Why Does Love Hurt?by Isabel Thottam
Falling in love has its ups and downs–quite literally. When we’re in love, we listen to love songs, we feel motivated to do and try new things, and we feel like we’re “on top of the world” or “head over heels” in love. But, when we go through a breakup or lose someone we love, we feel a pain deep within ourselves.
But why do we feel pain (even though it’s not a physical pain) when we experience heartbreak or lose the feeling of love? Does the pain actually occur in our heart–hence the term, “broken heart”–or is it just in our minds?
Here’s a look at what happens to our brains when we experience why love hurts.
Our brain is experiencing withdrawal
When we experience feelings of love, our brain releases hormones that it finds “chemically pleasing” in the brain’s reward center. So when we experience a breakup or lose someone we love, it’s only natural that we’d feel the opposite.
Take, for example, the fact that some scientists compare love to addiction–when someone becomes addicted to cocaine or heroine, they experience pleasure from the release of chemicals in the brain. When the source is removed, the brain experiences withdrawal, hence the feeling of pain when it’s no longer releasing those hormones that create the sense of euphoria.
We lose the sense of attachment
When we fall in love, our brain starts to bond with the subject that we find chemically pleasing. The release of hormones in our body can create a variety of feelings, from euphoria, to pleasure, to bonding. This is why we often hear of different types or phases of love: passionate love, sexual attraction or lust, and deep, committed love.
Love can be incredibly painful especially if your brain has bonded into the deep committed love you might experience during a long-term relationship or marriage. Its removing that bond, or dependency, your brain has made on the release of those chemicals that causes it to go into withdrawal, hence the feelings of pain when a relationship ends or your lose someone you love.
Love does actually hurt
Some researchers have studied why love literally hurts by examining the connections between social and physical pain.
By studying neuroimages of the active areas in our brain when physical pain gets processed, researchers have seen that there is a considerable overlap with the same regions involved when experiencing social anguish. This means that love does actually hurt in a similar fashion to how we experience physical pain when we, say, break a bone or hit our shin against furniture. But, the two are different in the sense that, while a bruise or physical pain might disappear in time, the feeling of a loss of love can linger, which is why it can hurt even after a lot of time has passed.
Broken hearts are real
The truth is: broken hearts are real. We often hear this condition referred to as “broken heart syndrome” and we’ve read about what seemed like coincidental cases or have watched dramatic episodes on television where a patient dies from a broken heart.
But, medically speaking, the problem is known as “stress cardiomyopathy” and though it’s a rare heart condition, it’s a lethal one that is caused by acute emotional distress.
So if you’re having trouble moving on from a relationship or loss of love, don’t feel like what you’re experiencing isn’t real: the truth is, love does hurt, but that doesn’t mean the pain won’t heal or that you won’t be able to experience love again.