Heartbreak is not in your mind. It's not merely a societal mirage for hit songs and blockbuster movies to bank on agony. It is a very real, visceral sensation that is felt in the chest, stomach, and shoulders. We're familiar with the addiction-like psychology of heartbreak. What about the cardiology? A cardiologist, neuroscientist, relationship counselor, and life coach discuss the science of heartbreak and the irrational things it makes us do in this episode of "The Why Factor."
“My heart felt like someone was physically holding it, squeezing it, and wouldn’t let go. [It] was literally making my physical body tired….I would just lay there and just cry, and cry and cry and cry.”
When heartbroken, just as an addict longs for their fix, we do things we wouldn’t normally do out of sheer desperation to get our drug. We resolve to a state of begging. We spend hours reviewing old pictures and messages, stalking social media, replaying and replaying all the words said in good times and bad, and sending pages of texts. We are obsessed. We are literally driven by compulsions to get what little fragments we can of our ex, through visions of memories, pictures on phones, and glances at their car in front of their driveway. These senses of hope, hope that we’ll see them again, talk to them, be involved in their life again, be an object of their desire again, these give us a fleeting remnant of relief from the cravings we are having for an ex. We do this not to feel good, but to feel better - anything to relieve the pain of not having what we so desperately need. The same thing happens with drug addicts. They stop using their poison for a high, and start using it just for survival, just because they can’t bear to live without it.
Cardiologist Judith Goldfinger defines “heartbreak syndrome” in this episode of “The Why Factor." It is a temporary heart condition with the signs and symptoms of a heart attack: chest pain, irregular pumping, and yet completely normal arteries. The only explanation for this combination is “takotsubo cardiomyopathy,” otherwise known as “heartbreak syndrome.” It is a dysfunction of the heart that has nothing to do with blood supply, but rather, abnormal beating. It is associated with heartbreak because, in 75% of cases, there is a trigger like the death of a child or partner or end of a close relationship. When one life partner dies, there is an increased risk of death for the other partner within the next six months. However, the majority of people recover from the syndrome with time.
Isn’t it extraordinary that heartbreak has the potential to actually change the beat of the heart? Listen to the entire episode of “The Why Factor” to learn more about how heartbreak shapes our lives, helps us to relate to others, and where to find healthy healing.