by Elizabeth Earnshaw, LMFT
Th energy that fuels the focus and preoccupation with a breakup wanes. While you may still have bursts or anger or protest, your body will become exhausted and you will enter into what is known as “despair” or “resignation”.
Scientifically speaking, this is when your brain realizes that the rewards it’s been seeking will not appear. The dopamine that was released to maintain focus during the “protest” stage will start to dissipate. And the stress chemicals will drop many of your “happy chemicals” to a far below average level.
Dopamine is a happy chemical so as you begin to realize that the relationship is truly over you will experience some degree of melancholy. Studies have shown that 40% of people experience some level of clinically significant depression following a breakup of an important relationship. 12% experience severe depression. And, dying from a broken heart is a real thing – people die from heart attacks, strokes, and suicide in response to the depression.
Having a broken heart is a painful and serious experience that I believe is often written off by friends and families. “You’ll move on” , they’ll say, but that’s only because they’re on the other side. If you’re still in it, the pain can be unbearable.
Women often recover better and more quickly. This is surprising to many people. Because of built in social supports, women recover through venting to friends, feeling catharsis through crying or writing. This is not to say the experience is not painful to women. Women lose weight, concentration, can sob uncontrollably, withdraw, contemplate suicide, and retraumatize themselves due to rumination.
Men, however, have very few socially acceptable outlets after a breakup. They’re less likely to have intimate friendships, are taught not to cry, and are less likely to seek therapy. They are also more likely to engage in aggressive and risky coping skills. They are more likely than women to engage in drug and alcohol abuse after a breakup and also more likely to die by suicide.
Why do our bodies do this?
Because, for evolutionary reasons we needed to show our distress so we would not be abandoned by the group. Our bodies needed to show others “I need help!”. So if there is anyway to reframe any pain you might be having right now it is:
“I feel totally abandoned and alone. I’m wired for love and connection. My protesting and anger has tried to maintain the connection. It didn’t work. My sadness is my body reminding others that I don’t want to be left behind”.
I’m so sorry if you’re feeling heartbroken right now. It’s your bodies really smart, but painful way, of reminding you how important attachment is. You will find it again, and often, a bad break up is the catalyst for showing up for yourself and creating a new template for a happier relationship.
Elizabeth Earnshaw, LMFT is a licensed marriage therapist in Philadelphia. Elizabeth supports individuals and couples improve the relationship they have with themselves and others through better communication, self soothing, and a clear understanding of what a successful marriage looks like. She believes that any committed couples who is willing to do the work can walk away from therapy with more clarity and connection in their relationship.