The Rejected Brain


The brain studies show us that romantic rejection hurts just like physical pain, and it is like cocaine addiction.  We have to treat it like an addiction and think of it like a broken bone.  It will heal with time. It may even benefit from aspirin and other anti-inflammatoy medicines!  It's important to go "cold turkey" and have nothing to do with the person who rejected us.

What is going on in the brain to create this madness we feel after rejection?

Many things.   Among them, our rejected lovers showed activity in the ventral tegmental area (VTA), the brain region directly linked with feelings of passionate romantic love.  These lovers were still very much in love.   We also found activity in the ventral pallidum, a brain region linked with feelings of deep attachment.  What a bad deal.  You’ve just been dumped and you still feel intense romantic passion and a sense of cosmic union with your deserting sweetheart.

Moreover, love hurts.  We found activity in the anterior insula, a brain region linked not only with the distress that accompanies physical pain, but with physical pain itself.   Rejected lovers are in pain.  And scientists now think that we remember the physical pain of lost love much longer than the pain of a toothache or broken leg.  Years later we can still remember the physical agony of losing him or her.

We also found what we were really looking for: activity in the nucleus accumbens, a central part of the brain’s Reward System--the brain region linked with wanting, craving, energy, focus and motivation.   The nucleus accumbens has been clearly associated with all of the primary addictions, including one’s craving for cocaine, tobacco, alcohol, marijuana or heroin.

Romantic love is an addiction, a perfectly wonderful addition when things are going well, a perfectly horrible addiction when a partner departs for good.

This may help you get over it.


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