The science of heartbreak and moving on
MANILA, Philippines — They say breakups are a rite of passage. That somehow, just like your first cry as an infant or those first knowing tears when you see blood for the first time as a child, heartbreak is a pain requisite while growing up.
I wasn’t familiar with heartbreaks. My parents seem like they were the exception to the rule. They were (and still are) mostly happy. If ever they fought, they made up soon after. They, too, were the kind that went on dates from time to time. What really skewed my perception of romance though was how my parents were each other’s first loves.
So you could say I grew up believing in “true love” (whatever that means). I thought of heartbreak as a rarity and, if it did ever occur to me, it wouldn’t be so bad. I would get over it sooner rather than later and go on with my life. I mean, I’ve never seen its ramifications firsthand, so how bad could it be, right?
Well, when I did finally experience my first heartbreak, I did get over it soon enough. I just had no idea that “soon” feel anything but.
Just like any millennial, I went to Google to understand my pain. In the gaps between grief and rewatches of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Blue Valentine, I read up, as if knowing and studying the enemy that was my broken heart would help me beat it in a way that would make Sun Tzu proud.
Here’s what I found out:
Yes, the pain of a broken heart is physiological
In a study published in 2011 in the journal of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States (PNAS), researchers stated that breakups and feelings of romantic rejection triggered the same parts of the brain associated with physical pain. So yes, the pain is not just emotional.
There are even extreme cases where broken hearts can lead to symptoms akin to heart attacks. The condition is called Takotsubo cardiomyopathy or Broken Heart Syndrome. Though a temporary heart condition, its effects are both painful and serious.
This pain can further be exacerbated by the feeling of withdrawal. It’s often said that “love is a drug,” but research suggests that romantic love does affect the brain like cocaine or opioids. And when that love is lost, your body is sent into physical effects similar to withdrawal. This includes one’s rationale going out the window.
The physical effects of rejection and the withdrawal that comes after are so great that even non-serious relationships – just feeling a connection with a person and learning that that person is not interested in you – can send your body into a tailspin.
So moving on, doesn’t just lie in getting over your “addiction,” you have to fight it actively. Psychologist Guy Winch suggests that when we break up with someone, we tend to idealize the partner who left us. We focus on the good things, the greatest hits of the relationship that once was.
To combat this, his advice is to list down everything you didn’t like about your partner. Every bad habit, every pet peeve, every argument, and keep that list in your phone. This way, whenever you’re feeling all nostalgic, you can whip out that list and counteract the trap your mind is sending you into.
You feel empty because you literally lose part of yourself
Breakups shake your sense of identity. This is especially true for long-term relationships where a couple’s personalities have become intertwined.
Think of it this way. When you’re in a long-term relationship, your schedule (like when you sleep and when you wake up), part of your memory (you know how you tend to ask your partner about details of things you can’t remember?), even your emotions, all these things are inadvertently affected by your partner. They serve as your extensions, human USBs. (They literally are your “other half” in this case.)
Thus, when a relationship ends, in a sense, a part of you is literally plucked away.
What you need to do here is regain, expand even, your sense of self. Double down on your social circles, forge new friendships, learn a new hobby.
Clichéd as it might sound, distract yourself from loneliness, because “out of sight, and out of mind” actually works.
Listening to sad music and binge-watching helps
Catharsis is part of the grieving process (and a healthy one in fact). And movies and music help in this purging of negative emotions.
Post-breakup movies and music become vehicles for our empathy. Whatever stage of the Kübler-Ross model—grief, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance—you will find something you can relate to without experiencing the real-world consequences of the stories you see or hear.
Some research even suggests that by seeing arguably more heartbreaking stories in fiction, we reflect on how our own experiences may be better. This makes us more grateful and, in turn, happier. It’s comparative reflection akin to actual therapeutic techniques.
So, in a nutshell, love does suck. It literally makes you crazy, takes away control of your own body from you. But still, many believe in love.
In a survey conducted by Netflix among 800 Filipino video streamers, 89% percent (or 9 out of 10) still believe that love is alive. 86% also believe that the rewards of love make it all worth the effort.
So whether you’re still nursing a broken heart or have happily moved on, here’s a question, was it worth it? Where do you stand? Love Sucks? Or Love Rules? - Rappler.com