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Why are breakups so painful?

*Trigger warning: relationship trauma

If you have experienced a painful breakup this will probably make a lot of sense to you. If you are currently going through a breakup, you are probably having a tough time and you might even wonder when you are going to start feeling better. A breakup is usually a very difficult and painful thing to experience, especially if you didn’t want the relationship to end.

Understanding brain chemistry is important if you want to know why it hurts so much when a romantic relationship ends. Heartbreak, while it may be deemed a purely psychological/subjective experience, actually triggers the same areas of the brain as those that are triggered by physical pain. 

Our thoughts about our reality can greatly affect our emotions, which send signals from our brain to other parts of our body. If we are thinking about a distressing moment or current situation, we feel distressed emotionally, and then our body feels distressed – it begins to feel like we are in fight-or-flight mode because of our sympathetic nervous system. When we think about distressing thoughts, our brain sends a distress signal to our nervous system… which, in turn, elevates our blood pressure and our heart rate. This can cause chest pains, which may feel like your heart is “breaking,” or aching.

If you were in a particularly tumultuous relationship (perhaps you often argued or fought with your significant other), it’s likely that your body experienced a lot of heightened emotions and stress (and possibly trauma) throughout an expanded duration of time. When the relationship is removed from the equation, it is almost like your body is not used to this new sense of peace, so it causes you to panic because it expects another upsetting event to take place. 

In more complicated situations, a breakup may even cause similar physical feelings (symptoms) as withdrawal. It might sound cliché, but it is very possible for a person to become “addicted” to a relationship, even if it is an unhealthy or toxic dynamic. This is not true for all scenarios, of course. Each breakup is complex and regardless of how a person might feel about it, those feelings are real and valid.

If you are going through a breakup and you are struggling with the painful aftermath of being a part of the relationship itself or if you don’t know how to cope with your heartache, please know that there is hope. Therapy is a place for you to safely explore your feelings in a non-judgmental space, process what you have experienced and what you are currently going through and figure out a way to move forward that works best for you.

When you are ready to heal with a supportive professional, please feel free to email me and we will get through these tough times together. Breakups are very hard, but you are strong and resilient. You can overcome what seems unbearable.

*Disclaimer: I am a psychologist, not a medical doctor. This blog is not intended to diagnose or disregard a medical condition you may have – it is simply to explain what goes on in our brains and our bodies when we go through something extremely distressful and difficult. If you are experiencing chronic physical pain, please see your doctor.

Dr. Lindsay Howard, Parkland, FL

Dr. Lindsay Howard, Psychologist, Psy.D.

Hi! My name is Lindsay Howard, and I am a clinical psychologist with an extensive background in helping people overcome grief. If you’re a Florida resident, I offer breakup therapy via online therapy, giving you peace of mind and privacy. Learn more about how I can help you thrive by clicking below, or feel free to schedule a free 15 minute consultation today.