If you’ve ever had your heart figuratively broken by someone, you know how unbelievably painful a break-up can be. Whether you’re an adolescent or well into adulthood, the ending of a romantic relationship can be one of the most powerful losses you might ever experience.
The Literal Broken Heart
Physicians have discovered that there is such a thing as a “broken heart.” When a person suffers from takotsubo cardiomyopathy, the medical term for broken heart syndrome, the normal heart appears as if it has literally been broken and the left ventricle stretches out to form a narrow neck-shaped section of the heart. Japanese physicians originated the diagnosis and named the syndrome in 1990. The heart take son the shape of a takotsubo, which is the word for a Japanese fishing pot, or octopus pot.
The syndrome can mimic the symptoms of a heart attack and the true diagnosis cannot be made prior to medical assessment of the heart. Its physical cause is still not known for sure, but research suggest that some people may be sensitive to the stress hormones that our bodies secrete when being informed of traumatic occurrences, such as the death of a loved one, rejection by a partner, or other significant negative event, such as a natural disaster or a job loss. While physicians don’t have the knowledge yet regarding the prevention of a broken heart, the treatment usually is hospital rest and beta blockers; it appears that the condition can reverse itself within a few days for most people, takotsubo cardiomyopathy has also been known to cause death to some individuals. Recently, the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that a 37-year-old woman died of broken heart syndrome that occurred when her beloved canine companion died.
The Metaphorical Broken Heart
Even when your heart is not physically ripped apart, the emotional pain that a break-up can cause can leave you feeling as if it was literally shredded into a million pieces. It’s said that a romantic break-up is one of the single most stressful and emotionally devastating experiences a person will have in life. Loss of a child or spouse are about the only blows that rank higher in their destructive potential.
Most of us who have experienced a traumatic loss will confirm that it takes a physiological toll – some of us might feel as if our hearts are being crushed by a vise; some of us might feel like we’ve been hit in the gut; and others of us might feel like the wind’s been knocked out of us. All of these are normal and expected reactions to a terribly unfortunate and abnormal situation.
When it comes to rejection, our brain tends to interpret the experience as a physical assault on our bodies and the same pathways that light up when we are physically in pain also are activated with this type of emotional pain. That’s why some of us might get so mad that we cry – the brain is responding the same way it would to a physical pain.
Men Hurt, Too
While men are typically expected to be the stronger gender and less likely to feel as deeply as women might, it turns out that men’s reactions to rejection are often pretty significant. While women may feel “sick at heart,” dejected, and feel the need to “cocoon” as they cope with the break-up, men might respond much more outwardly. Punching their fist through a wall, going out and drinking too much, and even resorting to violence against others or themselves are behaviors more likely to be exhibited by men. In fact, statistics suggest that men are around four times more likely to die by suicide in response to a failed relationship than women. Men are also more likely to seek retribution and punish the person who has rejected them, unfortunately. Even with the growing awareness that men should be taught how to cope with their emotions, it appears that men are still at a loss in finding proactive and supportive methods of dealing with rejection even today.
What Helps Us Heal?
Regrettably, there is no easy path to healing a broken heart. If a person truly suffers from takotsuba, broken heart syndrome, medicine and bed rest are the recommended treatments. If you’re suffering from an emotional blow that has temporarily knocked you off your feet, time and self-compassion are the only treatments that offer a reliable prognosis. What are some the best ways to practice self-compassion?
Integrate mindfulness into your life. Awareness and appreciation of the present moment helps you focus on the present and let go of attachment to the past or unhelpful worries about the future. Yoga and tai chi are also excellent activities that encourage you to be mindfully aware and actively aware of the body in the present moment.
Eat a healthy diet that is full of fresh fruits and vegetables. Research supporting the positive effects of a healthy diet on psychological and emotional well-being continues to expand. Just making a few changes in your diet can decrease depression and anxiety – yes, Mom was right – eating your fruits and vegetables will keep you healthy.
Hang out with the people that accept you and love you for who you are. Sometimes what helps us most is being the company of friends and family. When we’ve been rejected by a romantic interest, the key is to fill that new gap in your emotional landscape with supportive friends, not to ricochet right back into a romantic relationship. Let yourself enjoy the company of friends, give yourself time to heal before looking for a new romance.
Self-pity isn’t a good look on anyone, so don’t waste too much time wallowing in it. While all of us grieve at different paces, and grief is a natural component of the healing process, don’t allow yourself to spend too much time retreating from the world. Cocooning for a weekend isn’t harmful, stopping out of life for a week ore more suggests symptoms of depression that may need to be addressed head-on and, perhaps, with the help of a counselor. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it. The pain of loss is real and you deserve to seek relief in ways that are health-promoting, not damaging.
Do NOT entertain thoughts of revenge; research shows that the only person who is hurt by revenge fantasies is the person who allows himself to continue to be dragged down by the past. Don’t feed the fantasies of “getting even.” Remind yourself that living well is the best revenge and commit to moving forward without the negative energy.
~ Salvador Dali