Why do breakups hurt so bad? When you’re going through a breakup, you experience searing emotional pain. Suddenly there’s a cold void in your life where a person you cared for and counted on used to be. It feels like you are missing a limb or plunged into a pool of frigid water.
When you experience a painful breakup, you often wonder how long it will be this way. One of the most challenging aspects of going through a breakup is that your friends, family, and coworkers often don’t understand the level of agony you experience.
When you experience heartbreak, what decides the compassion others have for you is not how much emotional suffering you feel, but how much emotional pain they believe we should feel.
If you break your leg, for instance, no one tells you to “suck it up” or “just get over it.” People inherently understand that a broken bone is a painful and serious injury that requires professional attention. And they understand that it takes rest and care to heal.
What the Science Says About Why Breakups Hurt
But people don’t often see breakups this way. Maybe that’s because they don’t understand that the pain of a breakup is experienced in the exact same way as the pain of a physical injury. Dr. Ethan Cross of the University of Michigan proved this in a 2011 study to understand the question "why do breakups hurt?"
This study involved volunteers who had been through a recent and painful romantic breakup. These paid volunteers were placed in an fMRI machine (scanners that reveal areas of the brain with increased blood flow, suggesting increased activity.) While in the fMRI machine, the researchers told the volunteers to look at a photograph of the person who broke their heart and relive the breakup. While they did this, the fMRI scanner gathered images of their brain activity.
Why Breakups Hurt Like Physical Pain
And if reliving a breakup wasn’t bad enough, the researchers wanted to be able to compare brain response to emotional pain to brain response from physical pain. So, the volunteers went back into the fMRI machine for another scan.
This time, a Neurosensory Analyzer (a machine that transfers heat to the skin of the forearm) applied increasing levels of uncomfortable heat to the volunteers’ forearm for seven-second intervals. At first the heat was set to create mild discomfort. But it escalated from there, peaking at pain levels the test subjects rated an eight out of ten, where ten was “unbearable pain.”
The scientists compared the two brain scans and saw something extraordinary. The exact same areas of the brain became activated when subjects relived their heartbreak as when they experienced the most intense physical pain - the level that was only two levels below “unbearable.”
Unbearable Pain Requires Care and Rest
To put the results of this study in context, think back to a time when you had a painful health issue. It could be a bad headache, stomachache, or backache. You wouldn’t consider these types of aches to be “unbearable,” yet you would still find it hard to function at the same level as you could without pain.
The truth is that it is difficult to work efficiently, study productively, or complete certain tasks when you're in pain. We often find it necessary to lie down and rest or take pain killers to resume normal activities.
Now imagine trying to do your job, study, or complete your responsibilities if the pain you were experiencing was near “unbearable” levels. Imagine trying to think clearly or creatively, reason, problem-solve, address small details, operate heavy machinery, or even compose a lengthy e-mail.
Further, consider that the subjects in these experiments experienced near “unbearable” pain from the Neurosensory Analyzer for only a few seconds. The emotional torment of a breakup lasts for hours, days, weeks, and even months.
Breakups Can Negatively Affect Your Behavior
The University of Michigan experiment was one of dozens of similar studies that answer the question "why do breakups hurt?"
All these studies prove how heartbreak causes our brains and bodies substantial cognitive and functional impairments.
In one study, just the thought of being without a significant caused a temporarily lowering of participants’ IQ (their intelligence quotient) and significantly reduced performance in tasks involving logic and reasoning.
Why People Make Bad Decisions After a Breakup
This explains why people often make bad decisions after a breakup. The searing pain combined with cognitive impairment is a double whammy of torment and impairment. You want to escape the pain, but the pain is hindering your ability to make sound and reasonable decisions.
That’s why it’s important to understand how to get over a breakup and begin to process and heal from your post-breakup emotions right away. Otherwise, you risk making horrible decisions that will make your life even worse. It’s like physical injury such as a broken bone or laceration – if you don’t care for these injuries right away, they won’t heal properly and will cause problems for much longer than they should.
What to Do When You're Going Through a Breakup
In the mini course, I will show you how to let go of painful feelings like grief, guilt, anger, and fear. And I show you three powerful exercises you can use to heal from the pain of your breakup.
So, what makes breakups so devastating is that you suffer agonizing heartache that effects your ability to function in the world. And too often, both your pain and your functional impairment go unacknowledged and ignored by friends, coworkers, and even family.
You would never expect someone to function normally at school or their job if they were experiencing intense physical pain throughout the day. But often we don’t get consideration or empathy for our profound emotional suffering or the debilitating impact on our functioning from those around us.
How I Found Freedom from Pain and Suffering
So far we've discussed why breakups hurt so bad. But we haven't discussed what to do about it. Now I'm going to reveal to you the secret to overcoming ANY pain you might experience - including the hurt of a breakup.
It’s been said that pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional. Another way of saying that is it’s not the thoughts, feelings, or life situations that you experience that create suffering. It’s the thoughts you have about them that are the source of your discomfort.
I experienced the truth of these words firsthand after sustaining serious injuries in a near-fatal motorcycle accident. When faced with unbearable pain, I chose to let go and found freedom from the pain of my injuries.
I remember it like it was yesterday. I was riding with two friends on a beautiful sunny day in early October.
We rode north on NM-14 a beautiful scenic road in northern New Mexico known as the “Turquoise Trail.” This highway is popular with bikers because of its scenic views, light traffic, and winding roads.
We were riding just north of Madrid, NM. A small artist community featured in the movie Wild Hogs. My two riding companions were much more experienced riders than I was. I had only been riding for about a year, so I was lagging.
As I came around a tight corner, I saw my two riding buddies ahead of me. I also noticed a large, white SUV wanting to turn left to travel in the same direction we were. I was a good enough rider to understand the dangers of cars (bikers call them cagers) turning in front of you. So, I let off the throttle to see what the SUV would do.
The SUV let my two friends ahead of me pass. I figured they saw me too and cranked the throttle to catch up to my two friends. Just as I did this, the SUV turned out right in front of me. I was going at about 85 miles per hour and had maybe 100 feet to slow down before I hit the SUV.
I Thought I Was Going to Die
I braked as hard as I could while yelling obscenities in my head, “sh*t! sh*t! sh*t!”
I felt sure that this was it, and I was going to die.
As I approached the rear of the vehicle, I was still going around 40 miles per hour. I figured it would be better to take a chance on the shoulder rather than slam into the back of the vehicle, so I swerved into the road’s shoulder. As I did this, the SUV was still completing its turn and swerved wide, colliding with the left handlebar of my motorcycle.
This caused my bike to tip over and hit the metal guard rail and then crash on the hard pavement. My foot dragged under the bike for a few feet as the bike came to a full stop.
The dust settled and I felt relief to find that I was still conscious and in one piece. I laid on the ground, my foot caught under the bike. I did a quick status check of my body to see if everything was still functioning. I felt the pain from injuries on the right side of my body, but I could move my limbs.
I Sustained Some Serious Injuries in the Crash
I pulled my foot from under my bike and managed to stand up. I looked at my right leg and was horrified to see outer layer of the skin scraped off in the crash. I also felt excruciating pain in my right arm. I took off my jacket and saw a hematoma so large I thought I had broken the bone. And even though I was wearing a riding jacket, there was still some nasty road rash on my right arm as well. The jacket has probably saved my arm from being broken when it hit the guard rail, but it couldn’t save me from the hard, scratchy surface of the asphalt.
After the initial shock of the crash wore off, the pain set in. I could hardly think of anything except for the pain. I hugged myself and rocked back and forth to try and self soothe. By this time other people had stopped to help. By buddies quickly noticed that I was no longer behind them and turned around as well.
Several minutes passed and the paramedics arrived. I asked them for some pain killers and my request was denied. But the intense pain of my injuries was still there. So, I looked for other ways to deal with the pain.
At this time, I had four years of experience using the letting go techniques that I teach in The Breakup Healing System. I had seen so many great results from releasing I thought maybe it could help with my current situation.
How I Found Freedom From Pain
I noticed how hard I was fighting with the pain – wanting to change it or get rid of it. So made the decision to let go of wanting to change or control the pain. As I did this, I felt a wave of joy and gratitude wash over me. I began to laugh and cry tears of joy. I felt no pain or suffering either.
I still grasped that I had injuries that needed medical attention. I could feel the physical sensations in my leg and arm, but I felt no “hurt” or anguish. The sensations felt the same to me as the wind on my face or the clothing on my skin. They were something benign and nothing to worry about.
They Thought I Had a Head Injury
The paramedics noticed my laughter and tears of joy and rushed over to check on me. They thought I had a brain injury. I told them I was fine. I was wearing a helmet during the crash. The helmet only had a few scratches from the accident. So, I knew I didn’t have a head injury.
The ambulance took me to the hospital to have my wounds cleaned and dressed. The joyful “high” lasted for the rest of the day. Despite being in a pretty bad situation I continued to laugh and smile with the people around me. One of the techs caring for me told me that my joy and laughter uplifted her spirits as well. Laughter is contagious.
The Truth About Pain and Suffering
From this experience, I gained an understanding of the reality of pain and suffering. And with this understanding came freedom from the fear of pain. I realized that pain is just an appearance, in or on that which we truly are – that which is perfect, whole, and complete in this moment. Nothing can touch or harm what you truly are. Not even the pain of losing someone you love.
Suffering comes from resisting or wanting to change what is. In letting go of this resistance, you feel peace and joy. In
In Lesson 4 of The Breakup Healing System Free Mini Course, I show you how to let go of resisting or wanting to change your breakup. In letting go of wanting to change, you will find peace instead of pain and suffering.