Chapter Three - Friendship and Occupation

bbqlhcpvuqa-alejandro-escamilla.jpg

Chapter Three

What is life? : Friendship and work

I have decided to discuss friendship and work in the same chapter.  The main reason for this is depression.  I think there are different reasons why people become depressed but there are two common contributors to depression, both of which when reversed, can help alleviate it.  I am not going to enter into a debate on the diagnostic use or appropriateness of the term depression, but in the following work, the word depressed can be seen to represent a spectrum of experiences and feelings relating to “persistent low mood and/or loss of pleasure in most activities” (NICE, 2015) – however, I am not using it in the sense of a medical diagnosis and for a thorough discussion on this subject I would recommend reading Kinderman (2014).  Please note that although I discuss biological information within this chapter, I do not believe that people should be reduced to structures and chemicals.  I simply believe that neuroscientific information can provide information and input into the overall goal of understanding a person on a humanistic level, namely, appreciating the role of an individual’s life experiences and social interactions in how their well-being is developed and maintained.

 

My reflections are influenced by Jaak Panksepp’s work on affective neuroscience (see Panksepp & Biven, 2012, for review).  Panksepp speaks of seven primary affective systems which underlie human experience; SEEKING, LUST, RAGE, FEAR, PLAY, CARE and PANIC/GRIEF.  I have somewhat related to many of these throughout my discussions on love attachment, separation distress (SD) and such things; however, as discussed in the introduction, this book is aimed towards a philosophical discussion rooted in my own experience rather than trying to scientifically support my views for the sake of it, therefore I have not excavated and outlined these links in great depth.  That said, there is a base level of my views on friendship and occupation which are firmly rooted in Panksepp’s work and as such it would be remiss of me not to acknowledge that.

 

Chapter Three: Part I

What are the underlying processes of occupation?

The first system I want to acknowledge is the SEEKING system.  The capital letters are used to signify that these are primary affective circuits in our brain, at the root of our human functioning (Panksepp & Biven, 2012).  In effect, this is a dopamine fuelled brain network which is designed to make us feel good when we are harnessing from the environment.  Panksepp has discussed that he has not called this a brain reward system as that name would imply that the end product (the end reward) is the aim of the system and actually it is the journey, the foraging and seeking which motivates us and gives us a positive feeling.  In a basic example, think of reading a book.  When I read a good book I enjoy the process.  When I get to the end of the book I am somewhat happy that I have reached the end, but then I will tend to think, ‘right what shall I read next?’.  Look at athletes who train and train, they get their medal, they win the league or Super Bowl and after a celebration, it is about regrouping for next year, the next phase of the journey.  So as humans we are programmed to enjoy seeking from the environment.  Occupations, i.e., our jobs, have been created by humanity as a structure that allows many people to undertake seeking on a daily basis.  As we train, work, aim for promotion, go to meetings, write reports etc., we are constantly SEEKING.  This extends into things beyond occupation.  It extends into everything including hobbies and socialising, but I think there is something about an occupation or a life pursuit which becomes a regular mechanism for fuelling our SEEKING system, an ingenious creation of social/cultural evolution.  Even before the invention of industry, history suggests tribes and ancient groups developed occupations such as hunter and gatherer.

I think the SEEKING system may help further elaborate as to why people stay in jobs that they do not enjoy.  If their primary SEEKING is focused into the rearing of a child then they are still fuelling that system.  That is why some people may be happy as stay at home parents, however, it should be noted that stay at home parents may also pursue other activities during the day which contribute to their SEEKING system.  The difficulty comes for people when they are not getting enough SEEKING from their job or family.  I think a healthy balance between the two is fine if not the ideal.  When I was in my previous career as a project manager in construction, my SEEKING system - although being activated every day in what was a demanding job - was not being effectively activated.  Although I was SEEKING on a daily basis, it was not the right set of activities for me.  Somebody who does not like cooking does not tend to do it for fun at home because it does not motivate them.  So if they worked as a chef, although there is always the chance that they may grow to enjoy the job, it is likely that it will not deliver against their personality wishes and will lead to an under-activated SEEKING system.  As a side note, as I was finishing writing this book, I came across Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s (2002) work on ‘Flow’ which I think is an ideal place to read more about finding an optimum level of SEEKING in life.

 

What are some of the underlying processes of friendship?

In terms of friendship, we are looking at the opioid and oxytocin fuelled SEPARATION DISTRESS (SD), linked to our PANIC/GRIEF system (Panksepp & Biven, 2012) – something which we reviewed in relation to romantic love in chapter two.  We are designed to be social beings.  When we socialise with people we get an internal release of neurotransmitters and neuropeptides, chemicals that can make us feel good.  This is evolution’s way of ensuring that because we feel good by socialising, we are driven to do it, thus increasing our ability to form friendships and relationships.  This helps us meet a mate, helps us meet friends and groups which can increase our safety, and helps us interact with people to continue the advancement of the species.  Therefore, when we do not interact with people, we can fall below the standard flow of these feel good chemicals and we can feel down.  As such, a lack of socialising AND a lack of SEEKING can make us feel low.  These two factors often go hand in hand.  When we work we socialise, with colleagues and with other professionals.  Often colleagues become friends, sometimes partners and mates.  Therefore without work, people lose both SEEKING and feel good socialising connections.  This may be one of the reasons why people become low when they retire or when they have to stop working.  The danger is when the low feeling spirals down to a point whereby it often becomes hard for a person to motivate themselves to go out, meet new people and try new things.  Again, this is why occupations are so well designed, as we perceive that we have to go out to earn money to live and support ourselves and our family, which helps us activate our socialising and SEEKING systems.  Perhaps you have experienced waking up on a Monday morning and feeling like you do not want to go to work but then once you are outside in the fresh air, in amidst people, you forget about that resistance and you are back to SEEKING and socialising.  Conversely, you may have had days whereby the longer you stay indoors during the day, the harder it has become to motivate yourself to go outside and you end up feeling a little lower, ruminating about all sorts of anxieties and problems.  A lot of people who do not have that necessity to go to work - perhaps because they have been laid off, had an accident or an illness - can end up increasingly staying inside and not entering into the outside world of adventure.  This subject then becomes a key part of the political scene, as it indicates how important it is for us to educate people on the importance of SEEKING/socialising and providing support and mechanisms through which they can achieve this in natural means through welfare and opportunity.  The challenge is determining the balance of how much responsibility is on government/society and how much is on the individual.

Whilst some people have a medical condition or another factor which means they cannot work, why is that some people do not go out or do not socialise, even though there is nothing seemingly stopping them?

I believe attachment plays a big role in this.  I enjoy socialising, I enjoy people, and yet sometimes I shut myself off.  I have a number of great friends, some of whom I have known since I was 10.  However, I have often kept myself at an element of distance from them, as well as other friends.  I realised a number of years ago that some of this was likely due to a fear of being rejected.  I started making an attempt to ask people if they wanted to meet up, to plan things to do and I noticed two things.  The first was that a part of me felt vulnerable doing this, I felt like I was saying that I needed them and opened myself to being rejected by them saying “no”.  The second thing I noticed was how upbeat I felt when I interacted with people.  I have never been a loner, but I did/do have a tendency to shut myself off.  I am now keen to notice when my mood dips a little, especially when I have been home alone for the day, something which can occur regularly when writing a thesis.  I push myself to get outside, to try and contact somebody to meet up, or I take this book and other work out with me to a café, so that I am at least firing my SEEKING system whilst gaining some sense of socialising in amidst people.  I even feel better just from talking to somebody in the lift on my way out, or talking to the staff member when I order my drink.  So for me, as somebody who enjoys talking and interacting with people, I found I still had to push myself.  Imagine how hard that is for somebody who is anxious about going outside, who is extra resistant to being rejected, maybe as a result of various life experiences and environmental situations.  The primary way we can change things is to try and make sense of how our experiences may be influencing us.  When we make sense of our experiences we begin to see mechanisms like ‘rejection resistance’ in action and we can then realise the benefit of working through this; perhaps by starting a new hobby and interacting with others, so that things begin to feel better.  Again, whilst there is research supporting and no doubt critiquing this view, it is my own experience of life, for me and for my psychotherapy clients, which gives me confidence in this theory.  This is where psychotherapy is really useful in helping us make sense of these processes occurring within us, and is also why I am keen for psychotherapists and psychologists to have an understanding of neuroscience – though it is important that this understanding of neuroscience leads to respecting people and their experiences, rather than medicalising people’s challenges.  It is also why friends are crucial.  Having an active friendship circle provides us with a continual source of socialising which becomes a bed-rock for feeling good, providing a platform for us to build our SEEKING through activities like going for a meal, trying a new hobby or pursuing an occupation.  Epicurus is a renowned philosopher who discussed the importance of friendship many centuries ago (e.g., Epicurus, 2013) and I think science has gone a long way to prove him right.  But none of the above can happen unless a person puts some effort in; whilst there is a responsibility on society to provide education and opportunity, there is also responsibility on the individual to seek and embrace opportunities to engage life and socialise.

 

Chapter Three: Part II

I would like to talk about love, in relation to friends and occupation.  People sometimes say “I love my job”.  People also say, though less occurring in western males, that they “love their friends”. 

 

What is this love and is it different from romantic love?

This love is attachment.  In chapter two, I pondered whether romantic love is just an extreme form of attachment or a mystical outer world creation.  At this point, I would say that it is the former; I would also say that love for our job and friends are forms of attachment, existing at different levels on the same scale/spectrum.

 

Can we love our job more than our partner and what do we love when we say “we love our job”?

When I say I love my job, I mean that there is this activity and opportunity that I get to do which gives me joy.  For example, I love working with psychotherapy clients, travelling their worlds with them and hopefully helping them; I love researching, trying to find out something new.  Since writing this book I have also began working as a lecturer and I love working with students as we traverse their learning journey together.  Perhaps what I love is learning.  So when we say we love our job, perhaps it is the underlying aspect of what our job gives us that we refer to.  I love learning about human minds and existence, and psychology gives me the chance to undertake that in multiple ways.  When I am in a lecture, meeting or a conference, everybody else in that space is geared towards a certain topic of discussion relating to our profession.  This means that my socialising system is propelled by having common interests and meaningful connections with people, but also, my SEEKING system is continually enriched, pursuing discussion and learning something meaningful to me.  In my project management job I primarily enjoyed learning about people, namely, how we behave across various experiences and situations.  Whilst there was some interest within me of how engineering processes, designs and structures worked, it was not my core interest.  My core interest is understanding humans and that has been shaped by how I have been brought up.  There are a range of things that my parents and upbringing have created within me which subsequently made psychology, research, lecturing and psychotherapy feel like the right career for me, as opposed to writing method statements for a t-section and isolation valve installation, or even my short time working in a bank, trying to sell a mortgage or investment.  The same holds true for everybody else.  Our upbringing, notably our primary caregivers (usually parents) will influence who we become and what type of things will provide us with a self-representative sense of ideal SEEKING.

Perhaps we have to feel meaning within our job for it to make us happy; but, do we need to love our job?

There are lots of people who see work as a means to an end, “it pays the bills” they may say, therefore, their life outside of work is their main focus.  Some people will say they love life.  Others may not be as passionate.  I recently read a news article in which a palliative care nurse called Bronnie Ware discussed the five common regrets that people had on their deathbed (Ware, 2012).  One of these regrets was “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard’.  Supposedly every male patient expressed this and said that they missed their children’s youth and companionship.  I think this confirms how important finding a mate and/or reproduction is in human existence.                                                          If people do not meet a partner and/or have children then they may transfer their wish for legacy and to be remembered through to success in their career.  There are no doubt potential childhood experiences which will contribute to such actions but first and foremost, I think it is important to respect people’s decisions rather than diagnosing them as right or wrong – it is people’s internal sense of peace with their life choices which determines what is right for them.

In the instance of monks or priests - i.e., people who tend not have children or partners - it feels like it is a career/life purpose which motivates them.  Perhaps this is closer to the mark; it is a sense of purpose that we aim for in life.  Similar to how children and friendship help strengthen romantic love, yet it can exist without either, perhaps career is something which helps deliver purpose to somebody’s life, though it is not a necessity.  I shall hold this discussion until the final part of the book; I would like to turn my attention back to the previous subsidiary question.

The question was about what it means to love our job.  When answering this, I have mentioned that love is a certain level of attachment and that romantic partners, career, and friends can exist at different points on the same attachment spectrum.  This means that there can be different levels of the societal concept of love.

 

If love is on an attachment spectrum, when do we cross over from ‘like’ into ‘love’?

Some people have a higher level of attachment to friends than others.  Some people may spend the majority of their time with their friend(s), especially when younger, but still, when a partner comes along it is likely that the friendship falls a little at the wayside as people invest more into their romantic relationship.  This suggests that for many, romantic love is the ultimate attachment.  It recruits emotions and brain networks that no other love does.  This sort of attachment scale is perhaps where like and love both exist, in fact, where varying levels of love exist.  The question is what differences exist between these notions of ‘like’ and ‘love’.

 

What does it mean when people say that they love somebody but that they are not in love?

This suggests that they love somebody like a friend, like a family member, they have care and a good level of attachment for that person, but, there is something missing.  This also makes me wonder about the love between parent and child.  As we grow older, we feel differently for our partner than for our parents.  Perhaps romantic love seems different because we are conscious of the initial honeymoon stage, when all the classic feelings such as butterflies, nervousness, hesitancy, and such things occur.  That eventually reduces, even if not completely, at least somewhat.  We most likely felt that level of emotion for our parents when we were babies, unaware of it.  Think of how much a baby may cry for its mother’s comfort, this is a high level of emotion.

This is taking me very close to the psychoanalytical theories that there is a similar attachment to a parent as there is to romantic partners, but we remove (repress) some forms of it, namely the sexual, and direct those feelings elsewhere (sublimation).  Perhaps this is similar with friendship.  We form a level of attachment but certain aspects of attachment are repressed or moved onto other things.  The difference with romantic love is that we do not have to do that.

However, for me there does still seem to be a difference between a romantic partner love and a parent/child love.  There are roles of authority, protection, education, and many other things which are part of the parent child relationship.  Equally, there are roles of equal standing, sex, children, socialising and things which form part of romantic love.  As such, it would seem that we generally require different things from our parents than we do from our partner and as such, we experience a different type of attachment, hence, a different type of love.  There is an accepted eternity to parental bonding.  You will always genetically be your parents’ child (save for adoption etc.), whereas it is only through a child that partners become biologically connected.  Perhaps this indicates that a biological connection is one of the strongest connections available, which would make sense from an evolutionary point of view as this would encourage reproduction within the species.  This suggests that the connection between parent and child is as biologically strong as possible, but that having a child helps a romantic partnership become as strong as possible.  The fact that some people can have children together but not love each other in a romantic sense is evidence that romantic love has something extra, beyond biological connection, i.e., biological connection will not infer romantic love however it will add something to it.

People may use the phrase discussed earlier, ‘I love them but I’m not in love with them’.  This also helps explain why some people will still ‘love’ their parents, even if they have been abused, neglected etc., because there is a basic biological connection which they are calling love.  As such, we can see that love is used as a label for different levels of feelings/attachment and perhaps it is not a case of saying that one love is more than another, but that there are different types of love, i.e., friendship, parental, romantic, occupational.  Extending this idea, if people do adopt, then they may not have a direct biological connection with a child and yet their love for the child can be incredibly strong, suggesting that again, a biological connection helps create romantic and parent/child love but that love can exist without it.

 

Chapter Three: Part III

How interesting when two people are friends and then after time, they become lovers.  Why was it not instant, what was it that created that extra level of attachment?

I think that this occurrence, friend to lover, is perhaps evidence that friendship and romantic love are on the same spectrum, and are just different levels.  The same applies to parental/family love.  But I am not sure it is a straight spectrum either, not a linear progression.  I would think that love for a person is different from love for a career, or is it?

We may say that we love our football team or a certain type of food.  What that means is that we have a certain level of attachment for our team or our favourite dish.  I was recently watching the team I support (Everton) play football and when things were not going well I became more active than usual in wanting the manager to change things around.  In effect, things were not going well and I wanted to try and exert control on the situation to remove the distress I was experiencing.  I managed to notice this and release the distress (somewhat), but I also noticed how similar this behaviour was to that which had occurred within me during the trouble of my previous relationship (see chapter two).  When things were not going well with Felicity, I wanted more control and understanding in the relationship to try and prevent the anxiety that I was feeling.  Just as I discussed within the romantic love section, I think this can be a normal process.  Our brain wants to avoid pain and anxiety, therefore it tries to predict (control) the environment.  The difficulty is when we are not aware that this is happening and instead of releasing our wish to predict (control), we get caught in a cycle of second guessing.  My primary point here is that there were similarities between my emotional process towards my sports team and towards my (ex) partner, demonstrating that there is a similarity between my love and attachment for both of these objects.

This further demonstrates that love basically stands for a spectrum of attachment.  Different people will have different orders on their spectrum, everything is an object.  I can wholly confirm that as much as I want Everton to win the league and to succeed, I have never felt for them what I felt for Felicity, or for my family.  But we attach to a sports team, our favourite brand of coffee, a job, a parent, a lover.  They are all objects of attachment and the individual person places their own set of order on such things.  It could be that some people attach to their sports team so much that the team are very high up the scale, but, I would think that our natural design process is to place a romantic partner at the top of this list.  I say ‘romantic partner’ to encompass both a mate (to carry our child) as well as a best friend/companion.  When people have children with somebody and break-up they still search for another, even if they do not want to have any more children, therefore, there is something additional to being romantic partners beyond having children, i.e., the companionship of a best friend that I discussed in chapter 2.  It should also be noted here that earlier in life, parental love will undoubtedly be top of the tree.  Our love for our parents is crucial when we are younger, as is their love for us.  By loving us, our parents protect us.  By loving them, we earn the love of our caregiver.  It is a two-way thing.  As we reach certain ages, usually amidst puberty, we develop a real interest for the opposite sex and start placing a partner as a focus.  For some people this will be earlier in life, for others it will be later, and of course for some, as discussed earlier, career or pursuits may take-over their focus.  There are times when parents remain top of that tree and people spend their life with their parents however in general, there is a general process whereby a person begins to focus on the pursuit of a romantic partner.

I am not so sure that it is a case that partners replace parents; it is more like they join them at the top of the tree.  But it is easy to see how parents become so protective and sometimes wary of partners.  In one sense, they want the best for their child and in another, the partner becomes a competition to their child’s love.  I am unsure that there needs to be a competition of which love is more meaningful, and both should be acknowledged as equally important.  However, the fact remains that without a parent (or an alternative primary caregiver) providing love early in life, one would die or develop personality traits which are maladaptive to productive living.  Our brains are so plastic when we are younger, that the core essence of who we are is very much influenced by how we are raised.  Our brain structure continues to be influenced throughout life and can be rewired, but our early experiences play a vital role in developing us for the world, meaning parental/primary caregiver love is vital.  Although disease and events of the modern world render this less so, it is generally thought that parents will die before their child.  As such, perhaps this further supports the notion of romantic love paralleling parental love and there are perhaps key properties which exist in both types of love, so that when the parental one is lost, properties of care, companionship and protection still exist for the individual - things which seem vital to making one feel healthy in their existence.

 

So, returning back to my earlier question…if love is on an attachment spectrum, when do we cross over from like into love?

The problem is that love is a human label.  We each display our emotions at various levels.  Some people are very overt and extravert with displays of emotion, some are less so, both on the inside and outside.  So it is hard to say that a certain behaviour or level of emotion equates to a uniform level of love across the species.  Given that I have described love as a certain level of attachment, perhaps it is easier to define some possible levels of attachment and leave it for each person to define what factors define their individual levels of like and love.  It should be noted that the following levels are a guide rather than a definitive number.  I return to the discussion of what the ideal number of levels may be in the final chapter.

 

Level 1: like - It would seem to me that liking something involves having a preference for an object but not being overly fussed if one had to go without that object, either intermittently or permanently.  Additionally, if you went without the object, it would not really affect your sense of self; you would still feel like you without it.

Level 2: love - This is a level of love whereby one almost has to consciously think, is this love?  This may relate to friends, food, restaurants, brands, sports teams.  The best way to help decide between like or love is basically to ask yourself the question, “do I really love X”?  I think a lot of things actually need to be moved to level of like, e.g., I recently said that I love Chinese food and whilst it is true that I have a passion for Chinese food, I am not sure that I could not live without it.  It would be a shame, but one that I could quickly grow to accept.  I think processing what items fall under this level may help us reduce craving and over attaching to things which are not overly important in our lives.  It can help put some perspective on things.

Level 3: love – General friends could go on this level.  These are people who have formed part of our identity, are a big part of our lives, but who we sometimes go long periods without seeing.  Upon reconciling we have a number of connections which allow relationships to be re-established quickly, but we would not necessarily value this attachment as stronger than our parental or romantic partner love.  Other types of informal, daily friendships may also sit at this level or the ones below.  I would suggest that occupation could also go here for a lot of people.  We can have attachment to our job and we enjoy it, but, if we lost our job, although disappointed, a lot of people would not feel this as the same impact as losing their partner or a close family member.  I think some people may also place occupation in the ‘like category’ level 1, as they would value friendships above their jobs.  Some may also place it at a higher level as it forms a key part of their lives.  This will be a personal choice.  It is noticeable that some people will choose to relocate or spend less time with friends because of their job demands, which could perhaps indicate their order of attachment.  I would suggest that when reading this, you could reflect on what is truly important to you.  This may help you realise how much your job means to you, or, it may have the opposite effect and lead you to spend more times with friends, family, parents etc.

Level 4: love - In this level, one could place close friends, members of family who one feels close to, grandparents/aunties and uncles.  You may also place your career here.  Others may place sports team in this level; it all depends on your attachment.

Level 5: love - In line with my previous discussions, I suggest that both established romantic partners and parents are in this level.  Though the two types of attachment are different, there are cases for each one being as strong as the other.  Romantic partners will in all likelihood spend time moving up the levels, from first meeting through to long term commitment.  For most, parents will always remain at this level; however this will be open to change for a lot of people as well.  Siblings and children can also locate at this level.  Each individual will, as a result of their life experiences and subsequent personality, place each of these items equal or below this top tier of attachment.  People may also place God in this tier.

 

Though I have used my own experience as a basis to formulate this concept of levels, I have purposefully not produced or explained my own personal choice of what items sit at what levels.  The reason for this is that I want to remove an analysis of my own choice and emphasise the individuality of levels.  The only one I will state is that from an evolution perspective, parental/sibling and romantic partner attachments seem fitting for my top tier, though a romantic partner is likely to progressively move up the levels, whilst parental/sibling remains situated at the top.  I imagine that child attachment enters straight into the top tier (when they are born) for a lot of people.  However, even this can differ for some.  My hope, as per everything else in this book, is that as the reader you may choose to take time to reflect on what your framework is, what your own choice of items are within these five levels, and indeed whether you have a higher or lower number of levels.  Reflection alone may help provide some perspective on what you see as priorities in your life.  This could help reduce any worry and stress which may build up around items which need not be contemplated so much, whilst increasing joy and appreciation for those things in your life which mean the most to you.

At this point, I have presented my view that love is attachment and that different strengths of love signify different levels of attachment.  Whilst this may seem an obvious point, the key is that by replacing the word love with attachment, we remove some of the poetic nature of the word and can perhaps take a clearer view of the concept.  However, given that love is such a beautiful and commonly used word in society, I have maintained its use when describing various levels of attachment.  Personally, I still want to fall in love, rather than fall in attachment level 5 with somebody!

Additionally, I have outlined a framework for different levels of attachment, suggesting which items may go into each of these levels as well as trying to provide an element of differentiation as to what kind of attachment each level represents.  Towards the end of the chapter, I moved from discussing job, friends, family and romantic partners towards the mention (in level 5 love) of God.  At this point, it feels a discussion on the concept on God and religion is relevant.