Have you ever had your heart broken? More likely everybody has had. A broken heart is a common metaphor used to describe the intense emotional pain or suffering one feels after losing a loved one, whether through death, divorce, breakup, physical separation, betrayal, or romantic rejection.
The phrase refers to the physical pain one may feel in the chest as a result of that. Although “heartbreak” ordinarily does not imply any physical defect in the heart, there is a condition known as “Takotsubo cardiomyopathy” (broken heart syndrome), where a traumatizing incident triggers the brain to distribute chemicals that weaken heart tissue. Several psychological models have been proposed to explain the process of a relationship breakup, many suggesting that ‘relationship dissolution occurs in stages’.
In many legends and fictional tales, characters die after suffering a devastating loss. But even in reality people die from what appears to be a broken heart. Broken heart syndrome is commonly blamed for the death of a person whose spouse is already deceased, but the cause is not always so clear-cut. The condition can be triggered by sudden emotional stress caused by a traumatic breakup or the death of a loved one. Broken heart syndrome is clinically different from a heart attack because the patients have few risk factors for heart disease and were previously healthy prior to the heart muscles weakening. The recovery rates for those suffering from “broken heart syndrome” are faster than those who had heart attacks and complete recovery to the heart is achieved within two weeks.
Usually breakup doesn’t happen out of the blue. There are some symptoms, stages, leading to it. Leo Tolstoy in his Anna Karenina said “Every happy family is happy the same way, but every unhappy family is unhappy its own way”. There is no classification for breakup stages, but often there are five phases leading ultimately up to a breakup:
- Dissatisfaction – one or both partners grow dissatisfied with the relationship
- Exposure – both partners mutually become aware of the problems in the relationship
- Negotiation – both partners attempt to negotiate a solution to problems
- Resolution and transformation – both partners apply the outcome of their negotiation
- Termination – proposed resolution fails to rectify issues and no further solutions are accepted or applied
Just one breakup story everybody knows about
In May 1998, Jennifer Aniston began dating actor Brad Pitt. They married on July 29, 2000, in a private wedding ceremony in Malibu. For a few years, their marriage was considered the rare Hollywood success. However, the couple announced their separation on January 6, 2005. Pitt and Aniston were seen together publicly after announcing their separation, even at a dinner party for Aniston’s 36th birthday, and friends of the couple had declared they were reconciling. Aniston, however, filed for divorce on March 25, 2005. It was finalized on October 2, 2005. During this period there was intense speculation in the media that Pitt had been unfaithful to Aniston with his Mr. & Mrs. Smith co-star, Angelina Jolie.
In the following months, the public’s reaction towards the divorce was reported in the press. The story became the headline news of media shows such as Entertainment Tonight and Access Hollywood, and made the front-pages of tabloid magazines for years, continuing till this day. ‘Team Aniston’ and ‘Team Jolie’ T-shirts appeared, with ‘Team Aniston’ shirts out-selling the ‘Team Jolie’ shirts 4:1. Aniston revealed that her divorce prompted her to reach out to her mother, Nancy, from whom she was estranged for nearly a decade. They initially became estranged when Nancy spoke about her daughter on a television show and later wrote a book entitled, From Mother and Daughter to Friends: A Memoir (1999). Aniston has also stated she was devastated by the death of her longtime therapist, whose work helped make her separation from Pitt easier. Aniston said her relationship with Pitt, which she does not regret, was “seven very intense years together” and that “it was a beautiful, complicated relationship.”
Philosophical speculations that hardly make the breakup easier
For many people having a broken heart is something that may not be recognized at first, as it takes time for an emotional or physical loss to be fully acknowledged. As Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson states in his When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals:
Human beings are not always aware of what they are feeling. Like animals, they may not be able to put their feelings into words. This does not mean they have no feelings. Sigmund Freud once speculated that a man could be in love with a woman for six years and not know it until many years later. Such a man, with all the goodwill in the world, could not have verbalized what he did not know. He had the feelings, but he did not know about them. It may sound like a paradox — paradoxical because when we think of a feeling, we think of something that we are consciously aware of feeling. As Freud put it in his 1915 article The Unconscious: “It is surely of the essence of an emotion that we should be aware of it. Yet it is beyond question that we can ‘have’ feelings that we do not know about.”
Regarding the sadness of loss and heartbreak, the Buddha had the following admonition: “O, monks! Why should every female, male, layperson, or priest because they are hurt always consider that all things they love would one day go away from them? What is the advantage of taking the said matter into consideration? Hearken, monks! All fondness and love existing in the beings lead them to perform physical, verbal or mental bad deeds. Upon having always taken such matter into consideration, the being will be able to leave or lighten such fondness and love. O, monks! That is the advantage that every female, male, layperson, or priest should always consider that all things they love would one day go away from them”.
This biblical reference highlights the issues of pain surrounding a broken heart: Psalm 69:20 “Insults have broken my heart and left me weak, I looked for sympathy but there was none; I found no one to comfort me”. In this Psalm, King David says that insults have broken his heart, not loss or pain. It is also popular belief that rejection, major or minor, can break an individual’s heart. This heartbreak can be greatly increased if rejected by a loved one or someone whom you respect.
Plays of William Shakespeare feature characters dying from a broken heart, such as Ahenobarbus and Lady Montague – though Rosalind claims (of men at least) that ‘these are all lies: men have died from time to time, and worms have eaten them, but not for love’.
Depending on the emotional attachment, healing from a breakup can be a long process with multiple stages, which may include: sanctioning adequate time to recover, improving intrapersonal relationships and, ultimately, finding the motivation necessary to dismiss the breakup itself. Bottomline, you have to release your past, forgive yourself and approach new relationships with a fresh perspective and clearer vision
But we have to remember that there is always blessing in disguise. Positive psychology stresses the up-side to relationship breakup. Lots of people say about positive changes in their lives from the break-up and report more growth. They see themselves as a person in the world, standing alone facing his future, having to make his own choices from the new position of unwanted freedom. It’s an opportunity, process of self-rediscovery and independent expansion of self.