Is Too Little Vitamin L Killing You???
Are You Getting Enough Vitamin L???
“Men cannot live by milk alone. Love is an emotion that does not need to be bottle–or spoon-fed” — Harry Harlow
In 1894, Dr. Luther Holt (professor of pediatrics at Colombia University) authored a cute little book called “The Care and Feeding of Children,” all about how to care and raise a child. At the time, Holt and his colleagues believed that raising our children was an important first step towards decent citizenry: spoil your children, ruin the future generations — teach them strong ethics, give them strong character.
At first glance this seems natural enough… yet somehow things got very much awry. The basic, chilling idea was: excessive handling of infants made them weak.
Here, let’s see how this goes:
My baby is crying. What should I do? // Ignore it. A baby needs to learn how to take care of itself.
My baby wakes me up constantly in the middle of the night, screaming for my attention. What should I do? // Leave it alone. Sound proof the walls. You shouldn’t make your children needy and obsessive.
My baby keeps shitting in its pants. What should I do? // Make the baby clean it up — it must learn sooner or later!
Well… not exactly, but you get the idea. The trouble here is that time and time again, as much as the more “scientific” (which, in this case, is just a euphemism for insensitive) among us would like to believe, love is something a human being cannot do without.
To give you some examples of how this effect of social deprivation plays out, consider the following:
Charles Nelson (Harvard), who studied the worst of Romanian Orphanages, found that these severely neglected children had serious morphological dysfunctions like stress dwarfism (looking 6 or 7 and being 15 to 20…) and increased rates of autism.
Tiffany Field (Miami School of Medicine) found that just by touching premature infants in neonatal wards they grew and matured almost 50% faster — and were still doing better months later than the infants who were left in sterile incubators… if just this practice alone was adopted it would save about a BILLION dollars a year in health care.
There once were 2 german orphanages ran by Fräulein Schwarz (black woman) and Fräulein Grun (green woman) [Doch, this is not a joke…]. Fräulein Grun was a beautifully sweet woman with happy children she played with — and Fräulein Schwarz was an evil, vindictive woman who emotionally deprived and tortured her children. Sure enough, analyzing the growth rates from the 2 different orphanages, researches found that Fräulein Grun’s children were growing MUCH faster than Fräulein Schwarz’s. Then one day, Fräulein Grun left her orphanage and, as fate would have it, Fräulein Schwarz took over. Sure enough, Fräulein Grun’s poor children’s growth was stunted! — and Fräulein Schwarz old children began growing again!… What’s more fascinating is that despite her wickedness, Fräulein Schwarz had favorites… and these children grew normally.
The same is true of animals. Cynthia Kuhn and Saul Schanberg (Duke University) found that infant rats seperated from their mothers grow in abnormal ways, however, when stroked and handled these rats become healthy, happy, and fit. Michael Meaney (McGill University) found that rats with an inattentive mother also suffered significant health consequences.
But, perhaps, the mother of all studies has to be Harry Harlow’s monkey studies. Probably every psychology class I took, from Introduction to Psychology to Attitudes Behavior, Change, and Formation, included some sort of Harlow reference. For his most famous study, Harlow put baby rhesus monkeys in cages with a fake mother made out of either wire (which provided milk) or terry cloth (which provided warmth and comfort = “love”). Unlike what the behaviorists predicted, the monkeys preferred the terry cloth mothers to the wire mothers — meaning that food was not enough (remember that quote at the beginning of this post?), in order to develop successfully the monkeys also needed love… or something like it. What’s fascinating is that the monkeys literally treated the terry clothe monkeys like their mothers — running to it for comfort, nuzzling it, hanging onto it 17 hours a day… and the monkeys raised without this terry clothe surrogate became quite maladjusted delinquents.
(you can see a quick video of the Harlow experiment here (Although judging from his comments at the end, I think he still had a lot to learn): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KlfOecrr6kI )
I would like to end with one of my all-time favorite poems, New York’s own Edna St. Vincent Millay: Love is Not All.
Love is not all: it is not meat nor drink
Nor slumber nor a roof against the rain;
Nor yet a floating spar to men that sink
And rise and sink and rise and sink again;
Love can not fill the thickened lung with breath,
Nor clean the blood, nor set the fractured bone;
Yet many a man is making friends with death
Even as I speak, for lack of love alone.
It well may be that in a difficult hour,
Pinned down by pain and moaning for release,
Or nagged by want past resolution’s power,
I might be driven to sell your love for peace,
Or trade the memory of this night for food.
It well may be. I do not think I would.
There is not much I can add to this, except to say that it is true. There are some things we need no confirmation to believe — or worse, should need no confirmation to believe. How could anyone look into the pure loving eyes of an infant and think: BAD GIRL! or BAD BOY! just for being sweet and innocent? It just seems unnatural to fight our urge to touch — our urge to cuddle… our urge for intimacy… and I wonder why we fight it so often…
Do not fight your urge to love today! Make sure you get an ample daily dose. Call someone you love — especially if you haven’t seen or spoken to them in a while — tell that that you’re thinking about them and that you love them and that you wish them a wonderful day. Give a stranger a hug… Give a friend an even bigger hug and pause at that moment it gets uncomfortable and hug them longer. Laugh! Kiss their cheek and smile!
If you want, you can amp it up a notch. Have the mantra “LOVE” in mind all day. Think to yourself: “I Love _______” and “______ loves me.” Keep filling in the gaps. Try it! See how it feels. Maybe you’re depleted — you haven’t been getting enough love in your life — in which case you’re in DIRE NEED! And if you have gotten enough love in your life… love is like happiness, you can never get enough of it. Indulge yourself! Be creative. And if you forget to do it for a while because you get too caught up in work, too caught up in a funny text message from a friend, that’s okay. Just begin again. Nothing is wasted.
If you find this exercise hard, it’s probably means you are L-Deficient. Years of emotional coldness or fear have hardened your heart. Keep stretching. Open up. Soften yourself… give yourself love. You need it more than ever.
Let me know how this experiment in love goes. I wish you all a beautiful day 🙂