The pain of losing someone you loved
Heartbreak is an unfortunately common part of the human experience, and it really, really sucks. We’ve all been there, and it’s safe to say we all want to avoid experiencing heartbreak ever again.
We feel heart broken when we lose someone or something we loved or wanted very much, like a romantic relationship or a friendship, a family member, a pet, or a job or opportunity that was very important to us.
Heartbreak can cause a large amount of stress, especially if the loss is a sudden one. This stress can affect how we feel emotionally and physically, and may take weeks, months or even years to recover from.
While there’s still a lot to discover about how and why we experience love and heartbreak and the effect these have on our bodies, scientific study has provided us with some clues about why heartbreak makes you feel so rubbish, and some strategies to use if you’re feeling really down.
Why does it hurt so much?
Studies show that your brain registers the emotional pain of heartbreak in the same way and sometimes even much more than physical pain, which is why you might feel like your heartbreak is causing actual physical hurt. The language we use to describe heartbreak – “I feel like my heart’s been ripped out”, “it was gut wrenching”, “like a slap in the face” – all hint at the way we associate physical pain with emotional pain.
Hormones aren’t just for randy teenagers – our bodies produce a long list of hormones every day for different purposes, including falling in and out of love.
Love can be addictive, like a drug, because of the hormones our brain releases when we become really attached to someone or something. Dopamine and oxytocin in particular are hormones which make us feel good and want to repeat behaviours, and are released at elevated levels when we’re in love.
Then, when heartbreak happens, these hormone levels drop and are replaced with the stress hormone cortisol. Designed to support your body’s fight-or-flight response, too much cortisol over a period of time can contribute to anxiety, nausea, acne and weight gain – all those unpleasant mental and physical symptoms associated with heartbreak.
A medically broken heart
Ever wondered if emotional heartbreak can actually, physically break your heart?
Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy is the medical name for a syndrome that can be caused by heartbreak, or more accurately, the stress of a heartbreaking situation.
Acute emotional stress, positive or negative, can cause the left ventricle of the heart to be ‘stunned’ or paralysed, causing heart attack-like symptoms including strong chest, arm or shoulder pains, shortness of breath, dizziness, loss of consciousness, nausea and vomiting.
The good news: the condition doesn’t usually cause permanent damage like a heart attack does, and often resolves itself. The bad news: it can be stressful and painful, with people often thinking they’re having an actual heart attack.
Because it’s not possible to tell without tests what’s causing your symptoms.
How to heal heartbreak
While it will be different for every person and every circumstance, there are some scientifically sound methods of heartbreak healing you can try.
The following tips for dealing with general stress can help you in times of heartbreak, and set up healthy habits for an ongoing, healthy lifestyle. When you’re heartbroken, it can be easy to withdraw from your regular life and stop doing the things that you enjoy. But getting out and about, spending time with positive and supportive people, eating well and exercise can all help boost your mood and distract you from your upset.
Keep in mind that the old adage that “you’ll heal with time” has some truth to it. Over time, as the stress eases and you begin to calm down and recover, you should expect your bodily systems to gradually return to normal.
When to get help
There’s no shame in feeling like you’re not coping very well with a heart break – as we’ve seen, heart break can be a big shock to the system.
If you’re feeling like the stress, sadness or anger isn’t passing, if you’re having trouble getting back to normal life, or if you’re concerned in any way about how you’re feeling mentally or physically, it’s time to get some extra help. Talk with a supportive friend, family member or partner. Consider the following tips too.
- [ ] Don’t Consider Your Loss… Think Of It As Their Loss
When another person makes it clear they don’t want to be with you how else can you feel other than rejected? But this doesn’t mean it’s your loss. That’s looking at the wrong side of the kiss. Rather than focus on how you don’t get to know the softness of their lips. Remember they also miss out on the fullness of yours. And when you see it as their loss and not yours, it helps you maintain your confidence. Too often we focus on what we’re missing. But the one who walked away also misses out on something. You. That’s their mistake. Feel bad for them. Pity their loss. If you can see it that way you keep your value and maintain your confidence. Just because they don’t want you doesn’t mean you’re unworthy or unlovable.
- [ ] Accept The Fact You Have No Control Over Outcomes
This one’s a little more difficult. You may feel tempted to do things to change the outcome. You may think you can win their heart if you just slightly change who and how you are when you’re around them, or maybe act or dress like someone they find more attractive, or perhaps somehow you can make them jealous, or maybe you can seduce them and romantically overwhelm them with the irresistibility of you. But let me tell you, none of that shit will work. You can’t force things to happen. If you try, all you end up doing is looking desperate. And no one likes desperate. It’s unattractive. It casts a glaring spotlight on your fear you won’t get what you want. It shows how you’re willing to go to ridiculous lengths to be with the one you want. It suggests you don’t believe it will happen, and that you’re willing to do dumb shit to control the outcome. Instead, of playing games, accept you have no control over other people, no control over situations, and the only thing you can control is… yourself.
- [ ] Never Forget… ABC (Always Be Cool)
Which brings us to the best thing you can do. Be cool like Fonzi. You know how The Fonzi never acted emotionally stupid? He was unflappable. You have to be cool with what’s happened. This will feel impossible. But if you remember #1 and #2, it gets easier with each passing day. So during those times when you want to send them a text message, or “like” a Facebook status update, or you want to retweet something they posted, or maybe even call them up and “just check in,” all of these would be motivated by the idea they’ll see how funny/compatible/perfect for each other you are… so just don’t. Remind yourself. ABC. Always Be Cool. Fonzi wouldn’t drunk text someone. He knows it’s their loss. And that’s your new job. Keep your cool.
- [ ] Allow Yourself Moments to Be Sad (But Don’t Feel Sorry For Yourself)
Now, unlike an imaginary character like The Fonzi, you’ll have moments of weakness, moments of sadness, moments when tears wet your cheeks and there’s not much you can do to stop them. Don’t even try. There’s nothing wrong with crying, there’s nothing wrong with being sad. The only danger is when you let those feelings linger too long. Give yourself moments, days, maybe even weeks of sadness. But eventually, if you continue to dwell on your sadness, you’re just feeling sorry for yourself. And if you need some perspective take a trip down to any burn center or trauma unit whenever you want or need an undeniable reminder of why you shouldn’t feel sorry for yourself.
- [ ] Distract Yourself
If you’re having trouble, forgetting about the one you lost, the best thing to do is distract yourself. Visit people who do care about you. Spend time with folks who bring you joy. Take up a new hobby. Find a new passion. Try something you’ve always been curious about but have yet to ever do. If you have the time and money, travel. If you don’t have the time and money, then let literature and films carry you away. Especially, things that make you laugh. Treat comedy like medicine and when the blues pay you a visit, let laughter be your antidote. Watch old favorites and seek out new funny films as well. The key is not to dwell on you, your past, or your lost future. Distract yourself with positivity. Laughter, like truth, will set you free.
- Stop Beating Yourself Up
Another key to fighting the temptation to dwell on how you feel is to stop beating yourself up. It’s not your fault. Sometimes we don’t get what we want. That’s just how it goes. So accept this sad piece of wisdom and recognize there probably wasn’t anything you could’ve done differently. But for the sake of argument, let’s say there was. Well, there’s nothing you can do about it now. So let it go. Unless you have a time machine, all you can do is learn from the past. You can’t fix it.
- [ ] Give Up The Idea It Might Work Out Eventually
Another thing that’s super-important is you’ll need to give up the idea things might work out, eventually. Yes, none of us knows what will happen in the future. But that doesn’t mean you should use that as an argument to hold out hope. Maybe the one who got away will realize what they’re missing and come back, but don’t hang on to such a silly life preserver of hope. Start swimming. Focus on right now. They’re gone. So act like they’re gone and don’t wait for them to come back. If for some reason they do come back, let it be a pleasant surprise. In the meantime, live your life.
- [ ] Stop Comparing Yourself to Others
You may find in your darkest moments you’re comparing yourself to others, and their happiness feels like knives between your ribs and darts stabbing you in your eyes. We all love to compare ourselves to others, but just don’t. You never know how others really feel. You think you can see how unfair life is, how another couple is just so goddamn happy, and how they have the perfect life and it’s just so horribly unfair. But you never know. Maybe driving home, a month from now, one of the people in that perfectly happy couple is killed by a drunk driver. And the survivor is left to mourn. Don’t assume anything. And don’t compare yourself. It’s a waste of your time.
- [ ] Don’t Be Embarrassed… Be Proud
You may feel pathetic or pitiful, that you’re obviously an unlovable loser. But you’re not. You’re just unlucky. Don’t be embarrassed because you put your heart out there and someone else said, “No thanks.” Be proud you were willing to love. There are far too many people in this world who will never be as brave as you were. And those people have almost zero chance of ever knowing love because they’re not trying and failing. You may have failed this time, but anyone who’s ever wanted anything in this world most likely had their share of disappointments and setbacks. So be proud you risked your heart. And get ready to do it again… that’s the only way you’ll find real and lasting love. Don’t pull a Bogey in “Casablanca” and shut your heart off from the world, in the hopes that it never gets broken again. It took a team of screenwriters to get his character, Rick, to open his heart back up. You don’t have that luxury. Just be proud of yourself and keep trying. Love is worth a little pain along the way.
- [ ] Trust Your Future Will Surprise You… And Move On
Finally, here’s one other piece of advice from Hollywood. William Goldman, the screenwriter who gave us “The Princess Bride” and a number of other great movies, is often quoted for saying a great truth about Hollywood, but it applies to life in general. “Nobody Knows Anything.” These three little words hold so much wisdom. And you, my friend, may think you know how things will turn out, or what to expect in your future, or that you know what you’ve learned from your past, but then one little event occurs or a realization surfaces that proves everything you thought you knew is wrong.
Have faith in the great weirdness of life and trust your future will surprise you. Let the promise of that premise help you to move on. Don’t wait for the future to happen. You still have to get out there and do things to find the love and happiness you deserve. But trust that you never know what tomorrow holds in its hands. And move with eager and open eyes towards the rising sun of a new dawn and perhaps, you’ll get lucky. The future will always surprise you. Sometimes, it’s shitty and you’ll find heartbreak waiting around the bend. Other times, the surprise is more wonderful than you could have designed it.
Wesley Snipes said always bet on black.
I’m here to remind you to always bet on the great weirdness of life.
Just stay open to love. Never close out your heart to love no matter the pain. Love without pain is no love.
Facebook: Ezekiel Allotey