This is a special guest post by Ed Latimore. Ed has made it his mission to take what he’s learned the hard way – growing up in public housing, competing in professional boxing, going to college as an adult for a physics degree, and getting over addiction – and breaking it down so that you can learn it the easy way.
The longer you’re with someone, the harder a breakup hits you. Time eventually heals all, but there are some things you can do to more quickly get over someone.
Getting rejected is a difficult thing to deal with, but it happens to the best of us. Show me a person who’s never been dumped, and I’ll show you a unicorn.
I’ve been dumped twice in my life. Both times, I cried like a bitch. Also, I once lost it during a mutual break up and I drunkenly cried in front of everyone at a party.
To put this in perspective, the only other time I cried as an adult was when my father died. Being dumped is so stressful that it makes even the most stoic of us lose control of our emotions.
Why Are Breakups So Painful?
A breakup is the ultimate rejection – and NO ONE likes rejection. It’s deeply ingrained in us to find social rejection painful, because at one point in human history, it meant death.
Given the harsh conditions that humans evolved in, being shunned from your tribe tremendously lowered your odds of survival. In today’s environment, rejection doesn’t carry with it the same risks, but our brains have yet to catch up to the change.
A study conducted by the University of Amsterdam looked at what happens when we experience an unexpected rejection – the type of rejection that getting dumped is most like.
What they found shouldn’t surprise anyone who’s ever been on the receiving end of a rejection:
“Study participants were presented with a series of unfamiliar faces and were asked to predict whether they would be liked by the other person. Following each judgment, participants were provided with feedback indicating that the person they had viewed had either accepted or rejected them. Feedback was associated with transient heart rate slowing and a return to baseline that was considerably delayed in response to unexpected social rejection. Our results reveal that the processing of unexpected social rejection is associated with a sizable response of the parasympathetic nervous system.”
To a normal threat, the body’s sympathetic nervous system activates the fight or flight. The hypothalamus activates the sympathetic nervous system, dumping cortisol and adrenaline into our bloodstream.
Our heartbeat quickens, strengthening the flow of blood and hormones to our vital organs. Our airways open. With each breath, we are more alert. Our pupils dilate. In the presence of danger, we are prepared to fight.
This is not what happens when you’re dumped.
The parasympathetic nervous system most notably controls your heart rate, breathing, and regulates digestion. The study participants experienced a sudden response of their parasympathetic nervous system. What does this mean?
- The vagus nerve sends a signal to the heart and stomach.
- Those butterflies we feel in our stomach is the contract of digestive muscles.
- Our airways constrict, making it harder to breathe.
- Our heart rate slows down so much that it literally feels like our heart is breaking.
The more unexpected the dumping, the more severe this parasympathetic reaction is. The more you feel like your world is falling apart, your soul is breaking, and that you’ll never be whole again.
How To Deal With This Painful Feeling Of Breaking Up
All things pass. Nothing lasts forever.
The raging river of passion eventually turns into a stream, and then into nothing at all. That is the way of romance – eventually something causes it to end. These days, that something will most likely not be death.
You’re going to get dumped one day.
Maybe you’ve already been dumped and you still haven’t gotten over it.
It sucks, but there are ways to manage the damage. Next time you get the “I think I need some space” speech, this article will help.
The last time I broke up with someone was in 2007 after a 4 year relationship. I didn’t follow this protocol and the results were predictably disastrous.
In fact, memories of that tragic experience and the shitty relationship I rushed into afterwards is what prompted the development of this guide.
Take Tylenol To Ease The Pain Of Breaking Up
The pain from a break up is real. So real, in fact, that taking Tylenol (acetaminophen) helps to alleviate it.
A 2010 research study found that acetaminophen can reduce physical and neural responses associated with the pain of social rejection, whether in romantic relationships, friendships or otherwise.
“These two types of pain – physical and social – may rely on some of the same behavioral and neural mechanisms that register pain-related effect. To the extent that these pain processes overlap, acetaminophen, a physical pain suppressant that acts through central (rather than peripheral) neural mechanisms, may also reduce behavioral and neural responses to social rejection. In two experiments, participants took acetaminophen or placebo daily for 3 weeks. Doses of acetaminophen reduced reports of social pain on a daily basis (Experiment 1). We used functional magnetic resonance imaging to measure participants’ brain activity (Experiment 2), and found that acetaminophen reduced neural responses to social rejection in brain regions previously associated with distress caused by social pain and the affective component of physical pain (dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, anterior insula). Thus, acetaminophen reduces behavioral and neural responses associated with the pain of social rejection, demonstrating substantial overlap between social and physical pain.“
While this is a case of treating the symptom rather than the disease, it’s a quick dose that can make it easier to deal with the initial blow back from an unexpected break up.
The road to recovery is already long and hard. There’s no reason to unnecessarily endure extra suffering.
Leaving with dignity is the first step to getting over someone
So you just discovered that it’s not going to work out. Your first reaction is likely volatile. You want to scream, shout, call names, crash an airplane.
Handle the situation with class and dignity. This isn’t to make the other person feel a certain way. They’ve made their choice and you aren’t it.
It’s not malicious. It’s a simple case of choosing their desires over yours.
The benefit of behaving with dignity is that it can actually influence how you feel. While we smile in response to feeling good, it’s been proven in multiple studies that the inverse works just as well. You can change your mood by smiling.
Smiling lifts your mood, lowers your blood pressure, and boosts your immune system.
Even a forced smile in the face of tragedy can help you maintain your emotional poise and more quickly recover from something as devastating as a breakup.
“It would appear that the way we feel emotions isn’t just restricted to our brain – there are parts of our bodies that help and reinforce the feelings we’re having,” says Michael Lewis, a co-author of the study. “It’s like a feedback loop.”
Also, keeping your cool makes you a stronger person. If you later decide to be friends, it increases the possibility of that happening. Above all, it allows you to retain your personal power.
A wise man once said, “no one is responsible for how we feel except ourselves.”
You are the only one who decides how you feel about anything.
Without personal power, you resign control of your emotional state to the unpredictable tides of life. They will eventually drown you.
Using technology the right way is how to get over someone
Take advantage of emotionally distant forms of communication like email or texting. Many people hate the idea of breaking up over technology. They give many reasons why, but it’s all nonsense.
The real reason people make a big deal about breaking up from a distance is control.
We believe crying, pleading, yelling and threatening will make the other person reconsider their position. It’s perfectly natural to feel this way, but that doesn’t mean you have to act on it.
What’s the difference between breaking up in person and breaking up online? Is it really that much better to get into a messy ordeal in person? Once you understand the science of breaking up and what your body and mind goes through, it doesn’t make a difference.
If you’re getting dumped, you don’t need to get closure. You don’t need to spend time around them and be friends. You are dealing with something akin to drug withdraw.
Like all addictions, distance and time away from the object of obsession helps you get over it:
“The results show activation of reward systems, previously identified by monetary stimuli, in a natural, endogenous, negative emotion state. Activation of areas involved in cocaine addiction may help explain the obsessive behaviors associated with rejection in love.”
We set up so many dates via phone and text (and cancel quite a few too) that cutting off a relationship that way shouldn’t be too much of a stretch.
I should note here that there are obviously some relationships where this isn’t applicable.
If you live with someone or you’re married to them, then you have to handle things in person. If you’ve taken more than a year of their time, you probably “owe it” to them.
Use your own discretion.
Bury the past to get over someone
You don’t have to burn down the house you shared, but you should get rid of anything your ex gave you. The sight of those things or pictures of you two together will cause pain.
Maybe you don’t want to destroy everything. You can bury it or leave it a friend’s house until you’re over the person.
A breakup is a painful and traumatic experience. You goal is to get over it as quickly as possible. When you relive good memories, you’ll inevitably be forced to deal with the fact that you no longer get to experience them.
While it’s impossible to erase internal memories, it is not impossible to get rid of external reminders and triggers. You’re effectively trying to erase all signs this person was ever in your life.
The longer you can go without an external reminder, the more easily you’ll heal from the trauma.
Think of it like a scab over a wound. If you keep picking the scab off, it will take longer for the wound to heal. Furthermore, when it heals, it will leave a scar. Reminders of the past are the psychological equivalent of ripping the scab off.
Jewelry, games, pictures, clothing, underwear and the like. Put all that shit in a coffin and bury it for 8 to 12 months. By that time, you may decide you want it. Or you can leave the past buried.
Either way, you have to systematically remove any reminder of the person from your life until you’re able to deal with them without the intense, parasympathetic reaction.
Stop having sex with them
If it was a casual fling, keep boning that bridge and don’t burn it. If you seriously dated, keeping the sex running after breaking up is a bad move
For starters, your brain will think you’re still in a relationship. You’ll expect the relationship treatment, but get casual treatment instead. You can’t meet quality people because the ex will take priority.
Instead of meeting a new people, you’re worried about the person who dumped you. This causes irrational jealously. You won’t give a new person your full attention. Instead, you are living in the past.
This can happen without post-relationship hooking up, but it’s impossible to overcome if physical contact continues. In particular, women are more susceptible to this than men.
Give it time
It takes a lot more time than you realize to truly get over someone. A LOT MORE. How long, exactly?
A 2009 study revealed that it takes an average of 18 months for you to completely get over a person. What exactly does it mean to be completely over a person?
Generally speaking, you’re completely over someone when you can be in their presence with no change in your emotion – positive or negative. What we fail to realize is that getting over someone more than just getting into another relationship.
The ultimate goal is emotional neutrality. They effectively cease to exist.
You’re neutral when thinking about the former lover or seeing them causes no reaction. To be fair, many people NEVER reach this stage. If you were in a serious relationship, don’t think you’ll be there in 3, 6, or even 12 months.
Maybe you will, but if you’re like most people, you won’t be. Give yourself enough time to get over someone.
Don’t ask about them
This is not the least important part of getting over someone. It’s just the last thing I thought of.
Don’t get your private-eye on and spy on their social media accounts. Don’t ask anyone how they’re doing or who they’re seeing now.
Just let them exist in their world. You will greatly reduce the time spent in the depressing dregs of recovery. Treat them as if they are effectively dead.
My philosophy on breaking up – and I’ve got more experience than I’d like to admit on both ends of the spectrum – can be summed up as follows: step out, move on, and don’t look back… or get on your back.
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