The Psychology Behind A Break-Up

Preston Waters

Breaking up sucks. Whether you are on the delivering or receiving end of this painful process, telling somebody he or she isn’t good enough anymore is a terrible feeling for both parties in the end. The guilt and heart break is just something no one can prepare for or counter with logical reason or facts.

Feeling like a speck of dust is pretty hard to accurately describe, but many have compared it to having your dreams crushed or your will to live slowly slipping away. The root of the experience is not the process of the break up and how much someone cries, but more towards the psychological transformation a person goes through when they accept the reality of how their life has just changed.

The mental affect of a break up has the potential to cripple all the aspects of our mind we need to survive let alone get through the day. While the feelings of rejection, self doubt and insecurity are all common, worst of all is the inability to let this companionship go. The brain has a very hard time doing this, and here is why.

Your brain and a break up

Through many different studies, scientist have been able to see that any time a person feels rejected at any given point in their life, an image of their ex lover pops up in their head because the break up has become synonymous with failure or not feeling good enough.

These scientists found that the same parts of the brain lit up when individuals looked at the ex partner’s pictures or experienced physical pain, but not when they looked at pictures of their friends or family. These cerebral regions, including the insula and anterior cingulate cortex are known to be associated with painful experience.

This proves that the pain from a break up can be stuck within our mind for longer periods of times than we have all thought. Of course we can say we are over someone but until the brain decides to let go of the aforementioned association, we never really are.

Our brains appear to process relationship break ups as if we were experiencing physical pain. This has also shown scientists that social rejection may have actually been a threat to physical survival for our early ancestors. If this is the case, it might partially explain how difficult it is for many people to let go of their ex-partner and move on.

Your obsessive thoughts & cravings

Anyone who has dealt with a break up often develops a sort of obsessive thinking. They may ruminate persistently about the ex-partner, how they are feeling, whether they are missing the relationship, and so on.

These thoughts are usually triggered by going to places the two lovers went together, seeing people they hung out with, activities they used to only do together and even holidays. This has concluded scientist to believe that processing a break up is a bit like dealing with trauma.

To avoid the pain, two types of thoughts arise that either distract the subject from the sadness or cause him or her to obsess over trying to explain why the break up happened. There is also a gender difference when it comes to these two recovery methods. Men are most likely to distract themselves and avoid feelings because they never want to show weakness. Women are more likely to obsess and ruminate.

This may be because women have been socialized to take more responsibility for relationships, leading to more time spent thinking about what went wrong or what they could have done differently.

Recent research provides some suggestion that there may be physiological basis to “cravings” for the ex-partner. Science has said that these “cravings” for their ex partner resemble to the way addicts crave a drug that they are withdrawing from. This can of course lead to intense distress, depression and discomfort.

Your hope and resilience

Despite the severe pain and withdrawals that come with breaking up, research has also found that most younger people in this situation internally wish to be resilient and prove to themselves that they can recover.  College students report feeling significantly less distressed about the breakup after about 10 weeks.

You might expect waves of strong emotion or “cravings” for the ex-partner in the initial period. Do not expect yourself to immediately be able to “just get over it and move on.” Give yourself time for your feelings to run their course in the first few weeks. Distraction and self-care activities may also help.

Conditioning theory would suggest that places, people, or activities associated with the ex-partner may be particularly likely to trigger “cravings,” so you may want to avoid these things for a while and try to develop some new routines. The worst thing you can possibly do to yourself is handle a break up in an unhealthy fashion and make consequential decisions you wouldn’t make so irrationally if you were mentally at peace.

As explained above, going through a break up is like going through a withdrawal form being addicted to drugs. Yes, it is that serious. So take care of yourself and get ready for the wonders the next phase of your life has in store for you.

Preston Waters | Elite. 

Preston Waters