That Pain in Your Heart Isn't All in Your Head
We call breakups "painful" for good reason: When you experience an unwanted breakup, thinking of your ex-love-interest activates the same parts of your brain that process physical pain.
Researchers measured brain activity while showing love-sick men and women photos of their former-sweethearts, and then photos of platonic friends. They also measured brain activity as they exposed subjects to physical pain with a hot probe on the arm. And guess what? The same parts of the brain lit up when exposed to physical pain and memories of the ex.
What does this mean for you if you've just experienced a painful breakup? For starters, don't beat yourself up about feeling bad. Researchers believe your brain is wired to help you move on, survive and eventually thrive by lumping memories of your past relationship in the same category as rope burns and root canals.
Another finding from this study and many others shows that, when you're happy in a relationship, the brain releases the feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine which creates a sense of craving, reward and motivation. It's a hard habit for your brain to break because, after a breakup, thinking of your ex can still release levels of dopamine. Which means, even as your brain is processing your memories as pain, it's also rewarding you for those same thoughts.
No wonder recovering from a broken heart is such a roller coaster!
The good news is that researchers determined that most of their lovelorn subjects felt a lot better about their breakups after about ten weeks.
When love ends, time is on your side. Your heart needs time to adjust. Apparently, so does your brain.