(If you want to read part two of “The Anatomy Of A Breakup” Series click here.)
Okay, I feel like I’ve been with you guys long enough to be honest with you. I have written this article FOUR different times. Not because it’s difficult to write, but because I get so excited about the science and psychology of human interaction that I tend to go off on tangents.
Seriously, the first version of this article was about 24 pages long with tiny margins and size 10 font. Which is great if you’re going for quantity over quality. But I reread it and realized that no one other than me would read past the first few paragraphs.
I really didn’t want to do that to you.
I mean the goal of the whole thing is to lay out the facts about what happens to you mentally and physical when you’re in a relationship and after it ends. The idea being that understanding what is happening to you on an intrinsic level would give you the power to get through it and move forward with your life.
So I rewrote, and aimed for less overwhelming facts and more fun stories about real life experiences, because we both know you like to hear that my friends and I have done some pretty stupid things in the name of love.
The result from this venture was a combination of crazy stories about the things I’ve seen. But there wasn’t a lot of helpful information to it, just entertainment value.
So I set out to try again.
About that time, I was hit with a plague of death in the form of an upper respiratory infection and, in my frustration and medicated state, I deleted all efforts and replaced them with garbled half-thoughts that didn’t make any sense.
So after all of that I set out to create something both entertaining and helpful, because we can all agree that the few months after a breakup are tough enough without me making you feel like your back in Ms. Krebinsky’s eighth grade Chemistry class.
In fact, you’re probably having waves of “I can’t live without him,” moments as we speak, and you don’t want to read tons of science-y stuff. So here goes effort number four.
And I’ll try and keep the nerdy stuff to a minimum. It is necessary though.
Even though preserving the romance of a relationship is important, it is also important to grasp that happiness and sadness can both be reduced to chemical reactions that you have absolutely no control over. Just try not to check out on me. Not only can you get through the educational part of this process, but you can get through the next few months and be even better for it.
How do I know?
Because I’m going to tell you how to.
A Story You Need To Hear
I’ve told a portion of this story before, but I’m going to tell it again with a little more story… to the story.
My friend in college, we’ll call her Becky, met this GREAT guy, we’ll call him Chad, on the web. She and Chad had simply connected on Facebook due having a few friends in common.
Nothing special, right?
Not exactly a kismet meeting.
They didn’t really hit it off right away, but they were cordial. He resided in the wings on her page for a long time while she dated, got dumped, dated, dumped him, dated, then got dumped again.
One day she noticed him and she was shocked she hadn’t before. They started talking online. He was perfect on paper, everything a girl could ask for.
He had a good job, that he loved, and was very successful. He had a house and a dog. He was close with his family. He volunteered with a charity. All that was missing was the white picket fence.
They went on talking casually like this for weeks!
She had a skip in her step, a gleam in her eye, and Becky was positively glowing.
Finally, he got the guts up and asked her out on a date.
Now, I don’t remember where they went or what they did, but at school Chad was all I heard about. Essentially I had so many Chad-facts in my head that, to this day, I can’t remember some fundamental things I was learning in school at the time.
But I know Chad’s birthday.
Thank goodness for that.
Anyways, Becky and Chad were head over heels for each other and virtually inseparable. They went on like this for a little over a year.
They were in love.
Becky loved him, and could clearly see a future with this guy.
You can imagine her devastation when Chad made two statements that turned her entire world upside down.
“We need to talk. This isn’t working for me anymore.”
Boom, in mere moments Becky went from being a ray of sunshine to being a real life version of Eeyore, from Winnie the Pooh.
Her life, suddenly, started spiraling out of control.
She stopped going to class. She just didn’t see the point anymore. She stopped putting on makeup or cleaning her apartment. Seriously, you had to use the door to shove things out of the way if you actually wanted to open it to walk in.
This went on for weeks.
One day, I went to go see if I could snap her out of her out of it even for just a little while. Somehow, I convinced her she needed to buy groceries. It looked like she had been surviving on pizza and some old Halloween candy.
I dragged her out of bed, threw some clothes on her.
Let’s face it, if I didn’t pick out her clothes, she was going to look like a laundry hamper that grew legs.
I finally got her out the door. On the way to the store, I helped her figure out what it was she needed to get.
Shampoo, conditioner, and soap were a must. I could tell just from sitting next to her that she had run out weeks ago. She looked rough and needed to pull herself together before she got dropped from her classes.
When we got to the store, I went off to get something from another department while she went to snag her shampoo.
When I returned moments later, I found here sitting in the middle of the isle clutching a bottle of body wash like it was a child and sobbing… loudly.
We finished our shopping and I took her to my apartment. She couldn’t stay in her apartment in the state it was in.
I told her she could stay there if she promised not to leave a trail of disgusting sadness throughout the house.
I told her I had to go to class and I’d be back in a bit.
That was a lie. I gathered my cleaning supplies and went to her apartment to tame the beast. Three loads of laundry later and a few hours spent rearranging the entire place, it looked brand new and unlike the atrocity it had been.
One bubble bath and a pep talk later and she was talking a little more like the Becky I knew and loved.
The next day she was back in class.
She wasn’t happy per say, but she did see the point in moving forward, which was a huge step.
I mean, I’m not saying I kept her from failing out of college…
Okay, who am I kidding? I saved her butt.
So, why did I tell you all of that?
Because, Becky did a lot of irrational things, both during before and after the relationship ended.
She lost control, a feeling I’m sure you are familiar with.
It is possible to regain that control over your life. However, without understanding what is causing you to feel this way, it can be a LOOOONG and drawn out process.
By understanding what is going on with your body during and after, you can get back on solid ground a lot faster and get back to your life.
The Usual Suspects
First, let’s get acquainted with the chemicals we’ll be discussing. I don’t want to assume you know what they are or what they do and have you getting lost halfway through this thing.
So I created some information cards to help you keep them straight while we discuss their effects.
Dopamine is pretty much the heavy hitter.
It’s the one that goes romping around your body like it owns the place. It’s the instigator and Norepinephrine (AKA Adrenaline) and Serotonin are just kind of the two friends that tag along and help.
When there is Dopamine there is Epinephrine. They’re best friends. They might as well hold hands and skip.
If the level of Dopamine rises, so does the level of Epinephrine.
Think about it. Dopamine is present when you experience pleasure. When you’re happy do you not feel more energetic? Don’t you find yourself more motivated?
Cortisol is released in response to stress. It is released at both the beginning of a relationship, during the initial moments of a breakup and during any stressful moment in between.
The presence of Cortisol lessens the amount of Serotonin in the body. This means that the more stressed you become the more erratic your moods will be and the more out of control your life will seem.
There are two of these chemicals that are primarily released during sex or other moments of intimacy, Oxytocin and Vasopressin.
They are responsible for creating a bond between two people, or pair bonding. Oxytocin fights anxiety and brings out that Nurturing and mothering instinct in women. Vasopressin is a short-lived hormone that helps regulate social behavior.
Okay so now that you’re familiar with all of the players in the game, let’s go ahead and lay the ground work for what we are trying to achieve.
As Chris and I have discussed in the past. There are two ways to look at recovery. Recovery can be seen as a verb, as in “to recover” or to repossess. I call this the “Get Him Back.” However, recovery can also be seen as a quest of sorts, to move past something, an addiction, an injury, or a bad relationship. I call this the “Get Over It.”
If you hadn’t noticed, I’m a fan of the “Get Over It.”
Well you’re here with us for a reason. And whether you’re seeking to recover, or recover from, a lost relationship, it can all be boiled down to a much simpler goal. Currently, things are out of your hands. You want to take back control and steer things in the desired direction.
I don’t blame you. That’s really all anyone wants, control over their life.
And by the time we get through this, you will have a better understanding of how to grasp that.
That understanding comes from looking at the details of your relationship.
There are three parts to it; The Relationship, The Break Up, and The Aftermath.
Before you can go through a break up you have to actually have a relationship.
I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’ve had to get over the loss of a few imaginary relationships, mainly every time a show I watch ends. You don’t know real pain until you’ve loved someone pretending to be someone else for money and fame. (Hmm, sounds just like my ex minus the money or fame.)
I’m assuming that if you’re here you had a relationship and it ended.
Although if you’re just here because you like us, well then, awesome!
During a relationship, a lot of things happen. Not just on the outside where you can see it. On the inside your body is teaming with activity.
At the beginning of a relationship, your body was so chock full of Dopamine, Norepinephrine, and Serotonin, that you could hardly contain yourself.
You remember those days, the days when your heart leapt into your throat every time you heard a phone, even if it wasn’t your own.
The chemicals were staging a takeover.
They made you do a lot of things and you didn’t even realize it.
You see, as children we imagine an idyllic version of the person we will become. It is ever-changing with our interests, dreams, and aspirations. We imagine ourselves as adventures and heroes.
As we get older, we become more realistic. We focus more on success and trying to hold onto a sense of adventure, the goal always being that better version of ourselves.
However due to… life, things rarely pan out the way we hope. We find ourselves working jobs that aren’t quite as adventurous as we hoped, that have hours that are slightly longer than we thought. We realize that adventure costs money. We make compromises.
When we are young, we look for attractiveness and adventure in the opposite sex. Whereas, as we come to realize that life isn’t exactly how we imagined, we start to look for someone that has that missing piece factor. You know, the person that makes you feel a little bit more like you’ve accomplished the things you wanted to with your life.
If your life is slightly out of control, you’ll find someone who has their life together much more attractive. If you find your life to be a little boring, you might find yourself desiring a bad boy. Too often I hear women tell me, “I need him. Without him I am incomplete.”
That’s what the search is for, a feeling of completeness. Most people are convinced that this only comes from another person.
However, all of those feelings of “completeness” come from those chemicals.
Let’s look at some of the things that they do to us.
All you could think about was him. Your phone was permanently glued to your hand just in case he called. You’d jump at every chance you got to be around him. That was the Dopamine.
Dopamine, is closely tied to addiction and will have you jumping through hoops until you can satiate the need to be near or even just to please him. It’s like those old anti-drug commercials, “One taste and you’re hook.”
Cortisol has a hand in the actual act of falling in love too. It’s the stress hormone. It’s the reason you feel nauseous when you give public speeches and the reason you get butterflies and sweaty palms every time you talk to that cute guy at the coffee shop.
Serotonin is in on this one too, or to be exact… OUT on this one.
Donatella Marazziti, a psychiatrist at the University of Pisa did a study. She compared levels of serotonin in couple who are madly in love to those who had been diagnosed with OCD. The levels in lovers where equivalent to lower levels in OCS patients. And if you’ve ever had or met someone who had OCD, you know a little goes a long way.
When you are crushing on someone, your Serotonin levels drop and Cortisol and Dopamine are left to take over and give you waves of excitement, making you wonder when you would get your next hit. The chemicals had beaten you, you were addicted. And like a drug user, you craved him.
There’s that Dopamine again. I told you he was the ring leader.
You’ll know Dopamine has its hold on you when you start to set aside important things to focus your attention on the object of your desires.
You find yourself going out of your way, and away from the things you considered to be important, to focus on the things he cared about.
Your hoop jumping capabilities are endless when Dopamine rears its head.
The only thing is, they’re someone else’s hoops.
You blew off things you care about, like a family get together or a couple of classes that you need to reach your goal of being the first person in your family to graduate from college, to spend time with him.
The crazy part is, norepinephrine, or adrenaline, will mark every single moment you spend with him in the major win column. Why? Because your memory is on point and you’re all jacked up on Dopamine!
The perfect storm, if you will.
TOP-SECRET SIDE NOTE!
That’s also why dates with someone you aren’t that into are so underwhelming. And also why first time tinder users rave about the apps capabilities. Who doesn’t get a hefty dose of Dopamine when getting ready to meet someone and thinking they might be a promising mate, even if they’ve never met them?
When put in a scary situation, a bond is formed. That’s why so many men’s magazines and sites suggest they take you to see a scary movie or to a theme park to ride a roller coaster.
The more at risk, the more you’ll feel like you’re falling in love with him.
In a nutshell, when Cortisol goes up because you are stressed, Dopamine levels rise and make you crave adventure, or in this case, crave more of Guy Mcface, because he’s the one supplying the excitement.
You are more likely to take risks when epinephrine is in high supply. That’s why when you get that urge to do things he likes. Like why you got on that roller coaster that you wouldn’t even think of stepping foot on normally.
SO MANY ENERGIES!!!
I was seeing this guy this past year. He was so freaking active. I’m telling you he ran circles around me and everyone I know. Suddenly I found myself wanting to run marathons and stay up all night talking about anything. Yet I’d still wake up at four in the morning ready to take on the world. I couldn’t really tell you where all of this energy was coming from. I honestly though he was just a good influence on me.
I was happy. Clearly he had to be the reason. Right? Nope. He was only the catalyst.
Enter Dopamine and Epinephrine again.
That cycle that you get in, well it’s basically your brain going…
“Is that all you’ve got?! SEND MOOOOOORE.”
HEALTHY OVERALL APPEARANCE
Other effects created by the increased blood flow caused by the Dopamine include, but are not limited to, the expansion of the capillaries under the skin, creating that glowing and healthy effect.
Also, our general disposition changes when hit with a healthy dose of Dopamine and epinephrine. We even seem nicer to other people, making us seem like we are even more fun to be around than normal.
HIGHTENED PAIN TOLERANCE
By tampering with our reward receptors in the brain, these chemicals also inhibit our pain receptors. Paired with our abundance of Norepinephrine, this means we even feel less physical pain.
So Put on Your Cape and Your Spandex, because falling in love is basically like being bit by a radioactive spider.
You don’t know where exactly it came from, but suddenly everything is better and you feel invincible.
Okay maybe not to the extent of leaping tall buildings in a single bound… but you can get up at 3:30AM on a Saturday to go pick him up from the airport and still have a cheery disposition. You can even binge watch your shows out of order because he’s impatient and continues watching them when you’re not there.
If you can’t tell, I speak from experience, and watching “our” show without me is pretty far up on the pet peeves list. So you know I like you if I don’t say anything about it.
And, to top it all off you’re slightly more impervious to pain than before!
Being in Love makes absolutely no sense.
Eventually they will level out and a feeling of comfortability will settle in. You might have even felt bored with the relationship at this point, or perhaps he did. At this point the Oxytocin and Vasopressin were supposed to have created a bond between the two of you that the comfortability suits.
However, oftentimes a partial bond is created, where one sees the comfortability as acceptable and the other person still craves that excitement. Or a bond just didn’t form at all. There are two things that could happen if a significant and strong bond weren’t created for both parties. They either stay together and try and make it work, which is a recipe for an unhappy relationship, or they go their separate ways
In other words, it’s great, until it isn’t.
Sometimes this happens right under our noses and we don’t even notice.
The signs were there, but thanks to our chemical pals, you probably didn’t even see them. Perhaps, I’ll cover some tell-tale signs in another article, but for now we’re just going to leave it at that.
You see, even if you did notice the signs of him pulling away.
What is your first instinct when you feel someone growing distant?
You become the aggressor, trying to push him to come back.
But pushing, or even slightly nudging, something that is already traveling away from you will only make it continue to travel in that direction.
Anyways, whether you both agreed it was for the best, one of you completely eviscerated the other, or one of the million other things that could have happened, you will almost always find yourself in a life that has gone off the rails while you were busy playing house with your now ex.
Now, if you are lucky enough to go about life like nothing happened and be unaffected, while I am slightly jealous and also inclined to believe that you might be a robot, or might be lying to yourself.
It’s normal to feel like your life has turned on you at this point. Most people find themselves devastated and facing a lot of cleaning up, so to speak.
Some get stuck at a stand-still, like Becky.
Regardless of how you got here, we’re going to move forward to look at the aftermath, and determine how to get through it and “Over It” faster. I’m not going to let you get stuck.
First, let’s review what we’ve determined so far.
(Yes, I made you another handy little graphic to help recap. I can’t help it. I love making things easy on you.)