? Love is the most important thing in our lives, a passion for which we would fight or die, and yet we're reluctant to linger over its name."
is speaking of romantic love,
mostly the love between a man and a woman. In fact almost everything that is
said written and sung about love relates to that narrow band of love’s realm,
But love in real time, in the here and now, as we feel it or fail to feel it,
openly or in twisted knots, intertwined with anger and hate, toward our
"loved" ones, our friends, our coworkers or ourselves, love is so
often so fraught with conflict and avoidance that we are unable to discuss it
freely, at any level.
all intents and purposes love is banned from close, personal, intimate,
examination. Oscar Wilde’s treacherous lover Bosie spoke of “the love that
dare not speak its name.” In fact it is love altogether, all of it, that we
dare not speak of, so disturbing and even frightening is it to talk about.
only situation in which love talk is easy is when it concerns children and even
there it is losing ground due to overriding fears about sexual abuse. Still,
children we can usually freely express heartfelt, sincere, love feelings. But as soon
children pass into what Freud called the "latency" period the barriers go up.
the words gets used: ”Love’ya
mom,” “Have you done your
homework, luv?” “I love you,” with a lilting, high minded tone.
of those emotional warriors who wear their hearts on their sleeves and feel it a
compulsive moral duty to openly love others and themselves, how many come to see their
own, “excessive” emotionality as a burden;
something that they have to struggle with and about, daily, and ultimately, for
their own protection, at times even give up?
course there are those who would argue that one does not need to speak about
love, that love “just is” and that, in fact, speaking about it disturbs it,
spoils it, much the way a stone disturbs the surface of a moonlit pond. To them
I would say that I strongly disagree. In
my opinion love is in need of help today, and we aren’t going to fix it by
keeping quiet about it.
the ban on love is not merely a speaking ban; among psychological research
projects love is not the subject of the intense inquiry as often as it deserves
to be. As an example the classic book about emotions, The
Emotional Brain; The Mysterious Underpinnings of Emotional Life by Joseph
fails to mention love
even once in its index; this otherwise excellent book's first chapter is called
"Whats love got to do with it?" a question that is never addressed in
the text. Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence
has twenty index entries related to anger, and only three index
entries on love in Chapter One, and none in the rest of the book. A search of
the complete Annual Review of Psychology in 1996 (23 volumes)
found no single reference to love.
American Psychological Association has called this the decade of positive
psychology which it launched with its January 2000 "Special Issue on Happiness,
Excellence and Optimal Human Functioning."
Scientific psychology is indeed making great strides in theorizing
and researching the positive side of the human experience. In speaking of the
positive human experience, it is joy, optimism, contentment and “flow” that
get the attention and research; love gets lip service but is seldom discussed or
investigated, in detail, by experts in the field.
love is the instant antidepressant, and a proven insurance against disease and
morbidity. One of the principal researchers of this fact, Dr. Dean Ornish, a
Harvard educated physician, recognized by Life magazine as one of fifty
most influential members of his generation, says in his book,
Love and Survival
“…love and intimacy are at the root of what makes us sick and what makes us well. If a new drug had the same impact…it would be malpractice not to prescribe it … I am not aware of any factor in medicine -- not diet, not smoking, not stress, not genetics, not drugs, not surgery—that has greater impact on our quality of life, incidence of illness and premature death from all causes.”
enough of this barrage of evidence for the difficulties attending a serious,
scientific, rational, discussion about love. I suppose I feel a bit insecure as to how I
will be received when I insist in speaking about love among colleagues in
serious academic circles. Perhaps, to be safe I should stick to speaking about
“emoting positive affect.”
are these conflictual crosscurrents about love as evident as in adolescence. I
recall, in my own adolescence in Mexico, how
painful a subject it was. I am sure things have improved since then but
we simply would not admit to having any affection, especially for our peers. I
had a best friend; he and I were practically inseparable but we would not
confess our friendship even to our mothers, let alone age mates. We would
have been utterly incapable of speaking of love between us, especially in
Spanish were the word that corresponds to love—amor—is even more disturbing
than its English counterpart. When we eventually became attracted to a girl we
hid the fact in shame, lest we be mercilessly mocked by our age mates.
As to adult responses to teen love,
when the heart takes off uncontrollably in an early adolescent crush, the usual
infuriating, condescending response is: “How adorable, of course it will not
last; I know, I’ve been there, done that.” Or if the matter becomes more
serious, involving sex and or drugs, we drop our condescending attitude and replace it with white hot alarm
and catastrophic expectations.
We know how often getting pregnant and having a baby
are seen by young women as an opportunity to love and be loved and how important
girl’s bodies are to their love of themselves; their self-esteem. Tragically, teenage
pregnancy and obesity are two of the greatest adolescence health issues.
all accounts teen depression, suicide and homicide are serious adolescent
problem in which love and hate conflate. Kipland Kinkel, the 15 year old Oregon boy who
in 1998 killed both of his parents and then proceeded to go to his school and kill
two and injure 25 others wrote the following, prior to his rampage:
“I need help. There is one person that could help but
she wont. I need to find someone else. I think I love her but she could never
love me…today of all days I ask(ed) her to help me. I was shot down I feel
like my heart has been ripped open and ripped apart…I gave her all I have and
she just threw it away… Every time I see (her) face my heart is shot with an
arrow. I think she will say yes but she doesn’t. She says “I don’t know.”
response to an essay question about love at first sight Kipland wrote:
“Love is an evil plot to make people buy alcohol and
firearms. When you love someone something is always taken away from you… it’s
easier to hate than love… I don’t believe in love at first sight. But I
believe in hate at first sight…(love) does more harm than good…love is a
horrible thing. It makes things kill and hate.”
many teenagers kill as Kipland did, but his terrifying sentiments about love and
hate are not unusual. “Love,” as Stevie Wonder says, “is in need of love
Paul MacLean senior research
scientist at the National Institute of Mental Health proposes that the human
brain is made up of three distinct subdivisions
corresponding to three consecutive evolutionary eras.
calls this three-part brain the “triune” brain. In the triune brain the
reptilian brain is separated from the neo-cortical brain, by a structure that is
so clearly of a different nature than the other two that it was called the
limbic brain (after the latin limbus or border) by Paul Broca, its
discoverer in 1879.
reptilian brain, first in evolutionary history, supports the basic physiological
functions; respiration, circulation and so on. It also is in command of
territorial and mating behavior; pecking order, defense, aggression and the
emotions of anger and fear.
As evolution progressed and protection of the offspring became an effective survival strategy the limbic brain developed to fulfill that function. Establishing and protecting a safe territory was a function of the reptilian brain; protection within that secure territory became the limbic brain’s function.
of the young required affiliative behavior based on a drive for contact and
mutual recognition. This hunger for contact maintained the bond between mother
and offspring and generated closely knit, cooperative groupings all of which
maximized survival of the young. The principal emotions associated with
affiliation is love; sadness, hope and guilt are emotions that are generated
when affiliation fails, to repair the failure.
The protective social environment of the limbic brain made it possible for the offspring to be born before its brain size was fully accomplished. Evolution of a larger and larger brain cavity permitted the full development of the neo-cortex in the present stage of human evolution. The neo-cortex permits higher functions of imitation, speaking, writing, planning, symbolic reasoning and conceptualization all of which were applied to the task of adaptation. Adaptation to the various new environments of weather, food, water and the increasing presence of other hominids within and without the tribe competing for resources and territory.
thinking functions are also applied to the modulation and even modification of
the two lower brains’ functions. Rational control of the procreative,
aggressive, protective and affiliative drives are one of the byproducts of human
brain's neo-cortical evolution.
of extraordinary adaptability skills, survival was assured and ceased to exercise evolutionary pressure; genetic evolution came to
a virtual standstill about 40 000 years ago. At this point we were fully
equipped with three distinct brains: one, the reptilian, concerned with
territory, the second, limbic, concerned with protection within that safe
territory and the third, the neo-cortical, concerned with adaptation.
our genetic evolution dramatically slowed down, another form of evolution not
associated with our genes but with the capacity to adapt, accelerated.
Richard Dawkins, author of The Selfish Gene, called this type of
evolution “memetic” as opposed to genetic. It refers to the
evolution of guiding ideas -- memes -- as they replicate horizontally
from person to person and vertically, down the generations.
neo-cortical memetic functions elaborated the affiliative drive into highly
elaborated ideation; maternal love, love between father and mother, fraternal
love, erotic love and love between members of the social group. Love
has evolved from the instinct in certain animals to affiliate in groups for
protection and warmth, to the highly sophisticated ideas and behaviors that we
call love today,
evolution of concepts associated with love has been accelerating since Jesus of Nazareth made love
the center of his doctrine. There is a huge leap between Jesus and the bard, but
Shakespeare’s contribution was equally crucial according to Harold Bloom in Shakespeare;
TheInvention of the Human.
and Juliet, sixteen and not yet fourteen years old, have become an
example of adolescent love in its most uncompromising form. They meet at a dance
one evening, before dawn declare their undying love for each other, marry the
next day, and are dead within a fortnight. This story has become a guiding idea,
a “memetic” standard for romantic love.
in the arts have written and spoken about love eloquently enough to advance the
love meme. In the sciences, Eric Berne made a major contribution to the
potential quantification of love when he postulated the stroke as the unit of
recognition and with the development of transactional analysis provided an
method to study the exchange of affection and aversion.
Corruption of Love; The Enemies of the Heart.
I am a transactional analyst.
That is to say I study people
from the point of view of how they interact or transact. As a transactional
analyst I see all aspects of health reflected in people’s transactions. In
addiction I believe, as a psychotherapist, that the royal road to recovery and
health is the analysis and correction of transactional behavior.
This is especially true when working with the pathologies of
relationships and the way in which love can be heartbreakingly corrupted
from its potential as a life-giving force.
postulated that each person at any one point operates from one of three distinct
parts of the ego which he called the Parent, The Child and the Adult. Berne spoke of
people's need for recognition, recognition hunger and how people transact
in part to satisfy that need. He called the recognition transaction a “stroke”
and he defined positive and negative strokes. Positive strokes are units of
positive recognition or affection and negative strokes are units of negative
recognition or aversion. Both positive and negative strokes feed the hunger for
also observed that people undertake certain repetitive transactional patterns
which he called games and labeled them with eye opening names such as “Why don’t
you yes but” or “Now I have got you, you SOB”
are played from the Child ego state, often masquerading as a grown up and in
large part to obtain strokes. Every
time we start a game the inner Child is hoping to get positive recognition or
strokes, yet every time we play a game that purpose is foiled, and what we get
instead is negative recognition or hateful transactions. We play games because
we are hungry for positive recognition or love and we wind up getting hate
instead. Still, we persevere because we need the strokes. Without them Berne
said, our “spinal cords will shrivel up” as shown by Renee Spitz’s classic
research on hospitalism in the nursery.
is the case with every other driven, instinctual behavior the drive for
recognition is associated with a need which motivates the organism to act. We
know about the needs for water, food, activity, sex, and we know that being
deprived of any of them will motivate vigorous activity to restore them.
Thirst and hunger are terms applied to water and food. I will be applying them
to the need for recognition which I call “stroke hunger.” Years ago I came
to the conclusion that people as a whole are not only periodically stroke
hungry, but actually chronically stroke starved; that is to say that most people
are in a constant state of stroke deprivation.
fact is that just as we can become starved for food, we can become stroke
starved. A starved person will pursue food in any form and even eat rotten food
if hungry enough. Likewise with strokes; we will pursue them hungrily and if we
can't good ones we'll settle for bad ones .
are people stroke starved? I
began asking myself that question in the late 60's when I wrote a story which
has since been reproduced millions of times and which has become part of the
cultural vocabulary; The Warm Fuzzy Tale.
In that story a bad warlock whispers in Tim's ear, telling him to
beware when giving too many Warm Fuzzies, for fear that they will run out. The
word gets around that there may not be enough warm fuzzies and people start
holding back and before you know it there is a chronic scarcity of them.
result is that people start developing pains and their backs shrivel up
so they have to buy the warlock’s salves and potions, which was the point of
the warlock’s scheme to begin with. The story goes on and has a happy ending.
I leave it to you to find out how it goes if you are interested. You can find
the story on my website www.emotional-literacy.com.
real life, what we have is a set of rules which I call “the stroke economy.”
This is essentially a set of five injunctions regarding strokes, as
Don’t give strokes you want to give.
Don’t accept strokes you want to get.
Don’t ask for strokes you need.
Don’t reject strokes you dislike
Don’t give yourself strokes
These injunctions are enforced by the Critical Parent, also known in its many
incarnations as the voices in our head, the harsh superego, the inner critic,
catastrophic expectations, low self esteem, negative self-talk, stinking
thinking, etc., depending on the therapeutic system attempting to deal with it.
The Critical Parent enforces these rules by undermining our self esteem; our
self-love. It tells us we are not OK, and don’t deserve to love or be loved
because we are stupid, bad, ugly, crazy, sick and doomed. It threatens us with
humiliation, ridicule, guilt. In short it terrorizes by with the ultimate
threat; exclusion from the tribe, to be left alone to die alone in the cold,
with voodoo death, with total alienation.
murderous teenager, Kipland Kinkel’s writings provide a dramatic example:
“God damn these voices in my head. I want to die I want
to be gone…I sound so pitiful. People would laugh at this if the read it. I
hate being laughed at…I hate every one of you. Because everything I touch
turns to shit…If I had a heart it would be gray... My cold black heart has
never and will never experience true love… Why aren’t I normal? Help me. No
one will. I will kill every last mother fucking one of you.”
does this Critical Parent come from? Why this bloody-minded, love-corrupting
presence in our innermost self?
Critical Parent is the product of another memetic evolutionary process departing
from the reptilian brain instinct for territorial and dominating behavior. It’s
memetic development into a persistent system of
supremacy of men over women, the powerful over the weak, of the middle aged
over the young and elderly. This ancient tradition also known as patriarchy
includes the domination of the
emotions and threatens people with dire consequences if the fail to keep those
emotions in control. The ultimate threat is
exclusion from the tribe; the loss of love from those who would protect
us. Love is a
particular target of patriarchal control because in its many forms it challenges and threatens patriarchal
domination. Domination, embodied in the Critical Parent, is the antagonist of
love; instead of direct,
empathic, loving cooperation and negotiation the Critical Parent encourages
power plays, lies and secrets
are love’s enemies, the attitudes and behaviors which undermine and corrode
our potential for affiliation, bonding, cooperation and love:
Domination/Submission (demanding that every relationship have a one-up and a one-down member)
Lying (in particular about how we feel and what we want)
Competition (especially when competing for another’s love.)
Physical and emotional violence (notably when it is used to coerce affection)
What can we do to rehabilitate our loving capacities?
In their extraordinary book A General Theory of Love, Drs. Lewis, Amini and Lannon postulate that loving behaviors are determined by powerful limbic attractors which operate out of our awareness. They strongly believe that these deeply ingrained tendencies can be modified in adulthood but only through many years of intense psychotherapy in which the patient learns new relational patterns modeled by the psychotherapist.
am proposing a more expedient, practical and affordable approach. First we need to establish
a fertile social environment in which love can spring forth, powered by the
genetic limbic impulse.
Power Parity. (Giving up power by the powerful, empowering by the powerless.)
Honesty. (No lies of omission or commission)
Cooperation. (No power plays, asking for 100% of what we want and negotiating)
Gentleness. (Empathic response to other people’s needs).
These alone will enable us to create helpful and fertile settings for love to
flourish, but for a far more proactive approach which will actually rehabilitate
love, we need to add a more advanced technique. Over the last twenty years I
have developed just such a method.
the late 1960’s, myself and a handful of war resisters in the mental health
professions, established a RAP Center at the Berkeley Free Clinic. RAP stood for
"Radical Approach to Psychiatry" and was essentially a protest
movement against the abuses of psychiatry
as practiced in those days. We
started a number of "contact" groups, in which participants were
taught the principles of Transactional Analysis as it applied to cooperative
relationships. The most popular contact group to evolve from this work was
called "Stroke City."
times a week, "Stroke City" gathered at the RAP Center. For two hours
in the afternoon about twenty people found themselves in an emotional oasis in
which they could give strokes, accept strokes, ask for strokes, and even give
themselves strokes in a safe,
protected social environment.
The leader of the group scrutinized every transaction. It was his or her
job to make sure that people gave each other clean, positive strokes, unclouded
by hidden or overt criticism. When needed, the leader helped the participants to
correct their transactions to make sure the strokes were heard and accepted when
wanted. This proactive, transactional analytic monitoring was an important
improvement over the usual “human potential” and group therapy techniques
already in use at the time.
soon observed an unexpected side effect. Participants would often look around
after some time and declare that they "loved everyone in the room."
Many people left these meetings with a light step and a happy, loving glow on
their faces experiencing a feeling that had been previously called “oceanic”
first I assumed that people were just cheered up by these activities in a manner
similar to what happens at a ball game in which our side wins. But upon closer
examination it became clear that these exercises had a profound effect on the
participants' loving emotions. They spoke of loving feelings, of having an open
heart and of a transcendent experiences of affection and universal love. What
had started as an exercise to practice how to be cooperative and positive
towards others turned out to affect the participants’ loving capacities in a
powerful and heart-expanding way. It was then that we began to see the
connection between strokes and love; how learning how to exchange positive
strokes might have an effect on people’s overall capacity to love.
these "Stroke City" sessions, as we discovered the connection between
strokes and love we also discovered the pervasive activity of the Critical
Critical Parent is especially interested in preventing people from getting
strokes. Bonding and affiliation invariably weaken the Critical Parent’s
control over us. Even though people
need positive strokes to thrive, in Stroke City when they tried to give, ask
for, or accept strokes, they often experienced extreme, sometimes paralyzing
anxiety, embarrassment and even self-loathing. Some people hear a voice saying,
"You're selfish. You don't deserve strokes," or "This is stupid,
you'll make a fool of your-self; shut up"; others just feel anxious or
self-conscious every time they give or ask for a stroke. In the face of such
Critical Parent opposition very few find it easy to exchange strokes.
though most people enjoyed "Stroke City" and wound up feeling good,
there were always a few who felt badly, left out, afraid or hurt. It became
clear that they had succumbed to the attacks of the Critical Parent. To protect
the participants from anything that triggered or supported the Critical Parent’s
activity, I decided to start each meeting with an agreement, called a
"cooperative contract," which promised that the participants and the
leader would never engage in any attempts to manipulate or power play anyone in
the group. It also specifically required that participants would never do
anything they did not honestly want to do and promised that the leader would not
permit any transactions that came from the Critical Parent.
These contracts, designed to facilitate
emotional safety and protection from the Critical Parent, dramatically reduced
the number of people who felt badly after these meetings. Consequently more
participants were able to enjoy the love enhancing effects of the exercise.
I continue to apply the Stroke City
exercise, now called "Opening the Heart," in the Emotional Literacy Training
program outlined in my book Achieving Emotional Literacy.
Love in the Streets
However in the real world, without the
protection of a moderator and cooperative contract to fosters honesty, power
parity and gentleness it may seem that opening the heart is an exercise in
futility, bound to fail.
In fact, even though opening one’s
heart in the real, concrete-jungle world is a most complex and perilous endeavor
we can change our lives if we begin to give compliments unashamedly, ask for
strokes, accept affection, gently decline unwanted attention and praise
ourselves. We can introduce these new heart liberating behaviors in our everyday
lives, on the street, at work and at home we can do this with each other and our
adolescents, clients, friends and family.
a time in which love is in need of love, is it a conceit to think that
a great deal can be done to improve our loving skills? We have to try,
and I have offered you some time tested tools to that end. And, may I say, that
if we devote ourselves to this task we have a formidable ally, human nature, our
powerful instinct for affiliation, which given the opportunity to flourish, will
closing, love, the innate genetic drive, is blocked by outmoded, aggressive,
hierarchical baggage (also of genetic origins) and the resulting harmful
cultural habits of domination,
lying, violence. Love can be freed to grow by beneficial habits; cooperation,
honesty and gentleness We need only clear the way for love to grow. And then,
practice, practice, practice.
invite you at this conference to give strokes, ask for strokes, accept strokes
you want and gently turn away strokes you don’t want and always be good to
yourselves. Lets make the next two days warm and fuzzy for ourselves and each
other and then let us then pass that feeling and what we learned on to the
adolescents in our lives. Thank you, you have been a great audience!
Ackerman, Diane. A Natural History of Love. Vintage,
New York 1994
Le Doux, Joseph. The
Emotional Brain; The Mysterious Underpinnings of Emotional Life.
Goleman, Daniel. Emotional Intelligence. Bantam
Books, New York 1996
Special Issue on Happiness, Excellence and Optimal
Functioning, American Psychologist V:55 #1, January 2000
Ornish, Dean. Love and Survival Harper Collins, New York 1998
Dawkins Richard. The Selfish Gene. Oxford University
Bloom, Harold. The Invention of the Human. Putnam, New
Berne, Eric. Transactional Analysis in Psychotherapy.
Grove Press New York 1961
-----------. Games People Play. Grove Press, New York 1964
Thomas; Amini, Fari and Lannon Richard. A General Theory of Love.
Oxford University Press. New York 2000.
Renee. “Hospitalism,” The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child I,
International Universities Press, New York, 1954
Claude. The Original Warm Fuzzy Tale. Jalmar Press, Torrance CA 1977
-------------- Scripts People Live. Grove Press, New York 1974
-------------- Achieving Emotional Literacy. Avon Books, New York 1997
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