Where the Science of Psychology Meets the Art of Being Human

Your Body During a Breakup: The Science of a Broken Heart

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Breakups are emotional roller coasters. Actually that’s not true. If a breakup was anything like a roller coaster the end would be visible from the start, you could say ‘no thanks’ to the ride and at the end of it, for a hefty sum the memory could be savoured forever with a flimsy cardboard-framed photo.

Breakups are are more like being under a roller coaster. 

Before we knew the science we knew the feeling, and used words associated with physical pain – hurt, pain, ache – are used describe the pain of a relationship breakup. Now we know why. The emotional pain of a breakup and physical pain have something in common – they both activate the same part of the brain

Brain scans of people recently out of a relationship have revealed that social pain (the emotional pain from a breakup or rejection) and physical pain share the same neural pathways.

In one study, 40 people who had recently been through an unwanted breakup had their brains scanned while they looked at pictures of their exes and thought about the breakup. As they stared at the photos, the part of the brain associated with physical pain lit up.

As explained by researcher Ethan Kross, ‘We found that powerfully inducing feelings of social rejection activate regions of the brain that are involved in physical pain sensation, which are rarely activated in neuroimaging studies of emotion.’

He continues, ‘These findings are consistent with the idea that the experience of social rejection, or social loss more generally, may represent a distinct emotional experience that is uniquely associated with physical pain.’

In further support of the overlap between physical and social pain, Tylenol (an over the counter medication for physical pain) has been shown to reduce emotional hurt.

Research has found that people who took Tylenol (an over-the-counter medication for physical pain) for three weeks reported less hurt feelings and social pain on a daily basis than those who took a placebo.

The effect was also evident in brain scans. When feelings of rejection were induced, the part of the brain associated with physical pain lit up in participants who didn’t take Tylenol. Those who took Tylenol showed significantly less activity in that part of the brain.

Nobody is suggesting that the broken hearted turn to pain medication to reduce their lean towards Kleenex, Baskin-Robbins and repeated viewings of Love Actually. Long term use will cane the liver. Somebody else is waiting to fall in love with you, but you and your liver have to stay friends forever.

The Physical Side of a Broken Heart

The human brain loves love. Being in love takes the lid off the happy hormones, dopamine and oxytocin, and the brain bathes in the bliss. But when the one you love leaves, the supply of feel good hormones takes a dive and the brain releases stress hormones such as cortisol and epinephrine.

In small doses, stress hormones are heroic, ensuring we respond quickly and effectively to threat. However in times of long-term distress such as a broken heart, the stress hormones accumulate and cause trouble. Here’s what’s behind the physical symptoms of a breakup:

  • Too much cortisol in the brain sends blood to the major muscle groups. They tense up ready to respond to the threat (fight or flight). However, without real need for a physical response the muscles have no opportunity to expend the energy.

    Muscles swell, giving rise to headaches, a stiff neck and that awful feeling of your chest being squeezed.

  • To ensure the muscles have an adequate blood supply, cortisol diverts blood away from the digestive system.

    This can cause tummy trouble such as cramps, diarrhea or appetite loss. 

  • When stress hormones run rampant, the immune system can struggle, increasing vulnerability to bugs and illnesses.

    Hence the common ‘break-up cold’.

  • There is a steady release of cortisol.

    This might cause sleep problems and interfere with the capacity to make sound judgements 

  • Breakups activate the area of your brain that processes craving and addiction.

    Losing a relationship can throw you into a type of withdrawal, which is why it’s hard to function – you ache for your ex, sometimes literally, and can’t get him/her out of your head. Like any addiction, this will pass.

In a relationship, your mind, your body and the core of you adjust to being intimately connected someone. When that someone leaves, the brain has to readjust. The pain can be relentless but eventually the body chemistry will change back to normal and the hurt will diminish.

Getting through a breakup is as much a physical process as an emotional one. Remember that, and know that it will get easier. Keep going. You’ll get there.

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389 Comments

Roxana Avalos

Thank you for this article, it makes sense why I lost 80 pounds since March of this year. I’ve also had an ovarian cyst rupture. It’s been a tough couple of months and I am still dealing with so much confusion due to my husband of 8 years, and father of 3 beautiful kids, leaving. On weekends when he comes to visit the kids he wants to still play house and hug, hold, and kiss me in front of the kids. And because I believe we may return to a whole family I allow myself to give in. Later when he leaves I realize it was all fake. But it doesn’t just hurt me it hurts the kids and it gives them hope we will be together again. I get frustrated at myself afterwards. He has been abusive emotionally and verbally, a time or 2 physically and he wants me to believe this is space for him to not take out his anger on me. But it’s hard for me to believe because of such hateful things that he can say and do out of anger. I get headaches all this tome, I feel tired and exhausted. My back and neck are constantly tense and ache. I look sick and too skinny, so my family tells me.

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Hey Sigmund

I wish you didn’t have to go through the pain you’re going through. Our hearts, minds and bodies are so connected. It sounds as though you are getting a lot of mixed messages, but a lot of clarity with every disappointment. You will get to the point where you decide that you decide that enough is enough and when you do, you’ll find the courage and strength to move you forward. It will happen when you’re ready – these things can take time. Trust that it’s in you to do what’s right for you – you’ll always be stronger than you think you are. In the meantime, be kind to yourself. You deserve to be treated with the greatest love.

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Violet

Thank you for this article. It is very helpful during a confusing and difficult time.

Last month, my relationship ended. We had been together for over three years, but had never met in person. We both live on SSI disability and I was on the west coast while he was on the east coast.

We video Skyped for hours every day, usually sharing every meal together from thousands of miles apart. We told each other things we’d never told anyone else. After a time, we both said that the love we felt was greater than the love we’d had for anyone else before.

We had a hard time with the twin barriers of distance and poverty, but neither of us wanted to give up on the relationship. We are both atheists, but agreed that the word “miracle” was the only one that could be applied to our finding one another. You see, both of us have I.Q.s four standard deviations above the mean and are passionate sapiosexuals; only someone able to keep up, intellectually, is romantically appealing to us.

We felt we had found the perfect match and lamented the distance. We both know how slim the chances were (and are) of finding someone with so many shared interests and of comparable intellect who is also interested in having a relationship with a disabled person living in poverty (living on SSI means living on a fixed income of $733/month.)

After two years of “dating” with hours of daily contact and the despair and frustration of never being together, I began to plan. I am the more energetic and mobile of the two of us, so I began to plan how I could come to him. I became part of the online community of people living in vehicles by choice — vandwellers.

I spent a year and a half studying vandweller life with the intensity of an academic subject. Every day I read books, articles, discussion forums, and blogs. I researched every aspect of how to live safely, comfortably, and legally in a vehicle. I gathered the things I would need and downsized my life dramatically. By the time I left, back in May, I had sold, donated, or thrown away almost everything I owned (including a personal library of nearly a thousand books, the most difficult thing to part with.)

I rented a climate-controlled storage unit to stash my musical instruments in, as well as the few books I had to keep (many written by friends and personally autographed, thus more treasured than my other books), closed out my tiny apartment and moved into my even tinier minivan with my cat.

Because of the constraints of a tiny income, I traveled slowly. Stopping to camp in free locations such as national forest areas helped to extend my gas money so that I could afford the trip. For the first two months, I still got food stamps. After July, I had to stop at Salvation Armies for food boxes because food stamps are a state program and mine ran out after I’d been out of the state too long.

The trip was marvelous and I felt such freedom and joy as I hadn’t felt in many years. As I traveled, my boyfriend and I continued to stay in touch, though less than before because I had to use wifi at libraries, McDonald’s, and coffee shops to Skype with him. He was amazed and impressed that I had transformed my life so radically and we both expressed an eagerness to finally embrace. My joy at drawing closer and closer to him fueled my journey.

Finally, I arrived at the home of an online friend only 100 miles from where my boyfriend lived! I excitedly contacted my boyfriend to make the last arrangements but his attitude had completely changed. Just the night before, when I was 300 miles away, everything was as it had always been and we were both so excited to meet. Now he was hesitant, distant. He said he wasn’t sure how to “schedule me in.”

I was devastated. I started crying and instead of comforting me, he got mean and told me the road trip had changed me and we no longer had common interests (an untruth, as I was and am just as interested in the scientific, philosophical, historical, and cultural topics we share. Yes, I had become temporarily consumed with understanding how to make this change in my life, but it is quite reasonable to devote time and study to such a huge and less charted way of life.)

The end result is that, after three and a half years of intense intellectual coupling, we never met. I am now staying at another friend’s house, where I have been in and out of the hospital for tachycardia and gastroparesis. How well I am learning of the physical toll of heartbreak! Not just my emotions but my physical health has been shredded by this. I feel betrayed and sunk.

I am working on putting my health back together so I can be ready to travel south before it snows. One thing I had been eagerly anticipating about living in a van was not having to go through another winter again. Winter is so hard on me. I have people – both internet friends and family – as well as lots of free campsites waiting for me in Florida.

After a few weeks of being broken up, my ex contacted me. We started Skyping every day again. He said he was no longer in love with me but would always care about me, that I am very important to him, that I am his best friend. He said we shouldn’t “throw the baby out with the bath water.”

Talking to him again was a mixture of so much pleasure and so much pain. Of course I want to be his friend. But I don’t want to be his friend, because I want more than that. I want things to go back to how they were before, when we were best friends but also partners who wanted to be together as a couple. The friendship now is too painful, because of what has been lost. And even though I am still in the area and will have to go past him again on my way to Florida, he doesn’t want to meet in person. He says it is no longer necessary, because we are just friends.

Your article helped me to realize why I have been clinging on to these daily Skype sessions with him, even though they are so painful for me and my physical condition worsens every time I talk to him. I am going through withdrawals and taking a hit of him just as any addict would do. I need to quit cold turkey and suffer through detox and move on. If I don’t, there’s a real chance that the stress of this will kill me. Considering the health problems that arose after the break up, I don’t think I’m engaging in hyperbole when I say that.

So, thank you for helping me to see more clearly. Friends have said the usual, expected things about being better off without him and such, but I needed science, not platitudes. It is just how my mind works. And you gave me some real science to think about. And it has helped me to decide what to do.

I have to cut off contact, heal, and move forward with my life. There are new horizons to drive toward, new campsites to explore, new people to meet, new adventures to discover. He can’t possibly be the only brilliant person who could love me. Who knows? Maybe I’ll meet some ABD academic drop-out beach comber living in a van and we can drive alongside one another for a time. It could happen, right? If I’m out here vandwelling, why couldn’t there be someone compatible who is vandwelling, too?

It will get better. Day by day, it will get better. Thank you for your help.

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Hey Sigmund

I’m sorry to hear that this has happened. At the moment you will be going through a physical and emotional withdrawal. I understand how much this hurts but it will get better – you are clearly strong and resilient and you deserve to find love again. I wish you much love and strength moving forward.

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Tisha

Even though this affair was very short in duration, it was extremely intense. After the affair was initiated, he then told me he was married. I was blown away. I had left my former partner of 15 years, over nine months ago and had moved to another community and was happily working through the demise of my previous relationship. Seeing someone else and falling hard for them was not a desired objective and I had no thoughts of dating anyone. This man knew me through my former career for some years and contacted me because he had my phone number. We had always been comfortable on an impersonal basis. He appeared kind and sincere, so one thing led to another, culminating in a very active sexual interlude. I felt an immediate passionate connection to him which surprised me. I dropped my barriers and engaged with him fully. Then after three weeks of constant texting, pursuing me by calling and dropping by to see me, taking personal time off, inviting me to go on an overnight trip with him, declarations of needing and caring for me, suddenly something changed. He expressed a need for a break because of “increased work demands, some feelings of guilt” and for him to make decisions about what he needed to do about his life.” It brought up all the red flags I should have paid attention to in the first place. He violated that agreement in the first week after, by contacting me, coming over to my home, having very wild and intense sex. While he was leaving, he again asserted that we should have a break. I said goodbye. He has not contacted me for a week. I have done a lot of self talk and realize what I am feeling is the addiction to the feelings of excitement, physical and emotional stimulation and my need to feel desired and loved and very vulnerable. I have gone through a rough week of feeling rejection and some disbelief that I have allowed a person into my protected world and opened up to him in a way I had never done before. I now feel ridiculous and have that emotional pain to deal with.

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Hey Sigmund

This experience isn’t a wasted one for you. I know it doesn’t feel like it now, but there will be wisdom and strength you will take from this that will hold you well moving forward if you let it. We’ve all had experiences we wish we could change but if you let shame take a hold of you, it will stop you from growing from your experience and moving forward stronger, wiser and smarter than you were before it. There is happiness waiting for you and this man walking away is the beginning of you finding it. You deserve so much more than someone who can only give himself to you part-time, and on his terms.

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Emily

thank you so much for this. I recently returned home from studying abroad and I happened to fall in love with an amazing Australian. It’s really painful because we were on the same page and it has only come to an end due to distance. I top of this I am missing my friends and many locations I visited during my travels. Anyways, I’m currently dealing with heartbreak and this was very helpful. Hopefully things look up for me soon.

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Hey Sigmund

You’re so welcome Emily. It’s painful enough ending a relationship that isn’t working, let alone one that is and I’m sorry this has happened to you. I’m pleased the article has been able to give you some comfort as you find your way through the heartache you’re feeling right now. It will get better as your heart, mind and body adjusts to a new reality. I wish you love and healing.

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Helena Hildur

Thank you so much for this article. It helps my a lot to understand and I can tell why I am feeling as devestaded now as I do even thought Its supposed to be “happy times”. I did found out last year my husband was having affair and had for quiet few years. He didnt want to leave the marriage and because of our big family I did try to keep on going and did put all my effort into that but in springtime this year it was obvious he didnt have the courage to struggle with me in the healing process.. so the marriage fell apart. I did not at that time fell so much pain, it has been there the months before and now it seems to me I had done a good job of letting go. But lately I have again fell so much pain again.. physically in my stomach, in my chest, I am withdrawing a little bit and feeling blue.. but I understand af this reading why! I met a man in beginning of june, one who is living aboard. We have made a good weekendtrip to each other twice this summer and everything is feeling so great.. I am high in emotion but at the same time I start to feel this physical/emotional pain which I relate to the breakup.. and I was not accepting that.. because I did not want to stay there, and thought I had moved ahead. But as I said, now I know what is going on, and I almost burst to tears in joy of realising its connected to the great things I am experiencing, not to the other awful thing I have already wrapped into smooth cloth.. as experience that is and will always be a part of my. Thank you, thank you for your great articles. You have a big fan in me 🙂

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Hey Sigmund

You’re so welcome Helena – and thank you so much for your encouragement. It means a lot to me. I’m so pleased this article has helped you!

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Jessica

Thank you for this wonderful, intelligent article. This gives you actual proof that it will go away with time. And I needed to read this right now. Thank you so much. You’ve made a difference in a lot of people’s lives I believe.

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Hey Sigmund

Thank you Jessica – that means a lot to me. I’m so glad this article has helped you. Breakups are so awful but the pain will heal in time. In the meantime, be kind to yourself and know that there is a happier version of your life waiting for you.

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Hey Sigmund

All of us are driven to find an ending to things that remain unresolved. If you have had a relationship, maybe with a parent during childhood or an intimate relationship later, in which you have felt unloved, insecure, unnoticed, it’s very normal to be driven to find a resolution to those feelings. What people do is that they look to receive what they didn’t get from that relationship and will often be drawn to people who have similarities to that person, whether it’s a parent, step-parent, ex-partner. That’s the theory. The problem with attracting similar people is that the pattern repeats but the happy ending doesn’t come. These decisions and choices aren’t conscious ones, so to move towards healing the thoughts and feelings that are influencing partner selection need to be brought more into awareness. It’s possible (not definite) that you are being drawn to the wrong people because they remind you of someone who has left you with unresolved feelings. How are the partners you are choosing similar to other earlier relationships? Are they similar to your relationship with a parent? A relative? An early relationship? Friendship? Which needs are being met? What keeps you there? The more awareness you have, the more you can make deliberate decisions that aren’t driven by these old relationships. Counselling can help you to explore this.

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kelley

My husband of 8 yrs that is in a few days will be our anniversary is divorcing me. He is verbally abusive. He doesn’t know how to argue like normal people he takes it to a whole new and very cruel level. He goes for the juggler. I lost my Mom my best friend a year ago. It’s been very hard on me and I’ve been very depressed. Admittedly I need some help with my grief. 3 days ago my Moms best friend of 73 yrs had passed and her funeral was just 3 days ago. She was family to me. He told me he was sick of me being sad and depressed over loosing Dorothy and my Mom. Like… oh poor me, get over it. Who says that to their wife? I’ve been so dependent on him for everything. I have no identity. He has verbally destroyed me and made me think and feel like a complete looser. I have a love hate relationship with him. There are parts of him I love. He can be funny, and make me laugh. He’s handsome and desires to be a good Christian but he is anything but. He is highly critical and judgemental. But he’s a hard worker with an amazing work ethic. But when he snaps he gets cruel. So why am I hurting so much? Besides the financial nightmare I’m in having no career and being 52. I cried all night long. I should be glad but I’m in so much pain. And I see no light at the end of this tunnel.

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Hey Sigmund

Kelley you’ve been through such an awful time and I understand why it’s difficult to see any hope at this point, but I promise you, there is a better version of your life waiting for you. It sounds like there are a lot of good qualities about your husband but it also sounds as though it’s a difficult relationship in many ways. Love shouldn’t be that hard. You’re hurting because you’re going through an ending without knowing what the beginning will look like. Ending any relationship is painful, even if it’s a relationship that is making you miserable more than it makes you happy, but know that endings always come with new beginnings – it can’t help but be that way. Sometimes there is a painful gap between the ending of the old and the beginning of the new – that’s your time for grieving. That gap can be excrutiating, but it doesn’t last forever. Things won’t go back to the normal you’ve known, but that’s not a bad thing. You will find a different kind of normal and one where you’re not having to dodge verbal aggression, criticism or judgement. You deserve so much better than that. I understand you’re really scared at the moment of what might come and how you’re going to manage financially. Adding to this are the losses you’ve suffered over the last year – that’s a huge amount for anyone to deal with, so it’s going to feel awful and as though you want to hang on to something that’s familiar and ‘normal’. That doesn’t mean that hanging on is the right thing for you. The relationship represents stability and security, and losing that can be really scary, but it’s not the only way to find stability and security. There will be a way to find this without having to compromise yourself by being with someone who is cruel. Is there a counsellor or someone you can talk to? At the moment things you’re in distress and it will be difficult to make a plan on your own. A counsellor will be able to help you devise a plan and help you with your grief so that you can move forward towards the happiness you deserve and the happiness that will be waiting for you once you’ve passed through the trauma and grief that you’re experiencing now.

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Donna

Have just lost someone to cancer after being together for 10 years…its still so painful, any tips please

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Hey Sigmund

Donna I’m so sorry to hear that you’re going through this. There isn’t anything that will make the pain disappear in the short term. Your heart, body and mind are adjusting to a new kind of normal, and that takes time. Open yourself to the love and support of the people who want to be there and accept any offers of help, especially for the practical day to day things. You don’t have to do this on your own, though I know it probably feels that way. Give the time some time and don’t hurry yourself to move through it too quickly. This is your time to heal and adjust and there’s no ‘right’ way to do it. Some days all you’ll be able to do is breathe, and that’s completely okay. Give yourself some time and then move forward. That might take a really deliberate big effort, and there’s no hurry, but when you’re ready it will be an important part of your healing to try to return to your new normal – the things you used to do, the people you used to spend time with. You might not feel like it but it will be important. Again though, there’s no hurry for this to happen. It’s also important for your mental health to eat well and to get some exercise – even if it’s just a short walk outside for 20 minutes a few times a week to start with. If you can do that with someone, all the better. It will help your body to work through what it has to work through to get you to a stronger place. Much love and strength to you.

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Lori D

Wow. Many hours and dollars spent on therapists, and not one related emotional pain with physical pain this way… except to say that stress from loss of a loved one/relationship causes heart disease. Your article makes so much sense, as I’ve been told that I have an “addictive personality”. Good to know there is a very good reason and it’s not all “just in my head”.

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Hey Sigmund

The pain after a break-up is certainly not in your head! Love is addictive. Falling in love is euphoric and losing love can bring the strongest of people to their knees. It’s emotional and physical pain and it’s such a normal part of being human. When the brain adjusts to being without the person you have loved, which it will, the intensity of the emotional pain will subside. It does take time though, and it’s important to be able to give yourself that time and know that what you’re going through after losing someone you love, as intense and as awful as it is, is normal. I’m pleased this article has helped to make sense of things for you and hope that you are able to keep moving forward.

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Suzen Fontana

All of the new research, studies and finding on the brain are extremely enlightening. It is wonderful when science catches up to Spirit and proves concepts such as mind, heart, body, connection.
After reading this article there is more clarity in understanding how normal, successful, good people can do some very strange things to hold onto a love relationship. What comes to mind is the love crazed former astronaut who drove across the county in a diaper to attack her ex-boyfriend’s lover.
Also Gen. David Petraues compromising his career and secret documents for a lover.
Hormones, brain chemistry, addiction, driven by mind, body and brain has a way crazed love washing over the scorned ex.

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Hey Sigmund

Yes! You’ve said that beautifully – it is wonderful when science catches up. A broken heart is one of the most human of all experiences and it can certainly feel as if the mind and body are doing their own thing for a while. It’s comforting to know that they’re just doing what minds and bodies do when they’re being lead by a broken heart.

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Sue F

This is really interesting stuff. It’s like you are possessed and that you don’t quite know yourself!

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Anna

This is a great article. Yesterday marked one month since my best friend broke up with me. Some may not think a broken friendship is the same as a love relationship, but to me it is far worse. We’ve been best friends for years. She and I were insanely close, I feel as if our hearts were knit togethertogether and now mine is unraveling. My chest feels as if it’s being crushed. Maybe I will try the Tylenol, just to help me get through this. I have dealt with severe clinical depression for a while now and having a broken heart only worsens it. I just have to somehow keep getting up each day and pushing through.

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Hey Sigmund

You’re absolutely right. I completely get what you’re saying. A best friend knows you inside out, has shared everything with you, been through everything with you and it’s devastating to lose someone like that. You speak so beautifully about her – it must be a loss for her too to lose someone who cares so deeply about her as you do. I’m so sorry you’re going through this. In time you will find a new normal – I know that probably doesn’t mean much to you now, but you will get through this. Just get through one day at a time – you don’t need to do any more than that. You’re hurting deeply and it will take time, so be patient and compassionate to yourself. Much love and strength to you.

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Sue F

Hi Anna, I can so relate to what you are going through. I do something nice for me each day and it has helped. Even if it is taking a walk, buying some flowers or going to the shops for a wander. I found cooking very therapeutic. It just seemed to calm me as well as keeping my mind off things. Do something you love! Good luck.

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Sue F

That’s amazing about the Tylenol! We often think of a breakup just in emotional terms and not so much of the physical although it stands to reason that they are both connected. An interesting article!

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Fernando

Hey thankyou so much this article helped alot i now understand alot of things i didnt before ,im currently going through a really rough break up it was only one year but in that year we got so attached and so closed to eachother that now that i lost her i feel like my world fell apart but thanks to you now i know that im not gonna die without her even tho it feels like it rightnow .

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Hey Sigmund

You’re welcome. I’m so pleased this article helped to make sense of things for you. I know that you feel awful now but it will get better. Hang in there.

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Pia

Thank you! He has been an addiction. That’s all. I just need time and I can beat this thing! I am not going to die. I can face it now that I understand. Heading downstairs now for some Tylenol 🙂

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Hey Sigmund

Absolutely this will pass. Be patient and kind to yourself and know that what you’re going through is so normal. I hope things get better for you soon.

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Pia

Hi! It’s Pia 🙂 checking in!
I was in so much pain. Thank you for helping me. Thank you for your compassion. It truly helped me.
I have passed my one year mark in July. I am free, finally. No residue. No more pangs of injustice and sorrow. Thank you for sharing your light when I was so dark. I do appreciate the science behind it. There was nothing wrong with me. I was having a normal reaction to the pain of betrayal. I just needed to heal! I gave myself permission to wear my hoodie, and not wash my hair without guilt of missing the sunny day. Without beating myself up further that I was weak and flawed, I rapidly healed.
No more tears. No more abuse. No more gas lighting. Not only did I heal, and beat my addiction of him, I can clearly see that his syrupy charm in the beginning was inauthentic, and would never, no matter what I did, ever return.

I am healed. I am genuinely looking forward to love and authenticity someday! My hope is restored. Losing him was my greatest fear at one time, and although I tried to prevent it…it happened anyway…and it was truly for the best.
Thank you!

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Erin Wilmott

Holy Moly!! I caught my husband cheating last year, I was so heartbroken, i couldnt eat. i starved down to 125lbs on my 5’10” slender frame. I started fainting all the time 7 eventually d=fainted getting off the tiolet & broke the entire left side of my face.
I felt at the time like there was a fist in my stomach squeezing it, no food could get through & I would reject water more often than not. Thank you for this article. I didnt understand at the time what was happening & neither did my family & friends, we all thought it was psychological. Thank you thank you!! I wasnt just cra cra!!!

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Hey Sigmund

Cheating takes the pain of a breakup to a whole different level. The pain of betrayal can be excruciating. No wonder you went through such a physical response! I’m pleased the article was able to make sense of it all for you. You definitely weren’t crazy – just heartbreak doing what heartbreak does. Hopefully you are in a better place now.

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Felicia

I’m going through a breakup of 3 years & I can totally relate to the physical aspects! Can’t sleep, not very hungry, & when I do sleep, I don’t sleep for very long periods of time. It’s been a month & I’m hoping this passes soon, thanks for this article, helps to know I’m not THAT crazy!!

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Hey Sigmund

You are certainly not crazy! What you are going through is very normal and it will pass. In the meantime it feels awful – I know! – but it’s your body, your mind and your heart readjusting to a new normal. 3 years is a long time and your pain will still be very raw. Be kind to yourself and open to support from the people who love you. You don’t have to get up from this too quickly – it will happen in time. I’m pleased this article was able to help you.

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Andy

I’m five days into a break up of only 7 months (compared to your 3 years), and I know I’ve lost weight. I’ve tried to exercise to push out energy, but I’m also just not hungry at all.

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Regina

My teen child went to live with his father and I too had similar feelings. I miss him so much. It affected me so much my marriage to my current husband suffered. I lost interest in doing things I usually enjoyed and even when I forced myself to do them I felt so much guilt that I was doing something enjoyable. My sex life suffered and I gained 15lbs in a matter of weeks. I am still working my way back to feeling good but I still cry seemingly out of nowhere for the silliest things. My chest feels heavy. I can only fall asleep when watching a movie or show otherwise my mind is on his well being. I feel so rejected. My husband doesn’t understand my sadness. I know these feelings will pass but right now…I feel like my heart hurts.

Reply
Hey Sigmund

Hi Regina. I’m so sorry to hear that you are in pain. The grief around having a child move away from you can be extraordinary can’t it. In time you will find a different kind of normal but the time will take time. I understand how it can feel as though a part of you has been taken away and that will intrude on so many things. It’s important though to remember that your son is still there and he will want a mother who is strong and settled in her life. He won’t want to be the reason for your life being less than. For this reason, try to put your guilt in its place and live your strongest, most engaged life. You deserve that, and your son deserves a mother who has that. I know how difficult this is though, especially with the depth of your pain at the moment but it is something to work towards. Wishing you love and strength.

Reply
Liz

Great article. I’ve just gone through the break up of a 5 year relationship. The last paragraph of your article talks about how the brain and body become adapted to being intimately connected with someone then has to readjust when they’re gone. I wonder how this works for people in long distance relationships where they may not see each other or be able to see each other or communicate for days/weeks at a time. I wonder if the body/brain goes through this intimacy adaptation continuously. It certainly feels like an emotional rollercoaster when you have to say goodbye every fortnight and only see each other for a weekend.

Reply
Hey Sigmund

Hi Liz. I know what you mean by long distance relationships feeling like an emotional roller coaster. The anticipation of someone is enough to keep the brain doing what it does, but it would be more difficult to reach that ‘levelling’ that you have in non-long distance relationships.

There are three phases the brain goes through with intimate relationships.

The first stage is sex drive and makes sure we’re open to finding someone we might want to develop an intimate connection with (humans are wired to connect, remember – it’s evolutionary and ensures the survival of the species).

The second phase is attraction, or romantic love and it’s when you find that one person you want to be with and spend more time with. The body is surged with powerful neurochemicals – dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin – that are responsible for the euphoric feelings that come with falling in love and focussing attention and energy on that one special person. Serotonin regulates mood, social behavior, appetite, digestion, sleep, memory and sexual desire and function, so there is likely to be sleeplessness, loss of appetite and increased passion. The area of the brain involved here is associated with addiction and is the same area that lights up when a cocaine addict has a hit of cocaine. This is why when you’re in this phase you feel like you’re on a high and you just want more and more of that person. The anticipation of someone is enough to initiate the brain’s response during this phase, so it would make sense that if you’re longer in this phase – which you might be in a long distance relationship, you’re more vulnerable to the highs and lows of this phase.

The third brain system is attachment. At this point, the body starts to develop a tolerance to the euphoria that you experiencing in the attraction phase. Endorphins, which are the feel-good hormones, and the hormones vasopressin and oxytocin wash through the body, bringing about the feelings of security, calmness and well-being that come with an enduring relationship. Once you get to this phase, there’s a kind of ‘levelling’ and less of the highs and lows of the second phase.

Hope this helps make some sense of what you might be going through. Sometimes it can be easier to tolerate the not-so-great feelings that come with falling in love or separating (even temporarily) from the person you love (or are falling in love with) when you can understand that it’s your body and brain just doing what bodies and brains do. The important thing to remember is that in time, there will be a levelling and less of the plunging lows you feel when you have to say goodbye. It doesn’t mean they won’t be there – it’s always hard saying goodbye to someone you love, it just means they won’t feel as bad or continue for as long. (That’s the theory anyway!)

Reply
Kathleen

I wish I’d read this years ago, when I had a really bad breakup. Might be looking at a less devastating one right now; the Tylenol is a great idea- I know, not in excess!
Too bad this isn’t widespread knowledge- thanks!

Reply
Melissa

Wow. I am going through a break up now and reading this has given me hope that the pain will eventually go away. People always say it will. But this scientifically proves it will. And I agree more Psychologists need to know about this. I am glad the research and evidence for these sort of things is increasing. 🙂

Reply
Hey Sigmund

Me too! Broken hearts always feel as though they will never be put back together when you’re the one going through it – I know! – but they always end up healed. I know it doesn’t feel like it now, but your pain will go. Remember that what you’re going through now is as much physical as it is emotional. Hang in there. It’s an awful time, but it will get better. That’s a given.

Reply
katherine

OMG Why don’t psychologists help people understand this so they don’t think they are complete loses.

Reply
Hey Sigmund

Yes! I couldn’t agree more! So often people think that what they’re doing isn’t normal, but the truth is that they’re completely normal and they’re doing absolutely fine in the circumstances. If only you had the information to let you know that. Breakups are hard – they’re emotional and they’re physical and they take time to find a way out of – it’s completely normal and part of being human. If you ever feel like a loser (we can all feel like that from time to time), come back and I’ll tell you why you’re NOT.

Reply
Dj

I suggest that everyone going through a break up write down every thought he remembers of his/her ex , i mean every thing that cross your mind . I’ve been through that and this method helped me a lot

Reply

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Hey Warrior - A book about anxiety in children.








Hey Sigmund on Instagram

Our kids are going to make bad decisions. Hopefull Our kids are going to make bad decisions. Hopefully they’ll make plenty - it’s one of the ways they’ll learn and grow. We won’t always be able to love them out of a bad decision, but we want to be the ones they come to when the mess unfolds. 
When they get it really wrong, they’ll know it. They’ll also know exactly what we think. Of course we’ll be tempted to remind them over and over of what they’ve done and the fallout from that, but it will be useless. There is no new wisdom in telling them ‘I told you so’, and it also runs the risk of switching them off to our influence and guidance at a time they need it most. 
There will be wisdom in the mess for sure, and the best way to foster the discovery is to make a safe space for this to happen - and there is no safer space than in their connection with you. 
When we prioritise connection above lectures, criticism, or judgement, we clear the path for self-reflection. This is where the magic happens. When they feel safe with us, and free from shame or disconnection, we have enormous power to facilitate growth - ‘Can you tell me what happened? I know you’re a great kid and I’m wondering what made this feel like a good decision? What can you do differently next time? I know you didn’t mean for this to happen but it has, and I’m wondering how you might put things right? Do you need my help with that?’ When we strip it back to bare, discipline was always meant to be about teaching, and this will never happen when there is shame or when they feel disconnected from us. You are their everything. They don’t want to do the wrong thing and they don’t want to disappoint you - but they will, lots of times. 
With every one of their bad decisions is an opportunity to guide them towards growth, but only if we keep them close and hold their hearts gently amidst the breakage. When we keep their hearts open to us, they will open their minds and their mouths too. They will talk and they will listen, and they will know that even when their behaviour is ‘questionable’, they are our everything too.

Our kids are going to make bad decisions. Hopefully they’ll make plenty - it’s one of the ways they’ll learn and grow. We won’t always be able to love them out of a bad decision, but we want to be the ones they come to when the mess unfolds.
When they get it really wrong, they’ll know it. They’ll also know exactly what we think. Of course we’ll be tempted to remind them over and over of what they’ve done and the fallout from that, but it will be useless. There is no new wisdom in telling them ‘I told you so’, and it also runs the risk of switching them off to our influence and guidance at a time they need it most.
There will be wisdom in the mess for sure, and the best way to foster the discovery is to make a safe space for this to happen - and there is no safer space than in their connection with you.
When we prioritise connection above lectures, criticism, or judgement, we clear the path for self-reflection. This is where the magic happens. When they feel safe with us, and free from shame or disconnection, we have enormous power to facilitate growth - ‘Can you tell me what happened? I know you’re a great kid and I’m wondering what made this feel like a good decision? What can you do differently next time? I know you didn’t mean for this to happen but it has, and I’m wondering how you might put things right? Do you need my help with that?’ When we strip it back to bare, discipline was always meant to be about teaching, and this will never happen when there is shame or when they feel disconnected from us. You are their everything. They don’t want to do the wrong thing and they don’t want to disappoint you - but they will, lots of times.
With every one of their bad decisions is an opportunity to guide them towards growth, but only if we keep them close and hold their hearts gently amidst the breakage. When we keep their hearts open to us, they will open their minds and their mouths too. They will talk and they will listen, and they will know that even when their behaviour is ‘questionable’, they are our everything too.
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