The Reality and the Pain of a Heartbreak

You've read a million break-up articles and the five-step promises to help you help you move on in thirty days. The usual, “Never again will this happen to me!” She/he promised to catch you in the dark and assured you that nothing in this world could tear you apart. Now, alone in the dark with their hands tied around your neck, you’re more distressed than your last break-up, and all the efforts you had made seem to be fading into a blur. Before you bring out your stalking binoculars or throw their clothes out the door, you have to ask yourself the hardest question, “why is it so hard for me to move on?”

Photo By: Daniel Rocal "Broken Heart"

Photo By: Daniel Rocal "Broken Heart"

The truth is that whether you’re the one who decided to walk away or the one that feels left behind, break-ups trigger a lot of unsettling personal feelings. Even if you were in a toxic relationship, getting over the person that promised you the world is hard. Psychologists have said that breakups are strongly related to our attachment styles and that affects our retaliation and ability to cope with love’s end.

Attachment theory

John Bowlby’s, Evolutionary Theory of Attachment, theorized that humans are biologically pre-programmed to form attachments with others, especially our primary caretakers. Attachment styles are ways in which we relate or bond with other people, and shaped in our early years, especially the first two years of our childhood. Bowlby stated that a toddler initially forms one primary attachment and that principal attachment figure becomes their secure base to explore the world. Therefore, the attachment styles we establish are founding grounds for how we relate and bond with our intimate partner. By understanding our attachment style, and if possible, our partner's pattern, it can help us recognize our strength and trigger points in a relationship.

There are four different attachment classifications: secure attachment, anxious-ambivalent attachment, anxious-avoidant attachment, and disorganized attachment.

Adults that have formed a secure attachment are more likely to handle break-ups conductively in comparison to those with other attachment styles. They are the least likely to fight back in a hostile manner and will seek out help and support from close friends and family. They are open to grieving their loss and will try to empathize with their partners’ struggle and reasons for the break-up. 

Individuals who have an anxious-ambivalent style tend to respond in a hostile manner. They are likely to stalk, threaten or engage in unwanted behaviors and more likely to jump from one serious relationship to the next. 

Avoidant-attachment styles are the least likely to seek help from friends and family after a break-up. They tend to avoid their former partner and any reminders of their relationship. They will sometimes go as far as changing their job or moving out of state. 

Attachment styles are not the only factors when facing a break-up. Neuroimaging studies reported that being rejected activates the same brain regions as when we’re experiencing physical pain. Anthropologist Helen Fisher of Rutgers University studied MRI scans of participants who had been dumped. She reported that “these participants exhibited increased brain activity in several regions associated with reward, motivation, addiction and obsessive-compulsive disorder, which helps to explain why you might struggle to let go after a romantic relationship ends.” 

Furthermore, Fisher reported that breakups are part of a “grief process.” In separate research, women who had gone through a break-up were asked to reflect upon their ex in a MRI machine. The research “found patterns of brain activity consistent with feelings of sadness, rumination, and chronic depression.”

Photo By: Masti Lashkari

Photo By: Masti Lashkari

When dealing with a break-up, it’s normal to experience feelings of frustration, panic, and rage. Not only is our neurobiology at the time of break-up in a state of disarray, but also our childhood shortcomings are haunting us. The good news is that our body will eventually reach homeostasis, and find a balance. According to Fisher, 40 percent of people are likely to experience depression when breaking up, while 12 percent suffer severe depression, and it could take up to 18-to-24 months to fully recover from a break-up. Therefore, self-care is vital as one tries to cope with a break-up. 

Separations trigger a lot of unsetting emotions, such as self-doubt, anger, and neglect. Moving on takes a lot of mental effort, and the idea that we are to forget the connection, the hopes, and the memories instantly is catastrophic. There are no cookie-cutter five steps articles that can help. Many people believe that it is healthy to repress our negative emotions and snap ourselves into happiness. Sadly, to deny your negative feelings means avoiding the feedback mechanism that will help you grow and attain a new level of self-awareness and relationship skills. Therefore, you must face the reality and the pain of a heartbreak. 

Self-care is vital. Focus on activities that bring feelings of calmness, comfort, and collectiveness—physical activities such as yoga, hiking, running, or cycling. Try breathing exercises or meditating for at least five minutes a day (Check out the Insight Timer app). Connecting with nature can be very helpful. It’s critical to pay close attention to the body and do what feels right. Connect with family and friends, plan activities that will help you feel better. Therapy can also be beneficial during these days or even try listing to self-help podcasts. 

Remember that pain is inevitable in life and you cannot attract the right person unless you have weathered the rejections and the heartaches. The heartaches are all part of the game of love, and you must lose before you learn to win. 

Be kind to yourself. You’re only human.