Love and Heartbreak
by Teresia Smith
Heartbreak. We’ve all been there, and it’s safe to say we all wish we could avoid experiencing heartbreak ever again. Unfortunately, heartbreak is a common part of life, and it really, really hurts. There are many times we feel heartbroken.
Heartbreak happens when we lose someone we loved very much, like a romantic relationship or a friendship, a family member, a pet, or it can even happen when we lose a job or even an opportunity that was very important to us.
Doesn’t really matter if the relationship we lost was not healthy or even abusive, we still grieve the loss. Lysa TerKeurust describes it like this: “Does it ever feel like your heart will never heal? Maybe you’ve been struggling to do normal life with soul-blinding pain and a confusing mix of emotions. I understand. Maybe you feel lost in your own life because the pain has permeated everything, reframing your entire life story. I get that too. It feels like there was an enormous earthquake, and now we’re trying to find our footing on unstable ground with wide cracks and gaping holes. Yet we’re supposed to act like it’s all fine. The thought of being trapped here is terrifying, and there’s no running away because the pain is inside of us.”
Why would someone be heartbroken over the loss of an abusive relationship? We talk with many people who are in abusive relationships, and even those who have left relationships, but say that they still love their abusive partner. They don’t even understand how they could still love someone who has hurt them so much and they feel confused and like it is wrong to continue to have these feelings for someone who made such horrible choices.
While it is difficult to understand these feelings, it isn’t strange or even wrong. Love isn’t something you can turn on and off like a light switch. It doesn’t just disappear overnight. Chances are there were some good times and it’s easy to dwell on those hoping for more. You fall into the “if only” mode thinking you can change the abusive person when in reality, you don’t control their choices. Even in an abusive relationship, you have an emotional connection with the person you invested time, energy and trust to create a life with. And when children are involved, there is another layer of complication. It’s just not that easy to let go.
So why does it hurt so much? There have been studies which have shown that your brain registers heartbreak in similar ways a physical pain. Have you ever heard someone describe it as feeling as though their heart was being ripped out or when someone hurt them it felt like a slap in the face? These are descriptions of how we relate physical and emotional pain. We hear about raging teenage hormones, but even adults’ bodies produce hormones when we become attached to someone. Our brains release dopamine and oxytocin when we are in love. These hormones make us feel good and make us want to repeat the behaviors that caused them to be released. Once heartbreak happens, our body stops producing the feel-good hormones and replaces them with cortisol, which can cause unpleasant symptoms such as anxiety, nausea, weight gain – all associated with heartbreak.
Any loss causes a large amount of stress and this affects us emotionally, mentally, and even physically. Often it takes months or even years to recover from such loss. Even though it feels like we may never be happy again, the reality is we don’t have to stay stuck here. While this pain may “refine” us as heat refines gold, it does not have to “define” us or our future.
So, what steps can we take to begin to heal heartbreak? How do we help someone move forward with life after leaving an abusive partner they still love? It is different for each person and each circumstance.
There are many ways of working to relieve any stress in your life such as exercise, self-care, relaxation, adequate meals and sleep, etc. When you are feeling heartbroken, it is easy to isolate and withdraw from your regular life. You may need to force yourself to get out and spend time with supportive people doing things you enjoy. Make sure you are eating well, sleeping well, and reaching out for encouragement. Build a network of those who are willing to listen as you talk through your sadness and rebuild your life. There’s an old saying “healing comes with time” and it does have some truth to it. Over time, your body’s stress response will return to normal as you begin to recover from your loss.
There is no shame in realizing you are not coping well and reaching out for help. Heartbreak can be a huge shock to your system and often when leaving an abusive relationship, you area also stressed from figuring out income, housing, transportation and other things of that nature. Spend time getting to know yourself before you choose to invest into another relationship. Our advocates can help you work through your feelings and gain knowledge of red flags to look for in future relationships.
Crisis Services of North Alabama is here to support you as you work to get back to a normal life. We offer free, confidential services to survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. If you are having trouble recovering from an abusive relationship or you are concerned about how you’re feeling after leaving an abusive relationship, reach out. You may reach an advocate at 256.574.5826 or our 24/7 HELPline at 256.716.1000. You are not alone.