September 13, 2016

Why break-ups are so painful

Love hurts, literally

You can see the physical and emotional pain in the body language of someone who has gone through a recent breakup. It hurts to exist. It looks like it takes all their energy just to hold themselves up. The metaphorical weight of the world seems to be literally propped on their shoulders, threatening to crush them. And the distant, glassy look in their eyes betrays the fact that they are not fully present. It is too painful to exist fully in the here and now.

The most popular post I have ever written is entitled "Letting go of broken relationships." It resonates with people because so many people in broken relationships can't let go. We fear the breakup. We are wired to avoid pain, so why would we court it by breaking up with our partner? 

Some of the most depressed clients I have worked with are those going through recent break-ups. I had one client recently who commented, "My ex is already posting pictures of herself with another guy on Facebook. It kills me so badly. I don't know what to do" I think the language he used in that statement is both typical and instructive. It "kills" him to see his ex with another. He is talking about physical pain, not just emotional. 

The physical effects of heart break

Research shows that physcial pain and emotional pain are nearly the same. 
  • Emotional pain lights up the same pathways in the brain as physical pain
  • After a breakup the body often releases stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline which can lead to restlessness, chest pain, muscle tension, digestive problems and other physical symptoms
  • Brain scans show that cravings for an ex look like cravings for cocaine 

Your brain is hard wired to move on

Your pain is real, but it is finite. I had a friend who likened being depressed to being stuck in a giant pile of dung.  When you look around, all you see and smell and feel is shit. But, if you can just get past the dung pile, you will know that there is joy, richness, and life. On the plus side, new research supports the idea that your brain is hard wired to move on.  

If you are struggling with the pain of a breakup or a difficult relationship, professional counseling can help. You can call our Houston therapist at 713 - 591 -3612, or visit the Wilson Counseling website at  to find out more. 

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