Oxytocin and Emotion— Pt 1: What Is Oxytocin?

by Bryan Post

To understand love is to understand the oxytocin response. Oxytocin is truly a miracle molecule. As the body's chemical of rest, relaxation and balance, it does all sorts of wonderful and important things. We'll talk more about those later' but the key thing you need to understand for healthy, happy parenting is that oxytocin is responsible for love.

That's right. Oxytocin acting in your brain and your body creates the experience we know as love. That's love in all its dimensions: friendship, the love between parent and child, and the love between you and your mate. It's also responsible for most of the other positive feelings we have for other people, from the quick exchange of smiles with a stranger you pass, to admiration for a co-worker, to the way you trust your car mechanic not to rip you off.

Oxytocin does all this -- and more -- in two ways. First, it calms the brain's fear center. Then, it activates the brain's social center, making you feel good about interacting with someone. Calming the fear center is crucial. Fear is one of our strongest survival mechanisms, helping us survive physical danger. But it's usually not the best reaction to social situations. When you're anxious or afraid, you can't see things clearly. You may see someone as threatening when he has no intention of harming you. You're on guard and shut down, as fear chemicals race through your bloodstream.

Oxytocin counteracts the fear chemicals, relaxing you and making you able to see other people as potentially friendly and trustworthy. At the same time, when it activates the brain's social center, it actually makes you desire social contact.

For an excellent parenting resource for learning how Oxytocin works in the family, read about Oxytocin Parenting by Bryan Post and Susan Kutchinskas.

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