Why is it that heartbreak causes such dramatic emotional pain? Why does it take us months, sometimes years to heal from a broken heart? Just as life is complex, so too is heartbreak.

But what is it?

Heartbreak is a complex psychological injury akin to that of a major trauma such as death, accident or financial ruin. It is fundamentally a major loss but with a twist. The emotional response to loss is grief. So, heartbreak throws us into a state of intense grieving.  It takes all the mental, physical and psychological tolls on us that grief does. When we are heartbroken, we are in mourning. 

Not only are we experiencing the effects of grief, such as insomnia, irritability, loss of concentration and distressed feelings etc, but the latest brain studies have shown that the withdrawal of romantic love activates the same mechanisms in our brain that get activated when addicts are withdrawing from substances like cocaine. But those that are heart broken do not know that they are addicted. All they know is that they are not getting their ‘fix’, so they desperately and obsessively seek that fix because they believe it will make them feel better, but instead it only causes more suffering.

People who are heartbroken are literally hijacked by their minds. They do all the things that feed their addiction, prolong their recovery and maximize their suffering.

Common things that heartbroken people do is:

  1. Ruminate endlessly over why the relationship ended, even if an explanation was offered. They refuse to accept the explanation because no explanation can justify the intensity of their feelings, and so they torture themselves with all kinds of theories about what they did wrong or what they could have done better.
  2. They keep going on trips down memory lane, remembering only the good times and how perfect their partner was. They think about their ex 24/7.
  3. They stalk their ex on social media.
  4. They refuse to let go and accept that the relationship is over, they cling to hope.

The journey to healing is literally a battle, we must fight a battle with our own minds and refuse to let it take us where it wants us to go, which is right back to the source of pain. But to do this we must be aware of what we are thinking and feeling and take back the reigns of control. The intensity and duration of heartbreak can be managed by resisting the temptations of the mind and by making small changes on a daily basis.

So, what can we do to feel better?

  1. Stop idolizing your ex – no, he/she was NOT perfect, no one is.
  2. Write a list of 5 reasons why they were NOT good for you.
  3. Write a list of 5 of their most annoying habits.
  4. Write a list of 5 things you did NOT get from the relationship.
  5. Write a list of what you will NOT miss about your ex and their family, friends etc.
  6. Write a list of 5 times that they made you feel bad.
  7. Now take these lists and put them in your phone and the minute you are tempted to reminisce or idolize take out your phone and read them. Its just like an addict who thinks they can have just one drink, you can’t!
  8. But perhaps the most important thing you can do to minimize your suffering is to change your internal dialogue about the breakup. Change the things you are saying to yourself. Thinking unhelpful thoughts are going to make you feel bad. So, take note of some of the things you are saying and then reframe them into a positive or even neutral statement that brings you some relief.

Here are some examples:

‘I will never love again’ to ‘I have experienced a powerful love in my life’.

‘I will never find a lover as romantic and kind as my ex’ to ‘I’m so grateful to have experienced such romance and kindness and I look forward to more of it coming my way’.

‘I can’t make it work with anyone’ to ‘I’m in the process of building a great relationship’.

‘He/She doesn’t love me’ to ‘I am so grateful for all the people in my life who love me so much’.

So, if you’re healing from a broken heart be mindful that time does not heal all wounds, it’s what you do in that time that brings healing. Above all, practice self-compassion, you are hurting and vulnerable. Remember to take extra good care of yourself and keep trusting that ‘this too shall pass’ and soon, hopefully very soon, it will.