If your pursuit of romantic love arouses fear, then you are simply being human. The part of your brain that processes emotions and is linked to pleasure and fear responses, the amygdala, is responsible for the fact that we do not experience romantic attraction that involves sexual arousal independent of consciously or unconsciously experiencing fear—whether it is a fear of shame, loss, abandonment, disruptive mood, or emotional pain. Allan Schore, a leading researcher in the field of neuropsychology, explained to me that in the amygdala—more precisely, in the right amygdala—rising sexual arousal is seen as a cue of danger since both sexual arousal and fear are processed by this same region of the brain (A. Schore, personal communication, January 25, 2013).
Since the slope of passionate arousal is accompanied by increasing threat, humans have found many different ways of dealing with their romantic attraction to another. Rather than pursue what you need, for example, you may retreat from love or choose a “safe” partner who does not meet your needs for intimacy but who will provide you with contentment. Less passion constitutes less fear, yet such relationships are easily discernable as loving. If you fear loss or abandonment, a safe partner is one whose behavior does not repeatedly trigger emotions involved with disconnection, such as shame. A partner with whom affective resonance—a “soulful” connection— is minimal may reduce the risk to your sense of self. Although this may seem to some people like a dreadful way to live, such relational choices are commonplace. However, even when the connection is not intense, fear, shame, and the fear of being shamed still lurk in the shadows. There’s no avoiding the link between love and threat.