Being dumped by someone we love is one of life’s experiences that we all wish we could avoid. It makes us extremely emotional and suddenly memories of all the good times you’ve had come rushing back. I have had clients tell me “I know he wasn’t the right person for me, but I can’t stop thinking about how much I miss him.” Breakups also make us behave in ways we normally would not. The rational part of us would not text our ex 37 times in one day, but when we break up, sometimes rational behavior takes a back seat.
There is a scientific reason for why we act unusual during a breakup. Our bodies and our brains respond to breakups in a very real way that causes emotional distress. Of course we all know how it feels when we first meet a new love. Everything you see reminds you of that special person. You are literally obsessed with them. Neuroscientists believe that love is like addiction. A photograph, a song, even a scent that reminds you of them can trigger activity in the “reward” neurons in the brain. These are also the neurons that respond to cocaine and nicotine.
Just like any addiction, dopamine activates cravings for more. These cravings encourage you to develop behaviors designed to get you more of what you want. Early on in the relationship, that craving is easily satisfied as your loved one is very likely to respond positively to your behaviors. Couples in long-term relationships still experience an obsession, but it’s nowhere near as intense as when you first meet and start dating. However, during breakups, our “reward” neurons are reactivated. This means that all of the “I can’t get enough of this person” feelings strongly come back. The “I need to see them. I need to hear them” feelings are back, and the addictive behaviors that used to get you what you want are back. The problem is, your now-ex doesn’t think it’s adorable when you call 20 times in one day, or text them all night, or show up to see them on their lunch break.
This is why breakups are so hard. Your ex-love is something you desire so deeply, but can’t have, even if the rational side of you doesn’t even really want them! Some ways to make breakups more bearable is to do a lot of self-talk. Reaffirm to yourself that the way you feel is normal and will be temporary. If you get the impulse to make a questionable move (texting your ex), get up and redirect that energy, have a go-to friend you can call, or do something nice for yourself. If the feelings of a breakup become too much, reach out and talk through your feelings with a professional.
Outreach Teen & Family Services is a nonprofit, confidential counseling service. We offer programs to youth age 5 to 21, parents and families, in a welcoming, supportive environment. www.outreachteen.org. 412-561-5405. This column is partially underwritten by the Mt. Lebanon Police Association.