I have a question for you:
Would you rather break an arm or be broken up with? We asked our Twitter followers this question and 76% said they would rather break an arm, while 24% said they would rather be broken up with.
This response is stunning, because breaking an arm is painful, expensive, and has a big effect on your life.
Yet, for most people, the metaphorical breaking of our heart hurts worse than physical pain and there is science to back this up.
Why Breakups Hurt So Much
Researcher Naomi Eisenberg at UCLA discovered that social pain (such as being rejected and let down by others) and physical pain are felt in the same parts of the brain.
In other words, the brain can’t tell the difference between the pain of a breakup and the pain of a broken arm. When I read this study, it was like a light-bulb going off. I had an extremely hard time in high school and college fitting in, and I just never really felt like I belonged anywhere. Most of my friends rushed the Greek system or played sports, and I couldn’t find my place. So, I escaped into my books and into my technical skills and science, but there was a lot of pain there for me from feeling rejected by my peers.
When I read this study, it made me realize that the hurt I felt from being left out was not something I made up; it was real.
If you’ve ever felt broken by a lack of social connection or the sudden loss of a relationship that you depended on, know that your pain is real too and, just like with most physical injuries, there are actions you can take to feel better.
How to Heal Social Pain
The challenging thing about dealing with breakups and other forms of social rejection is that, unlike with a broken arm, you can’t go to a doctor, receive treatment or be told an approximate date that you are going to be healed. Recovery takes time, butluckily, researchers have discovered a few strategies to speed up the process.
#1 Reflect on your breakup and newly single status
One of the effects of breaking up that is the most difficult to cope with is losing your identity as your ex’s partner. Research shows that taking some time to talk with a friend about why your breakup happened and who you are going to be moving forward can help you to heal faster than if you keep your hurt and confused feelings to yourself.
#2 Invest more in your other relationships
Because humans are social creatures, studies have found that much of our mood stability and happiness comes from our relationships. When you experience a breakup, you need to replace the positive, connection hormones you got from your ex by strengthening your relationships with other people.
#3 Keep your distance
While it may be tempting to stay in touch with your ex or worse, stalk them on social media, studies show that we need to create space between us and the person who hurt us in order to overcome the emotional pain. Once you no longer cringe at the thought of your ex, then you’re ready to develop a friendship with them.
If you have social pain, you are not alone. My entire mission at the Science of People is to give you tools to find a community of people just like you who will give you unconditional support. I feel you, I see you, and I am with you.
About Vanessa Van Edwards
Lead Investigator, Science of People
I’ve always wanted to know how people work, and that’s what Science of People is about. What drives our behavior? Why do people act the way they do? And most importantly, can you predict and change behavior to be more successful? I think the answer is yes. More about Vanessa.
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