Ask the Expert: Love/Lust – What’s the difference?

A reader asked us what the “medical” difference between love and lust was! The query was so interesting that we decided to go with it to our psychiatrist, Dr Pallavi Joshi. Here’s what she had to say.

What is lust?

Lust, infatuation or attraction is “just an intense desire”. This is characterised by lots of excitement and urgency, which is chiefly based around sexual excitement.

This attraction can either be related to physical attractiveness, intelligence or any other parameter that you peg high your life and that gets you excited.

Sometimes it can be marked by negative feelings like insecurity, lack of confidence and commitment. But as is commonly known, this feeling invariably disappears if you lose contact with that person for a considerable period of time. This is seen very commonly in long distance relationships.

What is love?

Although this starts with the feeling of attraction, it goes beyond that and is a more longstanding, slow-grown feeling. It develops as a sense of warmth in the heart of another person. There is a better understanding and mature acceptance of the other individual. Thus, it gives strength and stability to the relationship. All this helps one to plan their future together with confidence and clarity.

It’s important to remember that people in love do get attracted to others, but they don’t strongly desire any other individuals as they are very content with their partners.

According to Dr Pallavi Joshi, here are a couple of questions you should ask yourself:

You can’t keep your eyes or hands off of them, am I right?
It isn’t love, it’s lust.

Do you belong to them because their sight makes your heart skip a beat?
It isn’t love, it’s infatuation.

Physiological changes that occur

Physiological changes that occur in the mind and body when a person is in love include:

  • Changes in the prefrontal cortex – To put it simply, the area of the brain is responsible for judgement or reasoning is hijacked by amygdala. Amygdala is a nuclei in the brain which hyper activates in response to being in love. When a person is in love, his or her judgement and reasoning is often impaired due to an overflow from the amygdala, thus shadowing and suppressing the prefrontal cortex.
    So, the term “love is blind”, actually means that the reasoning ability of the individual is impaired.
  • In the body, “oxytocin” or the love neurohormone levels are increased manifold when a person is in love. This actually also enhances bonding.
  • Palpitations and restlessness are also seen.
  • Another interesting observation for psychiatrists is that a person in love may display all the criteria for “addictions”. What a person feels for his or her partner can be similar to what an alcoholic feels towards alcohol. Examples include an increased need to talk to their partner frequently, increasing duration of contact, dissatisfaction with minimal interactions and suffering with withdrawal reactions like uneasiness, restlessness and sleeplessness. There can even be irritability if the partner is out of sight and a person may do even something “outrageous” just to get the partner.

Dr Pallavi Joshi has an MD in Psychiatry and currently practices at Vydehi Medical College, Bangalore

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 Ask the Expert: Love/Lust – What’s the difference? is a post from: mDhil

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