Studies show that the brain responds to heartbreak like addicts experiencing withdrawal
There’s no way to sugar-coat it, break-ups are rough. Sure, you can moan about your ex and chant self-love mantras – but there’s no denying the unbearable pain of parting ways with someone you once loved.
However, how long that pain lingers is ultimately up to you, explains psychologist Guy Winch, whose book, How to Fix a Broken Heart, debunks some common myths surrounding heartbreak.
While popular culture might have you believe that a new part-time lover and a perpetual supply of Ben & Jerry’s is all you need to move on, Winch explains that break-ups affect us far more severely than we realise.
“Functional MRI Brain scan studies have shown that the withdrawal of romantic love activates the same mechanisms in the brain as get activated when addicts go through withdrawal from substances like cocaine or opioids,” the TED speaker told The Independent.
“In other words, love is addictive and heartbreak causes us to go through powerful withdrawal.”
This, Winch explains, is why we obsess over our ex partners to the point where we feel we crave them as if they were a drug we have been deprived of.
This is also why it can be so hard to move onto someone else, he adds, because we’re inclined to idealise our exes to the nth degree, consequently distorting our memories of them by convincing ourselves that our romanticised vision of them is an accurate one, when most of the time it is not.
“You have to make sure that any thoughts you have about an ex are realistic and balanced,” Winch insists.
“If your mind conjures up images of your happiest weekend together, you need to add in the images from the weekend that drove you crazy and upset you tremendously.
“If you find yourself longing for their sweet embrace, you should remember the nights they rejected our advances and slept on the far edge of the bed.”
For those really struggling to get to grips with reality, Winch suggests writing down a list of all the reasons why the relationship didn’t work.
Another tricky aspect of heartbreak can be reckoning with the idea of “being dumped” and spending your days in a hole of self pity while the person who did the “dumping” is back out there living his or her best life without you.
Why is it so much harder to be broken up with than to break-up with someone yourself?
The answer might seem obvious, but Winch explains it’s crucial to fully understand this dissonance in order to fully “recover”.
While the break-up might seem sudden to the person who has just been dumped, Winch explains that their partner has probably been emotionally disengaged in the relationship for a long time.
“By the time the break-up happens, they are essentially over the relationship,” he said.
“However, the person who got dumped is just finding out and is in the most initial stages of grief and loss.
“People often find it bewildering that their ex was so normal and loving one week only to break-up with them the next. But the ex was only acting loving, because they hadn’t decided to ‘pull the plug’ yet, they weren’t actually feeling that way.”
When it comes to tackling heartbreak, Winch adds that there are a number of common traps people fall into.
Here, the author gives his top six tips to avoiding these and start your road to recovery ASAP.
Do NOT check up on them on social media. This will reinforce your ex’s presence in your mind and only make it harder for you to stop fantasising about your broken relationship.
Avoid creating mysteries about why the break-up happened, this will give your ex a starring role in your thoughts when you need to downgrade them to an extra. Accept any explanation that fits the facts and keeps your self-esteem intact such as they were unwilling to commit, they allowed themselves to drift emotionally and didn’t bring up what was happening until it was too late, or they were just not the person you thought they were.
Make a list of all of the compromises you had to make in the relationship that you would rather not make next time.
Do the things that used to bring you enjoyment and interest even if they don’t seem interesting and enjoyable now. Going through the motions is an important way to signal to yourself that life goes on.
Remove reminders of the relationship that cause you distress or pain such as texts and photographs.
Reach out to friends and make the most of their support; heartbreak is ubiquitous and everybody has their own words of wisdom to offer.