Breaking up can be hard to do – especially if you have got used to life with your now-ex partner. But a study has shown that it is actually possible to be addicted to your ex – which might explain some of the feelings we go through during a split, but why is this?
A study took ten women and five men who had just been dumped. They all answered a questionnaire to measure the intensity of their attachment to their ex – after all, the study wouldn’t work if they didn’t actually like their ex!
The fifteen people, having all scored high for ‘passionate love,’ were then given a brain scan to see what was going on with their emotions.
The scan showed that areas of the brain associated with intense romantic feelings, attachment, physical pain, anxiety, and distress were all triggered. However, the areas associated with gains and losses and with craving and addiction were also active.
This all showed how these abandoned lovers were still deeply attached to their exes – as well as having real physical and mental pain as a result of the split. However, it was the activity in areas of the brain previously associated with drug abuse that raised a few eyebrows – it seems that you really can crave the ‘fix’ that your ex offers.
So what causes this?
Scientists understand that barriers to your romantic feelings can increase passion. It’s why people say absence makes the heart grow fonder, and is all to do with how delaying a reward – in this case being with your ex – alters the dopamine response in the brain. This may seem like your brain is playing a trick on you when you really need it to be on your side, but it is not the only common reaction from rejected lovers.
It is also possible to suffer from what is known as ‘abandonment rage’ – which causes heightened blood pressure, increased heart rate, and suppression of the immune system. This all creates a confusing situation where you can end up feeling anger and love at the same time!
However, this phase passes and tends to slip into melancholy and depression. In fact, 40% of people who have been dumped by a partner in the last 8 weeks show clinically measurable signs of depression!
This all seems like your own brain is kicking you when you are already down, but scientists believe there is a real reason for this. There is a belief that these feelings of loss are all there to motivate you to try and win your ex back! Experts believe this is so as to save on the time and effort that went into creating the relationship. If we just go around splitting up from people with no feelings of loss it could be tough to work through problems and get to the point where you could raise a family. It all comes down to genetics and the need to reproduce!
Even the rage response has been shown to have a real reason behind it. Obviously, in this case, it is not going to help win an ex back, but it can help to increase the estrangement between you and make it easier for you to move on.
Meanwhile, the feelings of despair may be there to signal to friends and family that you need some support, while depression may help you plan your future. In fact, scientists show that mildly depressed people make clearer assessments about themselves and others.
Not everyone will go through each of these responses, but they are pretty common for many people. So, what sort of people are the best at bouncing back from a broken heart?
Experts say that people who are more self-confident, had a strong attachment to their parents in childhood, and those who find it easy to make new friends are best at bouncing back from rejection.