7 Ways It May Be Physically Hard To Move On After A Breakup, According To Experts

by Kristine Fellizar
Originally Published: 
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If you've ever felt like moving on after a breakup seems impossible, you're not wrong. According to experts, there is a science to it. Despite your efforts to move forward with your life, your body can actually have a way of preventing you from getting over a breakup.

"Relationships are soothing, while breakups are just the opposite," Julie Melillo, life and dating coach, tells Bustle. "Your attachment system forms a bond when you fall in love. This person literally becomes a part of you because this attachment system exists in the brain."

To understand why breakups are so hard, it's important to know the science behind falling in love. A 2010 study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that falling in love can be addictive, due to the chemicals released from the brain. When you fall in love, your brain lights up and "euphoria-inducing chemicals" like dopamine, oxytocin, adrenaline, and vasopressin, get released. These chemicals are responsible for making you feel attached to your partner.

"To your brain, a relationship feels like someone feeding you delicious chocolate throughout the the day," Melillo says. "But during a breakup, the attachment system in your brain is ripped apart and basically goes haywire." It's why a breakup usually feels like a shock to the system, and why getting over one isn't easy. Here's how your body can prevent you from moving on, according to experts.


Your Brain Reacts To A Breakup The Same Way It Does To Physical Pain

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"Breakups are hard on both the brain and the body," Dr. Catherine Jackson, licensed clinical psychologist and board certified neurotherapist, tells Bustle. "As with physical pain, the brain prioritizes the pain of a breakup, which is why your mind ruminates on it." The same brain regions that are activated when your body is in physical pain get activated when you're going through emotional pain like a breakup. "Your brain is literally in pain, which is why the breakup feels so hard," Dr. Jackson says.


Your Brain May Still Be Craving Your Partner

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Being in love floods the brain with feel-good hormones, while sex floods the brain with bonding hormones. As Christine Scott-Hudson, licensed psychotherapist and owner of Create Your Life Studio, tells Bustle, these hormones reward the "pleasure centers" in the brain in the same way some drugs do. "Feelings of euphoria are evident when you are actually with your lover, which translates to similar withdrawal symptoms [as with substance use disorder]" Scott-Hudson says. "It makes sense that breakups feel as awful as they do when you look at the hormones involved."


People Are Wired For Social Connection

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"Wired for social connection, we seek a partner," therapist Brittany Bouffard, LCSW, tells Bustle. "Then, often based on our adult attachment style (secure, anxious, avoidant, or disorganized), we might push them away in the end or cling tightly." Both "strategies" of coping after a breakup, which can come as a result of our attachment style, can make a situation even harder. Some people will cut their former partner completely out of their lives, while others "cling so tightly they get rope burn, want to call over and over again, and can't stop the thoughts or tears," she says.


Your Emotional Memories Keep You Hanging On

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“Just as your muscles create muscle memory when you work out, your body also creates emotional memories when you're with someone in a relationship for an extended period of time," Belinda Ginter, certified emotional kinesiologist, tells Bustle. Special moments like your first date, important places to you like your favorite bar to go to together, or even songs and movies, all create emotional memories. It's why hanging out at your favorite bar post-breakup can make you feel really emotional. "When a break up happens, it feels like you've been torn away from not one thing you loved, but all things you loved," Ginter says. "Your emotional memories want to take you back there because the memories created there were meaningful and pleasant. However, this can also create a hopeless feeling post-breakup if it lasts too long.”


People Have Evolved To Fear Rejection

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"We are designed for survival, and survival means not being kicked out of the village," Bouffard says. "Even in our modern age, a breakup where we’re rejected elicits the same feelings of shame and fears of being kicked out, unwanted, and left to fend for ourselves." Our bodies aren't made to deal with rejection very well. In fact, a 2010 University of Amsterdam study found links between social rejection and a response in the parasympathetic nervous system. Participants who felt rejected by their peers literally felt it in their hearts. Some felt their heart rates slow down for a bit.


Women Are Wired To Invest More Of Themselves Into Relationships, So It's Harder To Move On

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A 2015 study published in the journal Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences found that women may experience more emotional and physical pain after a breakup than men. According to researchers, this may happen because women have evolved to invest more into their relationship than men. Due to biology, women tend to be a little more selective when it comes to choosing a partner. So when a relationship with a "high-quality" partner ends, it can hit really hard.


Your Body Just Needs Time

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Healing and moving on from a breakup is a process. Sometimes, that process takes time. In fact, a study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology found that most people can recover from a breakup within 11 weeks. According to researchers, it takes about three months for people to regain their sense of self, experience growth on their own, and put themselves back into a more positive place. These types of major shifts don't just happen overnight.

Breakups are tough, and unfortunately your body doesn't really make it any easier for you. The good news is, you won't be in a miserable state forever. With time, you can heal and move on.

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