No feeling is so painful as the pain of the human heart...
One client of mine, when asked what it was like to feel shut out and rejected by her partner, used the word “soul-crunching” to describe her pain
In fact heartache and heartbreak are often described by people through metaphors of brokenness.
Heartache and heartbreak literally destroy something inside of us. We feel as if we have fallen to pieces, as if our lives are in ruins, and as if who we are and what we live for is no longer intact.
What Science Says:
Research shows that heart-ache and heart-break are not just painful experiences metaphorically speaking, but that they literally impact the same parts of the brain as physical pain. So when we say our heart is hurting, it literally is.
What You Need to Know about Heartache and Heartbreak:
Heartbreak, which describes the pain of a break-up, and heartache which is a more general description of the pain in the heart we feel when someone we love dies, are similar in many ways to the term “psycheache” which is a term used to describe the pain of being alive often reported by people who are suicidal.
All three terms express a pain of existing which only humans can feel. And there are really only two responses to deal with it. We can shrivel in the face of it and try our best to avoid it, or we can enter into it and become wiser from it.
The Two Ways to Deal with the Pain of a Broken Heart:
Avoiding the Pain:
The pain of heartache and heartbreak is so difficult to tolerate that our natural instinct is to want to run from it.
We run from the pain in different ways:
If we have just broken up with someone who matters a great deal to us, it might be tempting to simply get involved with another person and skip the the painstaking process of grieving the loss. However, a broken heart is not ready to love again before it has healed, and healing takes time. This is why a rebound relationship is never the best way to deal with a broken heart.
Another way we may distract ourselves is to simply keep busy and try to distract ourselves through activities, projects, work, or being social. In this approach, we simply try to never be alone or never fully stay long enough in the moment, to truly feel our pain. Of course, such a flight from ourselves, is bound to fail in the long run. Since we are not really dealing with the pain, the healing process never really begins, and we just end up postponing the inevitable.
A third way to deal with gut-wrenching pain is to shut the grieving process down by numbing ourselves to our emotions and hardening our heart. The pain of living is here dealt with by becoming a little less alive. While this might feel preferable to feeling the pain of existing, the long-term price of this strategy is steep, and we often end up feeling alienated and cut off from everything good life has to offer.
Learning from the Pain:
Because every attempt to simply avoid our pain is destined to fail in the long-run or to come with a heavy price tag, a wiser path to follow is to heed the message of the broken heart itself.
If you do this what you will discover is the following: Your heart is broken because you dared to love and let others matter.
Now in the absence of your loved one, you have lost a piece of yourself and are no longer whole. Your existence, without the other person, no longer feels full or sufficient. Love opened up life’s riches, and now that it has closed these riches down, the pain you feel is the pain of the absence and meaninglessness of a life without such love.
And although your heart is trying to warn you not hurry back into the same kind of vulnerability that left you bereft, it has also just revealed the meaningfulness, joy, and value of a life of mattering to someone and letting someone matter to you.
Its message is therefore not to avoid loving, but to take the time to reflect on the big questions brought about by the encounter with the inevitable pain and joy of an open heart.
- What has loving and losing revealed to you about what is really important in life?
- What has it revealed to you about yourself and about others?
- Did you make mistakes and do you have regrets?
- What lessons can you carry with you into your next relationship?
Only if you fully go into these often painful and quite dizzying questions about the meaning of your life, do you unlock the wisdom contained within your heartbreak.
Then you will live to love again, and be a little more prepared for the inevitable heartaches and heartbreaks of life.
Empty Hearts and Full Hearts:
As Jon Fredrickson, a social worker and practicing psychodynamic therapist has said:
The person whose heart has been broken and gives up loving ends up with an empty heart.
The person with a broken heart who continues to love has a full heart, knowing that everyone we love we lose through death or abandonment.
That is why there are only two kinds of hearts: empty hearts and loving hearts.
It takes courage to face the inevitable losses and yet, in spite of it all, to keep on loving and being open to life
(Source: Jon Frederickson: Co-Creating Change)
About Me: I am Rune Moelbak, Ph.D., psychologist and psychodynamic therapist in Houston Texas. I help people move through their difficult emotions to find greater peace and comfort with who they are.