Breaking Up Literally Hurts

Before you let someone diminish the pain of a break up or tell you there’s no such thing as a broken heart, consider this study from the University of New York, and Rutgers University. Scientists tracked brain activity as participants in the study – 15 students who had recently been victims of a break up – did mundane tasks like counting backwards from 8211 by sevens. That’s right – students who had recently been dumped were asked to provide a picture of their former significant other, then look at it while they counted down from upwards of 8000 – all which seems to add insult to injury!

Brain Activity After A Breakup

Aside from the potential painfulness of this exercise, the scientists discovered that “the brain areas associated with the pain of romantic rejection were the same ones involved in reward, motivation, physical pain, craving and addiction. For instance, looking at photos of exes lit up regions that are activated in cocaine addicts’ brains.”

It’s possible that anyone reading a romance novel could tell you that, but it goes deeper in explaining why the feelings of heartbreak are so hard to get over – it’s the same feeling experienced from pain, addiction and a host of other things. Lucy Brown, professor of neuroscience and neurology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, thinks it’s helpful for people to know that breaking up is supposed to hurt. “One guy called back the next day and said he thought the self-knowledge really helped,” she says.

Can You Avoid A Breakup?

It’s true that sometimes relationships just can’t be worked out and that dealing with the pain of a break up, struggling through the loneliness and emerging with new self-awareness is part of a growing process. Especially since the study participants were college-aged, these processes are to be expected. But so often I find that people have given up too easily on significant, meaningful relationships because of a lack of dedication to working through a problem.

There is a fine line between being a sucker for someone who hurts you repeatedly and with no indication that the behavior will change – and of course I’m not advocating staying in a dysfunctional relationship. I discuss finer details and techniques in my book, Make up Don’t Break up, but if both parties admit there are problems before the relationship gets to a dire point, and both people are willing to put effort into putting things back together I believe most relationships are salvageable.


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