Recovering From Rejection

Stopandrecover

Wisdom from brain science

Throw out the cards and letters.  Delete the emails and texts.  Put all the mementos of the relationship in a box and bury the container in a closet if you can’t throw it out.   Alcoholics who give up drinking don’t leave a bottle of vodka on their desk. Remove the photos.  Remove everything that will trigger memories of your lost love and likely send you spinning into a relapse of excruciating anguish.

Don’t call; don’t write; don’t show up where you lover works, exercises and hangs out.  If you see his or her friends, don’t ask how your departing sweetheart fares.   Cold turkey:  it’s the only way to heal the addicted brain.

Create an aphorism.  Develop a short mantra that you can repeat to yourself while in the shower, while driving in your car, or any place or any time you feel invaded by thoughts of him or her.  The first half of the slogan should boost your self-esteem; the second half should state what you really want in the future.  A good aphorism might be:  “I love being myself with a soul mate of my own.”  Moreover, picture yourself walking with someone new. And when you find yourself falling into memories of your sweetheart, dwell on the negative events, not the positive ones.

Stay busy.  Avoid what psychologists call the “vegetative state”--staring into space.  Get up.  Get dressed.  Go out.  As the Bible says, “Take up your bed and walk.”   Do it.

And go do novel things, interesting things, exciting things, adventurous things.  Any kind of novelty boosts the dopamine system in the brain—giving you renewed energy and optimism.

Exercise is essential too.  Any kind of aerobic exercise also stimulates the dopamine system.   Working out also elevates serotonin to calm you, the endorphins to lessen pain, and Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) to boost your memory and alertness.

Sunlight is good for healing.  It stimulates the pineal gland, regulating body rhythms and elevating mood.

Avoid sweets, they bring you down.

And take tylenol!  In one experiment, scientists put 40 recently rejected men and women into the brain scanner (fMRI) and compared their brain activity as they looked at their beloved with that as they felt a pain on their forearm equivalent to a very hot cup of coffee.  Both activated pain centers.  And in another study, researchers found that Tylenol alleviated the physical pain of rejection.

Count your blessings. We all have things to be truly grateful for.  List them.  Memorize them.  Focus on what is going right in your life, in your family’s life, in the world today. Negative thoughts strain the mind and may slow the healing process.

And smile.  Smiling moves facial muscles, which then affect the nerves to make you feel better.

Remember that Time heals.  We have proven this.  Our scanning participants who had increased time between the final rejection and the brain scanning experiment showed less activity in the ventral pallidum, the brain region linked with feelings of attachment.   With time, attachment wanes.

And never give up.  Take in a meeting of Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous if recovery is going too slowly or you need to meet others in your state of anguish.  Or find a good therapist or drug counselor to help alleviate the pain.  But we can say with some authority that some joyous morning you will wake up to realize that you haven’t thought about him or her all week.  You will feel new life in your limbs, a new skip in your step, a new glisten in your eye--and you will realize that you are free.

The Human brain is remarkably resilient.  No matter how painful heartbreak is, we are almost always able to love again.

16 Comments

Gabriel

This is one of the best texts I’ve read this year. And I needed to read those words. Thank you very much for sharing your knowledge.

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matthew d

….my new favourite web page….i F*#^&@G LOVE science…..wait….”love” is how i got in this mess in the first place :)….

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Lucy Brown

I wish it could be faster, too. There is nothing like time and developing a new “you” and new habits with other people.

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Heath

These are all familiar practices; some are long-term habits for me.
Why?
I have been falling in love with young adolescent girls since i was 3 years old, and now at 33 dealing with unrequited love or heartbreak has become ‘old hat’.

On the other hand, some of these, like Tylenol, avoiding sugar, and expunging records, are not my usual modus operandi, since Tylenol has little effect on me, avoiding sugar leaves me feeling way too sensitive (i prefer the sugar doping even with its many side-effects), and the destruction or burial of records has not served me well.

I have found that giving massage/shoulder rubs to others is another excellent coping mechanism for dealing with a bad dopamine trip/withdrawal. In addition to the bonding, sense of significance, and self-expansion involved, it will enhance future romantic relationships too, and thereby pull one toward the future.

See my answers at Quora if you’re interested in a little more idea about what it’s like to be me, or if you just want to leave me hate messages which i might not see here.

🙂

Grateful for your illuminating research and efforts to share it with the world, Helen Fisher and Lucy Brown,
-Heath

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Claire

Tip for “Create an aphorism”: change passwords to your short mantra so that each time you have to type one in you repeat the mantra to yourself.

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Lucy Brown

Yes, so many of us know exactly what you mean. The heart has to heal, exactly like a broken bone.

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Angus Morrison

This is great advice. It works. Just eat that cold turkey sandwich, immerse yourself in something new or that you’re good at, speed the passing of time, time the healer, the wheel, the conqueror (apologies to Jackson Browne).

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Aida

Heartbreak… it’s like breathing with damaged lungs, it’s like walking with damaged legs, it’s like living with a damaged soul, it’s like looking with damaged eyes…
Heartbreak, you take everything from me. I’m tired of loving 🙁

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