Are Love and Belonging needed for mental health and happiness?

Dr. Ken Larsen

Let me go back in history to 18th century England.  Scurvy was a terrible disease that afflicted many sailors in the British Navy.  In fact, there were more deaths from scurvy than from combat and enemy action.  This was an unavoidable scourge until James Lind in 1747 observed the connection between fresh fruit, especially lemons, and the healing of sailors with scurvy.  One account I read described this situation: At the end of the six day trial…the pair who had received the lemon supplement to their diet made a staggering recovery and were once again healthy, while the others had worsened.” This proved our need for a regular dietary intake of Vitamin C by seeing the scurvy resulting from a deficiency of Vitamin C.

chair-beachCan we make a similar connection with the declared need for love and belonging?  If this is a need we should be able to see what happens when that need is not met.

I’m thinking of the “failure to thrive” syndrome that has been observed when small children in an orphanage are fed and kept clean but often die because they are deprived of human contact and the touch of a caring person.

If these deprived kids survive their childhood, too often they become the depressed, lonely, disturbed person who tragically lashes out in horribly destructive acts of violence.

Many of these people who have been deprived of love and belonging are diagnosed as being depressed and are given psychoactive drugs, presuming a chemical deficiency in the brain.  Sadly, this effort to help simply doesn’t help and has been implicated in worsening rather than helping the lonely isolation that is so characteristic of this deficiency..

I’m not going to tell you I have the solution.  I can stand with the growing ranks of those who are proclaiming that brain drugs are rarely, if ever, the solution.

The great spiritual traditions have all emphasized the need for love and belonging along with the admonition to provide that need for one another.   This is the “nourishment” we need to enjoy mental health and happiness.  Not to be loved and connected is to be suffering from an emerging and more clearly defined deficiency syndrome.

Here is the challenge.  Can we look at what is really deficient for those depressed, lonely, disenfranchised and often dangerous people?  Can we try to understand the real causes of these conditions that result from not being loved?  Can we learn from what Dr. Glasser said years ago, “we either help these people or we have to defend ourselves against them?”




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