Why is breakup or a divorce so painful?
Break up can turn your entire world upside down and send you into a emotional spin fueled by fear, sadness and anxiety. They say to use this time to grow and learn… Hell, that’s easier said than done! While it is true that a breakup can bring some valuable insights and powerful lessons, much of the learning happens in retrospect, after the dust settles.
Why does it hurt so much — even if the relationship that has just ended was doomed for a while and both you have been considering the inevitable?
The Emotional Pain
One of the most significant reasons is your expectations. Remember when the two of you met? All these awesome expectations, beautiful dreams, sweet hope of the happy future together? Even the most banal and simple joys were turned into grandiose love fests because your emotions (and hormones) were in overdrive. Everything looked and felt SO PROMISING. You were IN LOVE and the world around you seemed like a set from The Willy Wonka’s factory.
Separation annihilates all those love-ly dreams and delivers a heavy dose of painful, bitter reality. It wipes out all that fun-filled future plans and replaces them with haunting ghosts of the past and scary thoughts of the bleak future.
Breaking-up becomes a frightening ride in an uncharted territory through the dark world of the unknown. Everything in your life seems suddenly broken: the daily rituals, your responsibilities, your home and your house…. The relationships you used to have with the family of your ex, your mutual friends — all just a gaping hole now. There is a big, unpleasant shift in the very core of your identity.
Breaking-ups bring uncertainty about the future. How will life be without your partner? Will you find someone else? Will you remain alone? These unknowns often seem worse than your relationship — even if it was an unhappy relationship, it was still A RELATIONSHIP.
The Physical Pain
When you fall in love, the “happy” chemical dopamine and the “trust” chemical oxytocin increase to very high levels. Your system literary goes on a happy chemical binge. You become addicted to these chemical rushes much the same as one can become addicted to drugs such as cocaine, amphetamines, heroin, morphine and oxycontin.
When a relationship ends, the body is in withdrawal from these chemicals. The circuits in the brain that are involved in love and loss are really a motivational system. You are experiencing the same irrational and involuntary brain state as a person deprived of food, water or a drug. Mania and an obsession with regaining what has been lost may set in. The circuits of fear and anxiety are also at full throttle, as oxytocin levels decrease.
“Pain is the way the mind responds to trouble inside the body,” says Alex Zautra, a professor of psychology at Arizona State University. “Emotion is the same way. Whether you feel love or sadness is also a response to something you feel outside the body. With pain it is a closer-in response, to something inside the body, but it is a response in an attempt to learn about and motivate recovery.”
Psychological research suggests the human brain always loses more than it gains. The joy of entering a new relationship is nothing compared to the pain caused by a breakup or a divorce.
You’re NOT going crazy. You’re kicking a habit — a serious habit. After the breakup, the “happy” chemicals are immediately replaced by stress hormones,including high levels of adrenaline.
“Massive amounts of these stress hormones can go right to the heart and produce a stunning of the heart muscle that causes this temporary dysfunction resembling a heart attack. It doesn’t kill the heart muscle like a typical heart attack, but it renders it helpless,” says cardiologist Ilan Wittstein, M.D. in a recent Washington Post article about heartbreak.
That’s where that deep pain comes from. Stress and stress hormones lower your heart’s pumping ability. The reduced pumping causes chest pain, chest muscle contractions and other symptoms similar to heart attack.
As you see, you’re not loosing your mind. You’re dealing with symptoms of a cocaine addiction and a heart attack.
Accept that pain and disappointment is part of life. Life is not always easy and in spite of many Hollywood movies, love doesn’t always last forever.
However, it is ALL temporary. So find comfort in knowing that what you’re going through is normal and there is a better future ahead — without struggle, pain or sadness.