Why Does Heartbreak Hurt

Words by: Victoria Baikie

“I thought that I’d been hurt before but no one’s ever left me quite this sore. Your words cut deeper than a knife” — ‘Stitches,’ Shawn Mendes

“We only said goodbye with words. I died a hundred times. You go back to her. And I go back to. I go back to us” — ‘Back to Black,’ Amy Winehouse

“And who do you think you are? Runnin’ ’round leaving scars. Collecting your jar of hearts. And tearing love apart” — ‘Jar of Hearts,’ Christina Perri

Apart from all being featured on a BuzzFeed article featuring quotes to get you through a break up, these three song lyrics have a lot in common. They all talk about heartbreak being physical: words from a lover leaving scars, needing stitches, etc. When we go through heartbreak it can have physical impacts, but why?

Going through heartbreak is very similar to grief. When you end a relationship with someone, you end the structure of your life, and the life you may have planned for with that person. Whether you stay friends or cease contact, the break up changes the way you know that person and the level of intimacy between you. Not just chitty chitty bang bang intimacy, but also emotional intimacy. So when you end a relationship, you are essentially grieving for the person you have lost, even if they are still alive.

The end of a relationship may also cause a lot of stress, especially if it is sudden. It changes plans and can disrupt a person’s life in ways they don’t want. Financial and living situations can come into play as well, and inter- twined friendship groups can make it even more complicated. Stress can change the way we may react and disrupt our sleeping habits, appetite, and concentration.

Sometimes when we grieve or experience heartbreak, it can feel excruciatingly physically painful. It feels quite literally like our hearts have broken in half, like we’re unable to breathe properly, or like there is a hole in our stomachs. This is because our brain recognises the emotional pain as physical and song lyrics — and many Taylor Swift albums — show that we often register this emotional pain as such.

Early studies that examine the brain and how it reacts to love have shown that love is a drug, one to which we can become addicted. In one such study, when a person is shown a picture of their partner while under a fMRI, love activates in the caudate nucleus through a flood of dopamine. In simpler terms, this is commonly known as goal-orientated behaviour, and is what keeps us coming back for more. Nicotine and cocaine follow the same pattern — a flood of dopamine that activates the caudate nucleus. Through this thinking we can assume that when we go through a break up, we are dealing with withdrawal symptoms from the drug of love.

Love does hurt, but it is how we recover that defines us. Time heals all wounds and what is meant to be will be. You can learn a lot from a break up and if you will take the lessons from your last relationship into the next, you’ll make it better than the last one. And hey, it might not hurt as much the next time.

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