Have you ever been dumped and then found yourself obsessing about your former love? Break-ups are known to be difficult, but in some cases it can turn a normally reasonable person into a veritable basket case. What gives?
Take my friend Paul for instance. He was dating this girl Sharon for about two years and things were going great - or at least he thought so. They went out often, shared an apartment together - even had a dog! Then wham! Out of the blue, she dumps him. Paul looks like he’s been hit by a truck. He’s got dark circles under the eyes from no sleep. He’s constantly checking his phone and email for messages from Sharon. He sends her messages daily even though he gets no response. He stops eating and hanging out with his friends. It’s almost like she died. And for Paul, that analogy is not that far off.
You see, no one likes rejection. It hits that little panic button in all of our brains that make us wonder if we just lost “the one” and will never be happy again. Turns out, that reaction is hard-wired into our brains. We’re social creatures after all and the thought that we might get left all alone in the world can be devastating, threatening our very survival.
On another level, love is like a drug - literally! A Rutgers University anthropologist, Helen Fisher, took brain scans of people who were recently dumped and found that the same parts of the brain associated with addiction, reward and motivation were lit up like a christmas tree. This suggests that love itself can be addictive and that losing love can put us into love withdrawal. And its key symptoms appear to be anxiety and obsession. And while for most of us, we go through our few weeks long mourning period and get back on the horse, some folks fall into a pit of despair that may require help to climb out of.
The key seems to lie on our early childhood past. Particularly our relationships with our parents. When a child grows up in a home where they feel securely loved by their parents, they tend to have an easier time with break-ups later on. But for those who had a less secure attachment to their parents, break-ups tend to be fraught with more anxiety and obsessive thoughts.
Additionally, people who have a lower sense of self-worth may also struggle with getting over a break-up. A 2011 study in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology found the more a person’s sense of self-worth was tied to their relationships, the more suffering they felt when the relationship ended. A person’s sense of self-worth develops over their lifetime based on their life experiences. When a person has negative experiences that leave behind negative beliefs, great damage can be done to their sense of self-worth.
So what can you do if you find yourself struggling at the end of a relationship? First, try to reconnect with yourself. It may be time to discover (or rediscover) things about yourself such as ‘who am I?’ and ‘What are my goals?’ Next, be sure to break all ties with your former lover. Stop writing, calling and texting them. It may be difficult at first, but the longer you can go without contact, the easier it will be to heal in the future. After that, start forcing yourself to get out and have some fun. Reconnect with your friends and family or find a new hobby to enjoy! If those things don’t work, it may be a good idea to seek out professional help, especially if you’re feeling depressed or are finding it too difficult to take care of yourself. A professional can help you resolve the past experiences that may be at the root of what you are feeling and help you move on.