Chances are, when you were in a relationship, you never imagined what it would be like to live your life without your partner, probably because it was a source of pain or unhappiness to think about it. Now that your relationship has ended, it’s not only something you think about everyday, it’s an uncomfortable reality that you have to live with and try and figure out how to process the pain.
Although it’s not desirable, the pain you feel is necessary. As human beings, we are wired for human contact and companionship. We depend on support and a sense of belonging so when we are rejected by a loved one we feel alone unvalued unprotected and that we don’t matter. And the aftermath of a breakup you are missing your emotional home and your sense of connection. The problem is that you feel like your partner was not there to keep you secure and this may explain why your breakup has been so challenging. But letting go and moving forward has less to do with your ex and more to do with science.
For starters, most people are unaware that a break-up impacts us on a neuropsychological level that is similar to drug withdrawal. To understand your brain on a breakup you first need to understand how your brain works in love.
This is your brain in love…
When you’re in love you’re literally addicted to your partner both physiologically and emotionally. The reward center of your brain is activated and releases a neurotransmitter called dopamine that makes you feel giddy and excited. Your infatuated thinking is caused by an increase in a stress hormone called cortisol which lowers the levels of Serotonin and that’s responsible for your obsessive thoughts where all you can do is daydream and think about your ex. We know from brain scan studies that the same region of the brain (the front lobe) that lights up during addiction to substances like cocaine and nicotine also lights up when you’re in love and thinking about your partner. That means love is more than just a feeling it’s a chemical reaction that is biologically rendered & often uncontrollable, very similar to the same way we’re driven to eat or procreate.
There’s a scientific reason behind our obstructed view in relationships and it’s due to some of the neural responses during the new love or “honeymoon” phase. During this time, which can last between 1-3 years according to some studies, our brains actually shut down our ability to make clear judgments and critical assessments about other people. This means that we miss a lot of red flags and we “see” our partner as perfect and we start to imagine spending the rest of our life with them.
Love is sometimes like an addiction and in a breakup, you are literally withdrawing from your partner, which is a painful process. If you look at love through an addiction framework, when you split up and cut off communication and physical touch, your brain asks, “Where did my lover go? I need them to feel good.” Your body and brain have grown accustomed to getting its daily dose of love romance and affection and now it’s gone. You are not crazy for obsessing over the relationship but your brain is causing you to fixate on it, that’s why it can be so hard to break the cycle of communication with your ex because despite knowing better you reach out in moments of weakness due to your intense cravings.
So why do you feel like this?
Your body processes a breakup as if it’s just received physical pain. So that explains why you may feel tired, anxious, or like you’ve had the wind knocked out of you. When your brain isn’t getting its fix of seeing someone you loved or talking to them, sleeping with them, your attachment system becomes activated and your feelings intensify and you sustain these physiological symptoms of love even though, intellectually, you know the relationship is over. As this cycle continues, you shift back and forth between despair and depression. There’s even a medical condition known as “broken heart syndrome,” the medical term is takotsubo cardiomyopathy, when the heart is weakened under intense emotional distress or physical experience and in rare instances, has led to death. Don’t worry, you probably won’t actually die, but this explains why you feel like you are. The point that I want you to understand is that there is a real physiological response to this change and Trauma in your life. Both psychological and physiological distress that you are under and are feeling is very real. And this is why it hurts so bad.
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De’Jarnette K. Johnson is an author, blogger and owner of TheRealBlackCarrieBradshaw.com, a blog dedicated to love, life and relationships. De’Ja is a graduate of UA Little Rock with a Masters degree in Applied Communication with an emphasis on Interpersonal & Romantic relationships. Having completed her thesis on Ghosting, De’Ja has extensive knowledge on relational issues such as Attachment styles, Dark Triad personalities and Intrapersonal communication. She is also the creator of The Breakup Space, a 12-week program designed to help you cope with the loss of your relationship, manage your emotions and empower you to obtain the love that you deserve.
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