Love Hurts

What science says about heartbreak—and how to get over it.



Did she really need to fly to SF to find a qualified dominatrix?


Emotional pain can become an addiction. A negative feeling, such as anger, worry, grief, fear, or depression, can become so habitual that you cannot live without it. There are physical as well as mental reasons for emotional pain addiction.

When a person is continuously stressed by emotional pain, there are subtle changes in the body that create a dependency on stress-related chemistry. Changing habitual patterns of pain can be as difficult as giving up an addictive substance, such as nicotine, alcohol, or even heroin. The emotional pain addict unconsciously seeks out situations that are sure to result in pain. A history of prolonged, negative, stressful relationships is usually symptomatic of emotional pain addiction. The feelings of love and pain are so frequently associated that they become one and the same. Loving unavailable people and staying in intolerable relationships, for example, are signs that love and pain have become intertwined. There are many such pain-linked feelings in the repertoire of pain addiction. Understanding the physiological part of emotional pain addiction can make breaking these patterns easier..

On a physical level, the addiction is not really to pain, but primarily to free-flowing endorphins that accompany the pain. Endorphins are a hormone-like substance that the body releases whenever a pain or injury is experienced. They are very similar in structure and effect to the opiates, like heroin and morphine. Endorphins are pain-killers. When you stub your toe you feel a sharp pain, immediately followed by numbness, which accompanies the anaesthetizing endorphins. The feeling of numbness associated with endorphin release is not unpleasant and, in fact, can be an almost euphoric sensation. People who exercise vigorously are familiar with this feeling.

All strain on the body yields endorphins. Emotional stress, like physical stress, leads to strain. If the strain is constant, the body sends a continuous stream of endorphins, which results in a dull (and barely noticeable) anesthetic effect. When endorphin flooding is part of everyday life, the senses are actually deadened. Workaholics experience this, but just as in the toe-stubbing example, the feeling can be somewhat pleasant.

With sustained endorphin release you can still feel emotions, but only if they are intense, such as anger, rage, sorrow and fear. These trigger further endorphin release, which can lead to further emotional numbing. And once you become used to living an endorphin-filled existence, it is hard to give it up. With so much pain-killing substance running through your body, there is a sense of security that makes you feel safer in the world. It’s a shield inside the body that protects you from subtle feelings that are more difficult to block, like tenderness, vulnerability, and love.

Once a person is addicted to pain, breaking the habit takes considerable strength. It also requires external support. The unconscious craving for stress and pain drives the isolated pain addict to make decisions that are based on need rather than wisdom. Unfortunately, emotional pain addicts do not usually have supportive relationships. They tend to gravitate towards partners who become a source of pain. Friends, family, and professional counselors are usually the best source of help. It is important that the support persons understand the inherent difficulty of withdrawal from pain addiction. If psychotherapy is used, it is helpful that the therapist be familiar with addictions and brain chemistry. Dynamic interventions seem to be the most effective approaches; they include Gestalt Therapy, the Intense-Feeling Process, and Bioenergetics.

Overcoming emotional pain addiction can take a long time. To the pain addict, a life without pain is completely unfamiliar. There are frequent reports of a frightening void that yearns to be filled when pain is no longer dominant. In many ways it’s like being without drugs after years of dependency. The goal is to replace stress with relaxation, chaotic relationships with supportive ones, and self-deprivation with self-nurturance.

It takes about six months to allow the system to function without the need for constant pain. The work, however, is not as difficult as it may seem, because positive changes are felt along the way. Life is filled with color instead of grayness, joy instead of dullness. Grace replaces tension, and a person’s natural beauty unfolds, in some cases for the very first time.


@2 Useful info you've plagiarized from,


I didn't claim it as my own, half of everything I say comes from another source. If I don't cite something, it's because I find it important that the actual content is read and analyzed. And absent the ability to hyperlink and embed without teh haxx0r, I don't think people would be inclined top open a link from 1998. That being said, the substance of what is within that explanation is germane and full of considerable truth and a launch point for what is hopefully progress and peace of mind for many. Best wishes; I have nothing to prove with citations because I am a sock puppet and the content is what matters for the sake of what I hope to be critical thinking and prevention of others from remaining in shitty relationships because they don't understand all aspects of their emotions.


@3 But, if you insist, here is my citation:


Good on the subject for realizing she'd found a 7% Solution. Otherwise, though, I don't think I'd want anyone I liked to be dating her.


One of the great tragedies of modern dating is the narrative that when breaking up, your beloved must now become ex-communicated at best, or your new enemy at worst. We're told that we must "block your ex" and delete all of the shared memories we've had. This is not necessary, and I think it might actually be more harmful in the long run.

Let me tell my most recent break-up story, not to brag but to present an alternative example for getting through a break-up without added disaster. I had been dating my girlfriend for almost 7 years in the summer of 2018, and we'd been living together for 5 of those years. She went to a week-long workshop and met a guy there who she clicked with right away. This catalyzed a shift in her, and two weeks later she told me she wanted to end our relationship.

I was blindsided and heart-broken. She argued her case for moving on, and I resisted initially but came to see the wisdom and logic in her choice and came to accept it. I was still writhing in in a hallucinatory hellscape of pain, but here's where we did things differently. We didn't shut each other out, we didn't heft all of the blame for the failed relationship on the other person. We talked, we listened to each other, and we were kind. Although Herzog claims that "the person you're used to taking care of you—is the one person you can't turn to for solace", this is not a truism and a healthy break-up can entertain the notion that yes, you can still take care of each other despite the pain. That is, if you're willing to be mature and realistic with your feelings.

We had planned a camping trip at the end of summer to celebrate our 7-year anniversary and these plans were understandably shaky. But we went anyway, to celebrate the 7 loving years we spent together and commemorate and ritualize the end of the relationship. We cried a lot, and it was beautiful. Our lease was up at the end up the year, and you know what? We renewed it and lived together for another 8 months in relative harmony. We had boundaries - she wouldn't bring her new partner to our home when I was there. We shared a bed but did not have sex. I had an opportunity to move into a shared house with some friends and took it when the time was right, and we helped each other move.

It's been over a year and a half now. The heart-break healed naturally- and I'm confident that it healed well because we helped each other through things, rather than totally severing each other from our lives. I never had to "delete the photos and texts" because this is my history, and scrubbing my history does nothing to remind me of the life I've lived. We're still close friends and we're there for each other.

Heart-break does not need to be traumatic. The trauma really comes from how we deal with it and treat each other. If you're willing to be present with the pain, it can be a powerful opportunity for transformation.


Don't be afraid to try again.
Everyone goes south, every now and then.
Oo, Oo.


@RDG83: I'm truly glad to you managed to have a compassionate and mature breakup. There are details to your story - going on a trip together, sleeping together - that would depress me if I were in your shoes, but good for you if you found solace in them.

Most of us are not so lucky.

In my last two break ups, I remained open and vulnerable to my exes in an effort to maintain an amicable connection. Ultimately, they both used this as an opportunity to hurt me as punishment for leaving them. Just yesterday my ex (as of 1 month) texted me to let me know she's found someone else who's better than I'll ever be and I'm an asshole and she couldn't care less about me anymore. I know she still cares or she wouldn't have bothered telling me all this, but it ruined my day anyway, and I really regret unblocking her.

Even decent people tend to become childish and vindictive when they have been wounded.


@1: I wondered that too. Maybe she wanted someone from out of town so she didn't run the risk of running into them at the QFC?

I personally have never subscribed to the excise your ex school of thought. I am still at least cordial with pretty much everyone I've ever dated, which is one of the reasons I have so many valentines to make. :)
For me, it just seemed like they were still the same people that I fell in love with and none of their good qualities disappeared just because we weren't together anymore, so after the pain subsided I always tried to stay friends with them, (but of course only if that worked for them too).


File with this with a whole genre's worth of 'Eat, Pray, Love' stories where affluent female protagonists soften the pain of heartbreak by engaging in jet-setting lifestyle tourism. Unlike poor people, who just endure misery for no good reason, when rich people get divorced it's just another fabulous opportunity to Find Themselves. Secret knowledge will be gained! Barriers to self-actualization will be overcome! Abs will be toned!

Sound too good to be true? Take heart! For a mere $200, you too can share in her hard-won insights. But a word of caution: If you don't think you're the kind of person who can throw down $200 on a dubious self-help book, then you're definitely not the kind of person who can afford the exotic and life-altering cures for sadness proffered within.