Why a Breakup Can Hurt More Than Death
If you break a leg, it’s common sense to go to the doctor, put a cast on it, rest and take it easy.
If a loved one dies, you mourn. There’s a funeral. You go through the stages of grief and people sympathize with your loss.
But when you go through a breakup or divorce, not only do you suffer physically and emotionally from the grief, you also experience another type of pain. Abandonment. Someone chose to leave you. And that, is a mindf*ck.
It causes you to question your sense of self and value as a human being. There’s no funeral, or rite of passage that’s honored when you feel abandoned. Your friends can’t understand the degree of devastation, and after their patience wears thin, they might serve up some good ol’ advice, such as “just get over it” or “it happened for a reason.” Two platitudes that only add to the shame you’re already feeling.
Why the hell does it hurt so bad?
“Abandonment represents core human fear. We have all experienced it. When a relationship ends, the feelings harken all the way back to our lost childhoods when we were helpless, and dependent. Our adult functioning temporarily collapses. We feel shattered, bewildered, condemned to loneliness.”
– Susan Anderson, Founder of the Outer Child – Abandonment Recovery Movement
Many of us are walking wounded with unresolved abandonment from our childhoods. With each rejection, job loss, heartbreak… the trauma compounds. This might explain the insecurity and anxiety that plagues your relationships. Of that feeling of loss that follows you everywhere you go.
“We may not be aware of how much we have lost if it’s something we never had – like feeling safe, protected, and loved. All we know is that we feel incomplete.” – Pia Mellody, Author of Codependent No More
To heal our abandonment wound, we need to first turn our shame into compassion and recognize that abandonment grief is legitimate.
You are not weak, going crazy or broken because you’re experiencing the intensity of abandonment. First, let’s break down what happens on a biophysical level after a breakup.
A breakup is experienced as a threat to survival
After a separation, “your emotional brain perceives the loss of your partner as a threat to survival,” states Anderson. This triggers biological changes such as:
- Heart rate and blood pressure increases, sending greater flow of blood to areas of the body needed for self-defense
- Loss of appetite as your digestion is turned off. Blood flow is diverted from your stomach to major muscle groups so you’re ready for flight/fight
- Tightening of vocal cords creating high pitched voice of intense anxiety
- Increase of oxygen to the brain so your mind can be on high alert in this state of emergency
- Your neocortex scans your memory banks to analyze experiences of the past, causing you to engage in obsessive thinking
There’s no predator or lion threatening you, but you’re reacting to the loss of your primary attachment. While there isn’t a real physical threat, your body still prepares you for one. Abandonment arouses your body’s self-defense system, reactivates old emotional memories and can trigger abandonment anxieties from
Clinging, obsessing and plotting to win the ex back
Human beings are wired to connect. We have an inborn need for attachment. When we are suddenly cut off from our primary attachment, this energy that was once used in the relationship gets thwarted. We react by clinging which only creates suffering. But it’s important tor recognize, this energy is passion. And it’s a matter of redirecting that energy (and no, not towards your ex).
When we get into our heads and start obsessing, ruminating, or plotting ways to either get revenge or win our ex back – this is all energy, passion, that’s misdirected. When you recognize this, you embark on the next step of healing.
What has been your experience with abandonment? Does this resonate? In the next blog, I’ll explore different ways on how to start dealing the withdrawal symptoms and how to redirect the obsessive energy into an empowering practice.