At some point in our lives, almost every one of uswill have our heart broken.
My patient Kathy planned her weddingwhen she was in middle school.
She would meet her future husband by age 27, get engaged a year later and get married a year after that.
But when Kathy turned 27, she didn't find a husband.
She found a lump in her breast.
She went through many monthsof harsh chemotherapy and painful surgeries, and then just as she was readyto jump back into the dating world, she found a lump in her other breast and had to do it all over again.
Kathy recovered, though, and she was eager to resumeher search for a husband as soon as her eyebrows grew back in.
When you're goingon first dates in New York City, you need to be able to expressa wide range of emotions.
(Laughter) Soon afterwards, she met Rich and fell in love.
The relationship was everythingshe hoped it would be.
Six months later, after a lovely weekend in New England, Rich made reservationsat their favorite romantic restaurant.
Kathy knew he was going to propose, and she could barelycontain her excitement.
But Rich did not proposeto Kathy that night.
He broke up with her.
As deeply as he caredfor Kathy — and he did — he simply wasn't in love.
Kathy was shattered.
Her heart was truly broken, and she now faced yet another recovery.
But five months after the breakup, Kathy still couldn't stopthinking about Rich.
Her heart was still very much broken.
The question is: Why? Why was this incredibly strongand determined woman unable to marshal the sameemotional resources that got her through four yearsof cancer treatments? Why do so many of us flounder when we're tryingto recover from heartbreak? Why do the same coping mechanisms that get us through all kindsof life challenges fail us so miserablywhen our heart gets broken? In over 20 years of private practice, I have seen peopleof every age and background face every manner of heartbreak, and what I've learned is this: when your heart is broken, the same instincts you ordinarily rely on will time and again lead youdown the wrong path.
You simply cannot trustwhat your mind is telling you.
For example, we know from studiesof heartbroken people that having a clear understandingof why the relationship ended is really importantfor our ability to move on.
Yet time and again, when we are offered a simpleand honest explanation like the one Rich offered Kathy, we reject it.
Heartbreak createssuch dramatic emotional pain, our mind tells us the causemust be equally dramatic.
And that gut instinct is so powerful, it can make even the most reasonableand measured of us come up with mysteriesand conspiracy theories where none exist.
Kathy became convincedsomething must have happened during her romantic getaway with Rich that soured him on the relationship, and she became obsessedwith figuring out what that was.
And so she spent countless hours going through every minuteof that weekend in her mind, searching her memory for cluesthat were not there.
Kathy's mind tricked herinto initiating this wild goose chase.
But what compelled her to commit to itfor so many months? Heartbreak is far more insidiousthan we realize.
There is a reason we keep goingdown one rabbit hole after another, even when we know it's goingto make us feel worse.
Brain studies have shown that the withdrawal of romantic love activates the same mechanismsin our brain that get activated when addicts are withdrawingfrom substances like cocaine or opioids.
Kathy was going through withdrawal.
And since she could not havethe heroin of actually being with Rich, her unconscious mind chosethe methadone of her memories with him.
Her instincts told hershe was trying to solve a mystery, but what she was actually doing was getting her fix.
This is what makes heartbreakso difficult to heal.
Addicts know they're addicted.
They know when they're shooting up.
But heartbroken people do not.
But you do now.
And if your heart is broken, you cannot ignore that.
You have to recognize that, as compelling as the urge is, with every trip down memory lane, every text you send, every second you spendstalking your ex on social media, you are just feeding your addiction, deepening your emotional pain and complicating your recovery.
Getting over heartbreak is not a journey.
It's a fight, and your reasonis your strongest weapon.
There is no breakup explanationthat's going to feel satisfying.
No rationale can take awaythe pain you feel.
So don't search for one, don't wait for one, just accept the one you were offeredor make up one yourself and then put the question to rest, because you need that closureto resist the addiction.
And you need something else as well: you have to be willing to let go, to accept that it's over.
Otherwise, your mindwill feed on your hope and set you back.
Hope can be incredibly destructivewhen your heart is broken.
Heartbreak is a master manipulator.
The ease with which it gets our mindto do the absolute opposite of what we need in order to recover is remarkable.
One of the most common tendencieswe have when our heart is broken is to idealize the person who broke it.
We spend hours remembering their smile, how great they made us feel, that time we hiked up the mountainand made love under the stars.
All that does is make our lossfeel more painful.
We know that.
Yet we still allow our mind to cyclethrough one greatest hit after another, like we were being held hostage by our ownpassive-aggressive Spotify playlist.
(Laughter) Heartbreak will make those thoughtspop into your mind.
And so to avoid idealizing, you have to balance them out by remembering their frown, not just their smile, how bad they made you feel, the fact that after the lovemaking, you got lost coming down the mountain, argued like crazyand didn't speak for two days.
What I tell my patientsis to compile an exhaustive list of all the waysthe person was wrong for you, all the bad qualities, all the pet peeves, and then keep it on your phone.
(Laughter) And once you have your list, you have to use it.
When I hear even a hint of idealizing or the faintest whiffof nostalgia in a session, I go, “Phone, please.
” (Laughter) Your mind will try to tell youthey were perfect.
But they were not, and neither was the relationship.
And if you want to get over them, you have to remind yourself of that, frequently.
None of us is immune to heartbreak.
My patient Miguel was a 56-year-oldsenior executive in a software company.
Five years after his wife died, he finally felt readyto start dating again.
He soon met Sharon, and a whirlwind romance ensued.
They introduced each otherto their adult children after one month, and they moved in together after two.
When middle-aged people date, they don't mess around.
It's like “Love, Actually”meets “The Fast and the Furious.
” (Laughter) Miguel was happierthan he had been in years.
But the night beforetheir first anniversary, Sharon left him.
She had decided to move to the West Coastto be closer to her children, and she didn't wanta long-distance relationship.
Miguel was totally blindsidedand utterly devastated.
He barely functioned at workfor many, many months, and he almost lost his job as a result.
Another consequence of heartbreakis that feeling alone and in pain can significantly impairour intellectual functioning, especially when performing complex tasksinvolving logic and reasoning.
It temporarily lowers our IQ.
But it wasn't just the intensityof Miguel's grief that confused his employers; it was the duration.
Miguel was confused by this as well and really quite embarrassed by it.
“What's wrong with me?”he asked me in our session.
“What adult spends almost a yeargetting over a one-year relationship?” Actually, many do.
Heartbreak shares all the hallmarksof traditional loss and grief: insomnia, intrusive thoughts, immune system dysfunction.
Forty percent of people experienceclinically measurable depression.
Heartbreak is a complexpsychological injury.
It impacts us in a multitude of ways.
For example, Sharon was both very social and very active.
She had dinners at the house every week.
She and Miguel went on camping tripswith other couples.
Although Miguel was not religious, he accompanied Sharonto church every Sunday, where he was welcomedinto the congregation.
Miguel didn't just lose his girlfriend; he lost his entire social life, the supportive communityof Sharon's church.
He lost his identity as a couple.
Now, Miguel recognized the breakuphad left this huge void in his life, but what he failed to recognize is that it left far more than just one.
And that is crucial, not just because it explainswhy heartbreak could be so devastating, but because it tells us how to heal.
To fix your broken heart, you have to identify these voidsin your life and fill them, and I mean all of them.
The voids in your identity: you have to reestablish who you areand what your life is about.
The voids in your social life, the missing activities, even the empty spaces on the wall where pictures used to hang.
But none of that will do any good unless you prevent the mistakesthat can set you back, the unnecessary searches for explanations, idealizing your ex instead of focusingon how they were wrong for you, indulging thoughts and behaviorsthat still give them a starring role in this next chapter of your life when they shouldn't be an extra.
Getting over heartbreak is hard, but if you refuse to be misledby your mind and you take steps to heal, you can significantly minimizeyour suffering.
And it won't just be youwho benefit from that.
You'll be more present with your friends, more engaged with your family, not to mention the billions of dollarsof compromised productivity in the workplace that could be avoided.
So if you know someone who is heartbroken, have compassion, because social support has been foundto be important for their recovery.
And have patience, because it's going to take them longerto move on than you think it should.
And if you're hurting, know this: it's difficult, it is a battlewithin your own mind, and you have to be diligent to win.
But you do have weapons.
You can fight.
And you will heal.