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How to Recover from Romantic Heartbreak? (scientificamerican.com)
153 points by yarapavan 39 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 86 comments



Not persuaded that the author's advice to rationalize the faults of your ex is sufficient or necessary for "recovery."

I would propose generally that the suffering of any breakup (or loss) is proportional to how much you depended on the other persons reflected view of you for your own idea of self. Getting past it is more of an exercise in self-acceptance, self-forgiveness, and self-improvement than simply knocking down the other to boost yourself up.

If you identified as a partner, husband, father, boyfriend, etc. then the loss of that feels like a loss of self. But if the person in your life was just that: another person, in your life, then you can still miss them, but nothing intrinsic to who you are was lost. You are not broken, shattered, or harmed. In this context, suffering is the effect of a residual belief about the completeness of yourself, and has diminishingly little to do with the other person at all.

Recovery is not "healing," from a "wound," rather, it is resetting your perspective and accepting who you are as self-originating - and not as reflected by another.

Too often, Pascal's maxim "to understand all is to forgive all," is advice given without the necessary condition that you must apply it to yourself first - otherwise it's just a recipe for obsessive thoughts. I would say to someone suffering from a broken heart, whatever it might entail, start with the desire to forgive yourself and whatever happens next, the journey alone is probably going to be worth it.


Having gone through a breakup of two marriages now, I would say this is remarkably on point.

One thing that I still find myself at odds with is the loss of romantic companionship. It's not a feeling of a wound per se, but it does make you question your romantic value in the world. It can be easy to let yourself get sucked into a negative thought spiral if you're not conscious or aware of it. That's just my $0.02.


> If you identified as a partner, husband, father, boyfriend, etc. then the loss of that feels like a loss of self. But if the person in your life was just that: another person, in your life, then you can still miss them, but nothing intrinsic to who you are was lost. You are not broken, shattered, or harmed.

But the whole thing about a good relationship is that it creates a new, third entity -- a we, that lives aside the old you and I. It's that feeling of creation that makes the relationship so fulfilling. And that's why the end of the relationship is painful; it means bearing witness to a kind of death. Even if your own identity comes out unchanged, you've still experienced a very real loss.


What I like about HN is that comments are frequently even better than the linked content. This is a fine example.


Reminds me of this note by Osho: The capacity to be alone is the capacity to love. It may look paradoxical to you, but it's not. It is an existential truth: only those people who are capable of being alone are capable of love, of sharing, of going into the deepest core of another person--without possessing the other, without becoming dependent on the other, without reducing the other to a thing, and without becoming addicted to the other. They allow the other absolute freedom, because they know that if the other leaves, they will be as happy as they are now. Their happiness cannot be taken by the other, because it is not given by the other.


It can be your self when it represent a lifelong bonding, without that person there's no you anymore, she/he was your emotional outlet, your happiness intake.

One can rationalize it and see that it's a distortion of your own perception of reality. I'm still recovering and at times my mind accepts that it wasn't a possible future. I can sense part of my brain unlocked. As if grief was a shutdown of some systems, these probably impede pleasures of living (the one you needed the other to share with).


This is very good advice. However, healing will always take time and experience.


My rough estimate is half the time of the relationship. Of course healing is its own journey of ups and downs...


In my experience, length of the relationship doesn't really correlate with length of recovery.


Agreed. I’ve had two serious relationships before my current engagement. Both lasted around two years.

After the first one ended, I bounced back fairly quickly because I was so focused on losing weight and studying investing that I adapted to a new sense of self and wasn’t bothered by the breakup anymore.

The second breakup resulted in a lot of unproductive wallowing in self-pity. Would not recommend.

Anybody going through a breakup needs to find a self improvement project, pronto. Go exercise, or learn to play a musical instrument, or sign up for dancing classes, or head over to Adafruit/SparkFun and see what all that Maker hubbub is all about.

As soon as you see yourself in a different light, you will have already moved on.


> We might accept, on an intellectual level, that by focusing on our ex’s faults we’re doing something important but it can still feel wrong (unpleasant), unbalanced, unfair, and even disloyal.

Of course it "can" feel unbalanced because it is.

The author's suggestion that recognizing in a heartbreak state we already have an imbalanced focus kindof mitigates the problem... but I can't help suspect there's more to it. People who are in a relationship and don't choose to end it usually are there because they understand at some level the tradeoffs between the imperfection of the relationship (or any relationship) and the great parts of it, and it's a net positive. So, unless you were thinking of ending it yourself, when it ends, it's a net loss, and trying to talk yourself out of that is, fundamentally, a trick.

If you've practiced trying to be internally honest when it comes to relationships, part of your brain is going to know you're playing sour grapes and that seems likely to undermine the effort.

And if you haven't trained yourself to watch for when/how focusing on someone else's faults is something you might not do honestly, good luck with conflict in a relationship. :/


> ... part of your brain is going to know you're playing sour grapes and that seems likely to undermine the effort.

It totally doesn't. I've been there. Even though you conciously know that negativity toward your ex is somewhat fake it still helps you fix your brain.

Romantic love is nothing else than addction to a person. You don't expect as a recovering addict to stay "on speaking terms" with cocaine nor remembering it fondly will help you to recover better because that's the honest way and keeps your integrity.

You should remember as much bad as possible and see bad in things you thought were good. Also you should talk about your tragic falling out, with anonymous strangers, eventually you'll get bored with your own story and move on.


The long term implications of "expediting" recovery in this way are troubling to me.

It's natural to feel grief when you lose something in your life that was important, valuable and made you happy. You could shortcut that process by convincing yourself it didn't really make you happy, but that is really nothing more than a form of escapism. The pain of loss is one of the most important signals that something impacted your happiness in an enduring way, and that's necessary for making the right decisions in the future.


We're talking about escapism here; the case discussed in the opener was of a woman whose grieving period lasted for half as long as the actual relationship.

The shortcut issue is directly addressed. negative reappraisals are used to balance out the unrealistic filter on the relationship that is causing the unusually long grieving period; not to convince yourself that the relationship was bad, but to make you realize it wasn't all chocolates and roses.


> to make you realize it wasn't all chocolates and roses.

Agreed. I always tell myself this whenever I get pangs of nostalgia.


How do you know that's an unusually long grieving period?


The sooner we get rid of the emotion, the better, probably. It’s a bit like arguing that chronic back pain is healthy just because it’s natural.

It’s interesting to consider that technology might be able to solve this. How long till an anti love pill hits the market with few side effects?


> The sooner we get rid of the emotion, the better, probably.

Let's look at how this plays out in the real world. Someone gets dumped because they were a terrible partner. We hope that the pain of loss motivates them to do better in their next relationship. They briefly feel bad, but start using the technique of "negative reappraisal" (the more common term is "blaming the other person"). This rapidly decreases their distress in the short term, but it also makes them avoid looking at their behavior and making changes, so they make the same mistakes in their next relationship, and the cycle repeats.


Perhaps both of you are right in your own way.

It is important and valuable to take time to reflect on how your behavior may have led to the negative outcome and think about how you could better yourself for the future - but take care not to be too self critical!

Many people spend too much time in self pity and sadness over this kind of loss (I'm certainly guilty of this). Once you've done the necessary self-reflection - please start to move on. Hanging on to idealized memories of "we" takes you down a road of pain and not towards the future. Let it go. If "negative reappraisal" helps you let go - when you are ready - so much the better.

Life is short, and your best "dating years" are an even shorter span of time - use them wisely - find someone worthy of you and enjoy your time together.


Going back to the back pain analogy--maybe it's the difference between taking painkillers to manage the pain rather than attempting to address the cause (posture).


Given your analogy, perhaps you mean to say, "negative emotion"? Because I think a better match for removing emotion altogether would be arguing that removing the ability to walk is healthy because you might trip and fall.

I should say as well, "negative emotion, for some definition of negative".


It's disappointing to see this downvoted just because people disagree with it. I feel these emotions are an absolutely essential aspect of being human, and it seems the downvoters agree, but I'd rather see a discussion of why.


At least in my case, I'm tired of the endless attempts some would make to use tech to eliminate aspects of being human. Heartbreak sucks, but it also tends to be a valuable life lesson in my experience.


Imagine the situation were reversed -- when people broke up they didn't get heartbroken, but you could take a pill to make yourself probably feel like crap for months or years after.

Imagine how difficult it would be to convince people in that universe to take that pill after a serious breakup -- that it would be a "valuable life lesson". I don't think I could make a compelling case for it, to be honest.


It's interesting to apply this argument to those who lost limbs and want to use prosthetics. Does it make sense? Why or why not?

(I'm not sure, but the answer doesn't seem so clear-cut.)


I should clarify that I mean the emotional/existential aspects of being human, rather than the physical aspects - using a prosthetic helps with the very real problems of having a physical disability. I suppose you could argue that everything boils down to physical aspects with brain chemistry and whatnot, but that's getting into the philosophical weeds a bit.


Long time.

"Love", in whatever form or meaning you want to take, (AFAIK/IMO) involves far to many systems for anything other than a systemic approach to have an effect (without sever side effects).


I think we already have it, basically.

I suspect you're not going to fall for that attractive stranger if your sympathetic nervous system is calmed down by beta-blockers.


How does one go about getting one's hands on such things?


Yeah, but, what are the side effects of that?


Chronic back pain is a signal about your ergonomic habits.


> The pain of loss is one of the most important signals that something impacted your happiness

Ehhhh kind of bullshit? And then also dangerous.

If something that impacted your happiness is no longer around, why must that result in pain? IMO, the lack of a source of happiness should not result in pain (although it often does). Maybe if it's your last one, or otherwise reduces overall happiness to below threshold values, but I'd say that's a signal you need to diversify your portfolio.

AFAIK, I know far to many people who then also equate pain with happiness, for exactly this thinking. You can stab yourself with a pen. Does that make the pen meaningful, because it can cause you pain?

I'd say the pain of loss is a strong and significant signal that something impacted your happiness, but the happiness itself should the (only) significant signal. Everything else is nuance and seasoning.


You're making a logical error. The article isn't saying that pain is an inevitable result of losing a source of happiness, only that this kind of pain is an indication that something impacted your happiness. If you're having difficulty making the distinction, consider that everyone who lives in Ohio lives in the USA, but not everyone in the USA lives in Ohio.


I'm not disagreeing that it is an indicator, I'm disagreeing that it's an important one. Or, rather, I'm saying that many people treat it as an important one and they probably shouldn't, because it has some pretty severe and detrimental side-effects when you use it as such an indicator.

I think it's kind of like using urination as a measure of hydration in drinks. Yes, it is actually related, but you can drink less- (or de-) hydrating things (beer!), and, you're not drinking things in order to urinate (well, usually).

So it correlates, but I would say, is not a good measure of what you actually care about.


It’s also natural to feel bad when you get sick. That does not mean you should avoid going to the doctor to get he best possible healing process.

As for the “convincing yourself it didn’t really matter” that is not at all what the article suggests. It’s about adjusting the idealistic view you have of the person when looking back at it. No one is perfect, so a heartbroken person telling themselves “I’ll never find anyone like him/her again” or “we where perfect for each other” are dilutions, and unhealthy delusions. Keeping a list reminding you that he/she had a habit of chewing with their mouth open and was a sore loser in sports, is not a way of “convincing yourself it didn’t matter”. It’s a way of keeping you perspective of the relationship grounded and combative unhealthy counter productive dillusions.


Maybe our entire model for romantic relationships is flawed if when they end the most helpful thing to do demonize the ex in our head.

I get the sense that people are more attached to the fantasy of a perfect relationship than they are to the imperfect person they're with who doesn't fit that mold.


> I get the sense that people are more attached to the fantasy of a perfect relationship than they are to the imperfect person they're with who doesn't fit that mold.

Absolutely, but expecting your partner not to cheat on you is not asking for perfection hence the legitimacy of demonizing them.


... so... I'm a professor of clinical psychology.

One of the most troubling things to me about modern therapy is an implicit general paradigm of "whatever works to make a client feel better is good."

Introducing morality into therapy is also a very dangerous thing, so I don't want to quite advocate that either, but sometimes I feel like therapy in the US adopts this implicit competitive-individualist worldview that makes me uncomfortable.

This article evoked similar feelings in me, that I almost never feel comfortable with a client demonizing an ex, regardless of how bad the relationship was. Even when a relationship is abusive and a client definitely needs to get out, I try to frame it in terms of safety or self-love or something like that.

There's many reasons for this. Often even in bad relationships a client bears some responsibility, and I feel like encouraging demonizing kind of ends up avoiding their own problematic patterns of behavior. Also, I think demonizing implicitly assumes this flawed view of people as static and unchanging, which can be problematic itself later. Finally, I think that dwelling on negative feelings is probably unhelpful in the long run, and sometimes can cause people to deny very real positive feelings, or genuine benefits they received.

This study--or at least the article is framed very much in terms of "how do I get over this person." Framed that way, you get one answer. But really in the long term, that's not the most important question with regard to a person's mental wellness or health. It's relatively easy to just "get over someone." It's much harder to come up with an understanding of a relationship that is truly healthy, in a way that improves yourself and your future relationships. I worry that modern therapy is too focused on pragmatic, short-term goals without an awareness of the implicit paradigm that it's operating in.

In the longer term, I'm waiting for empirically-supported therapeutic techniques coming from other cultural milieus that will challenge some of these implicit value assumptions.


> I'm a professor of clinical psychology. > ... > I almost never feel comfortable with a client demonizing an ex, regardless of how bad the relationship was.

That's very sad to hear because that's what actually works. You seem to approach this as if you were responsible for some long term balance of humans and their relationships in general and also carefully accounting who was at fault and how much to use it as motivational tool.

I have personal expeirience of successfully "getting over someone". I got rid of seven years of pretty much unconditional (but mostly unrequited) love in roughly six months.

For me love felt just like an addiction but not to a specific substance but to a specific person. Person you are addicted to is burnt into your neurons. All roads (thoughts) lead to Rome (her). You need to cut those and the best way to do that, I found, was to whenever I noticed I'm thinkig of her, curse her with as much negativity as I could muster, conciously knowing that it was nearly completely undeserved and dishonest. Still it helped me to teach my brain that drifting towards her is a path of thought that ends quickly and unpleasantly. This negativity was completely safe because of the first rule I imposed on myself. Strictly no contact. I kept it for many years till a brief random encounter on the street in company of our respective partners that ended with polite exchange of typical platitudes. I don't hate her and I'd even help her if the problem was serious enough, so negativity didn't leave lasting impact.

I get that you are interested in improving you patient's long term outlook same way as addiction therapist wants to improve life of their patients. But you need to get them roughly clean first.

I hope you try the negativity with some of your patients. It won't make your clients feel good but it will help speed up recovery to a point where they might be receptive to introspection of their approach to relationships.

Another thing that helped me was talking to anonymous people on internet chat and telling them negative parts of my story over and over till I got bored with my story.

I also blindly dated few people until I got bored with that too.

Then I, alone with myself, felt finally happy, first time in many years.

Then I felt ready and met another girl and I built with her much healthier relationship. I learned with her a lot.

... and now she's in prolonged process of dying because of brain cancer ... so I guess don't stress so much about you clients long term well being because life will give them whatever despite your best efforts. And when in doubt, always go with science.


Exactly. There is a big difference between “we tried, things didn’t work out, we grew apart, c’est la vie” and being cheated on.


I didn't say anything about cheating...and the article was about two people who were compatible except that one really wanted to get married and the other didn't.

I think that the cultural expectation that a relationship isn't valid or meaningful unless it results in marriage is part of the issue, but for those that really want to get married I'd hope they realize that not everyone shares that desire.

It's sad to me that in the article's circumstance that the contentious marriage issue would cause the woman to rearrange her opinion of her ex because he didn't want the same thing she did. Helpful for her maybe, but sucks that this is the proscribed method of dealing with people.


What is considered cheating is a cultural construct. My general feeling is that we are too judgmental about it. Accept that humans are weak. Learn to forgive yourself and your partner and move on together.

It’s really not that bad.


You should be able to trust your partner, if they are lying and deceiving to you, yes, it really is that bad.

What kind of relationship do you have with someone if you can't even be honest with the other?


You poor sucker.


Why demonize them? I look at it like this, I don't want to be with someone who doesn't want to be with me. I take back control. No need to demonize anyone.


>Absolutely, but expecting your partner not to cheat on you is not asking for perfection hence the legitimacy of demonizing them.

I see humans as fallible. So, i am ok with my girlfriend sleeping with other guys.

She isn't my prisoner anyway, I've no right to to restrict her from fulfilling her fantasy as long as she isn't hurting anyone, i am fine with it.


> I get the sense that people are more attached to the fantasy of a perfect relationship than they are to the imperfect person they're with who doesn't fit that mold.

This is really common and also a tough nut to crack. Introducing the idea of love as "seeing each other's shit and choosing to put up with it" is somehow significantly less romantic than "everything magically works out beautifully."


I feel a lot of people are also attached to the fantasy of themselves being rather perfect, which makes heartbreak somewhat harder to digest.


Ayup. People should come before relationships.


Modern society doesn't help where we're asked to believe in a lot of fantasy and call it reality (ads, propaganda, religion, etc).

So it's not surprising to me that people balk at the reality of a relationship as opposed to the fantasy that happens to fit their perceived reality.


This article felt all kinds of icky to me. If they truly only focused on those three conditions, only the first condition was in the category of putting distance between yourself and your ex. The other two were just "coming to terms with it" and "distracting onself", respectively.

But using negative reappraisals is just one way to put conceptual distance between yourself and your ex. They might have just been testing the efficacy of creating conceptual distance, not the efficacy of "negative reappraisals" itself. Another way to create conceptual distance is to evolve and change your self, until you realize that the relationship might have been fine for your past self but isn't right for who you have become. And that again is hard and uncomfortable and takes work and time, but at least it isn't demonizing someone else.


All of this seems wrong to me. It's ok to feel feelings, not just ups but also downs. How we bear and cope with losses and "negative" emotions is an important and defining part of the human experience. Imagine a world where the only movies, tv shows, and books allowed were comedies, it would be a much less interesting and much less substantive world. Adopting a "sour grapes" attitude toward the loss of a romantic relationship is not mature, and it is certainly not a healthy coping strategy.

I have to wonder about any advice for dealing with a relationship loss that would be drastically different depending on who initiated a breakup or depending on whether or not the loss occurred due to a death. Nobody would advise dealing with the death of a loved one by regularly thinking about all of the ways that the deceased was shitty and thus one's life was actually better without them around, would they?

As I said, it's ok to feel feelings. What is important here is having feelings that are grounded in reality, having feelings that are part of your life rather than subsuming and taking over your life, and avoiding "negative" feelings pushing you into a spiral of negative self-talk or excessive rumination on the past or on fictional time lines.

People break up, it's a thing that happens. It's important to first recognize that other people can and should have agency over their own lives which is independent from you. It's also important to recognize your own self-worth, your ability to continue living, to have other relationships and to live a rewarding life even when single. It's fine to experience and be brought low by loss, even if it's "just" the ending of a relationship, you don't have to vilify your ex to be able to get beyond that loss. With healthy coping strategies you can integrate that loss into your life, having it be a part of who you are without defining and controlling you.


My best LPT: remove every object (and block every site) that reminds you of the relationship.

The author is trying to achieve an outcome in a patient, not enforce the adherence to some objective truth like "my ex is all right" or "I really did love them and now I don't".

He's trying to find ways to get someone to end a pathological obsession. If a little demonization helps a person get their mind back on track, so much the better.


Well, that kind of removal was a pretty good way to get off Facebook and quit drinking, but the problem is that after 8 years I ended up with a lot of crap that I don't want to just toss simply because it resonates with them.

I may have to leave the country, but that move seems less functional to do that then to just put up with being sad for a couple of years.


After thinking more on this I think that something is missing, the article suggest to make a list with bad things about your partner but this will not help if you are analyzing yourself, trying to find your own mistakes and improving yourself. Putting all the blame on the other may not be the correct thing in some cases.


I think it's less about blame and more about objective recognition that the relationship and/or person was not as perfect as we'd like to think when we're going through heartbreak. There's a quote from Bojack Horseman, "When you look at someone through rose colored glasses, all the red flags just look like flags." I think this suggestion is more about being honest about the negatives that one looked past, even if one was content with the tradeoff.


Yes, I understand that but it seems incomplete, is correct thing to do but it may not be the only thing to do IMO.

But I agree that the point discussed is an important/significant one.


It's a method to stop loving someone not a metod to holistically advance yourself to next level of conciousness. You can do that after you stop being in love with a person you shouldn't be in love with anymore.


This seems likely to apply to extreme non-romantic disappointments too.


We really need a word for non-romantic breakups because losing a very close friend can be just as hurtful, but it seems odd to say you "broke up" and nothing else ("falling out"?) really expresses the severity of the loss.


You could say "heartbroken at the loss of a friend".


I hear people say they broke up with their friend all the time.


Wow. I've only ever had one significant romantic relationship - still together after nearly 30 years. Just as we were coming to the end of our 30s we had an unexpected blooming of the emotional and sexual intensity of our relationship that went on for years. When it eventually fizzled out (the intensity, not the relationship itself) I was heartbroken, and 3 years later I still kinda am, and still find it really hard to accept

I do best when I manage not to think about it at all, but perhaps rewriting the story of that golden age in my head (obvs without demonising my wife) is what will actually work for me


I've got a somewhat different method, which can very loosely be described as acceptance, taking responsibility and growth. There are a few parts to a breakup:

Withdrawal Symptoms

When you first start to have romantic feelings for someone and have those butterflies in your stomach, you are high as fuck on some pretty great chemicals. Just like any addiction, your body builds a resistance to the dosage and forms a dependency. There is nothing you can do about this, except to wait for it to pass (which it will).

Loss of Control

You are thrust into a position where you have no control over the situation and, seemingly, your emotions. You have no control over the situation, accept that. Accept that the other person has decided on a different direction. Don't accept that you are not in control of your emotions. Dealing with heartbreak is categorically a personal enterprise - your opinions on what the other person did or didn't do will do nothing for your own emotional state. Heartbreak is just like hatred: it affects nobody except for the person experiencing that emotion. Gaining control over your emotional state first requires accepting it and the futility of thinking that you can control any external factor that is causing it.

Unacknowledged Guilt

Also known as "closure." This is, one again, a completely internal process and no amount of discussions with your ex will help push it forward. For any normally functioning relationship (read: non-abusive), it takes two to tango. I can't speak to Melissa's (from the article) experience, as I don't have all the details, so I'll share one of my experiences:

It started with an ultimatum, "me or smoking." I honestly tried to quit, but couldn't manage without her support - she wanted nothing to do with it. I had to lie while I failed to deliver on that promise. After two and a half years, of lies, I finally managed to quit and - still partially in withdrawals - I told her that I had made good on the promise. It turned into a pretty horrible fight and she ended it. I [correctly] concluded that ultimatums have no place in relationships, but [incorrectly] concluded that was the end of it. My family and friends were all to happy to feed this delusion, assuming it was helping. It was only when I started correcting them, explaining that I had lied to her for two years that the heartbreak started dissolving. I had to acknowledge my guilt, which curiously gave me back control over the situation: it was no longer something someone else did putting me through those emotions - it was me. Those "what if" scenarios that ran through my head all collapsed into one: "what if I hadn't lied." I might have lost her at the onset, but then I wouldn't have had heartbreak. She might have decided to support me if I asked for help, and I might have quit far sooner. I now have a plan to make sure that I won't face that scenario ever again.

Commit to Grow

Act on what you have discovered about yourself and others. My first lesson was to reject ultimatums, but also to be honest - no matter what the consequences might be for me. There's a millions of tiny things that happen in failed relationships and each of them are an opportunity to grow. You never walk away empty-handed.


You can speed up withdrawal with negativity. Then you don't need all other stuff. You just forget the person, except perhaps as unpleasent expeirience from the past, and can go on to growing unburdened.

Don't worry. You'll not forget lessons learned or the facts just rid yourself of inappropriate feelings.


The article completely ignores the hugely damaging effect this aggressive approach can have (and, I can attest, does have) on the other party.


The fox who longed for grapes, beholds with pain

The tempting clusters were too high to gain;

Grieved in his heart he forced a careless smile,

And cried, ‘They’re sharp and hardly worth my while.’



>If you are trying to get over heartbreak, make a list of the person’s faults as well as of the shortcomings of the actual relationship and to keep that list on their phone.

Sounds like the author is advocating for some illicit activity here.


Their is a typo. It should be your.

The next sentence is "Whenever you find yourself having idealized thoughts and memoires, whip out your phone and read a few reminders in order to balance your perceptions and remind yourself that your ex was not perfect and neither was the relationship."


I have seen some breakups. At some point or another one of the participants dehumanizes the previous partner. It's scary, it's like the propaganda bullet point that is part of the list used to qualify a genocide.

I never did that ; heartbreaks are really damaging to me.

Anecdata, of course.


If dehumanization helps to distance and align with reality, then that's what'll happen.

It could be the catalyst that helps push some folks past the threshold function that would otherwise keep them in the past.


I have issues with this model. I have no doubt that the strategy "works," but I think it lacks a coherent model of why it works. So the recommended strategies are unnecessarily rough or negative, in my view. One thing I agree with in the article is that a heartbroken person is experiencing grief.

Grief is a state that about replanning, essentially. We all have a very nuanced and complicated set of subconscious plans to get all the things that are important to us. Everything from basic survival to social status, we have a model of how to consistently get in our lives. Friends, family, work, personal habits, all of these things interweave to create a complete system for our lives being okay according to us. Of course this can go wrong--we can get stuck believing that key things will never be better, and sink into depression--but I'm talking about psychologically healthy people.

But then sometimes those key factors in your life go away. You lose your job or your mom dies. Well, woven throughout your psychology maybe you were relying on your mom being a bedrock source of safety and support, among uncountable other subtle effects you emotionally anticipated your mom would have on you life. And then she dies, and all that goes away. You don't have a ready replacement for practically any of it--the bedrock of support, the unconditional love you once emotionally leaned on, perhaps. And so you grieve. You reimagine, from a very deep emotional level, what your life will be like. And at first it's almost too painful to bear, because at that moment it just feels like you simply won't have the many gifts from your mom for the rest of your life, and that is terribly painful.

So you go through a complex process of "figuring out," mostly subconsciously, how you're going to get that stuff. Social support gives you hope that maybe you can find support and love in a way that make things ultimately alright. Funny movies give you hope about feeling happy in the future. Remembering her, having a personal relationship with a strongly felt sense of her you still carry with you give you a sense that she may still be a source of wisdom. You lean more on your other family or friends for the same.

In the happy case, as time goes on, most of everything gets solved, and you come to feel like you can live and have a good life without her. The rest stays with you in quiet moments of missing that never fully go away, in my experience.

So this is the same during a bad breakup. You put a lot of your future hopes and dreams on the partner you no longer have. And now it feels like all that is gone forever, and it's devastating. The process is the same though -- you go about the business of reimagining your life from the ground up, being okay with living in a world where you and your now-ex aren't together.


So of course if you get stuck romanticizing them forever, you never quite get over the feeling that something irrevocably lost. One workable strategy is to think of them in a bad light, to consciously say to yourself: they weren't that great, here are all the reasons. And this works. It works because it prompts your mind to consider other options for how your life might go. But one pitfall of the strategy is that it doesn't actually require you to think of better options, it just hints at it. So some people doing the strategy will successfully convince themselves that their ex sucked, but also have absolutely no other emotional options for feeling hope about the future. That's a rough place.

But a different strategy is more like "they WERE great, but also other people can be great, and they can be great in ways I don't currently know, but I can be excited to find out."

Most social support after a breakup involves friends telling you everything will be fine, and you'll find someone better, and anyway the ex was a jerk, so no big deal. Stuff like that totally plays into a healthy process of grieving for the life you thought you were going to have, ie. reimagining that life as a different but equally good or maybe better life.

So yeah, one place to get stuck is failing to let go of the one conception you have of how your life can be good, that was totally predicated of your relationship with your ex continuing.

Another way it can go wrong is if you just refuse to process it at all. You drink yourself into a stupor when it comes up, for example. Sure it blocks the pain, but it also blocks the process of reimagining. And if that's your main coping mechanism you're just drawing out the pain longer, maybe permanently (not to mention the damage many substances do to your body).

So the "real" answer, according to me is that you have to encounter your own pain in a mindful way, acknowledging what is lost and how much it hurts, while staying just ahead of it and questioning the strong feelings that say "nothing can replace this, everything is bad forever." Is it really true? Can you imagine a way that it might not be true?

And yes, staying connected to your social support system and the other things in your life that actually are working, instead of just crawling into a hole of despair and laying down to die.

Grieving is hard, but it's important, and you can't avoid it. Either you face the pain with courage and intelligence, or you let it eat whatever potential for goodness was once there. Either way you have to wrestle it.


I'm currently experiencing a heartbreak and I want to thank you for your comment. Very insightful.


I hope you're ok. It's rough out there with a broken heart :(


I'm leaning toward the idea that grief is a response to a shattering of a worldview. The Kübler-Ross model was developed not based on people who'd sufferred loss of a loved one, but had been informed that their own health conditions were terminal.

Having to rebuild the ordering system of your world is profoundly painful, especially when there is no clear new system to replace it with. Cultural traditions about life events, particularly loss, ease this, IMO, assist with this.

Its transitions which are unexpected and unsupported which are most painful.

Ideological ones especially.


This is after many broken hearts.

I've read somewhere that some part of the North Europeans have a gene which prevents bonding, so it's easier for them to walk out of relationship. I am not able to find it anymore, maybe it's something to do with the Oxytocin receptors.

So why not create a drug with similar effect for others?

What i am writing below might be sexist but it's from experience. Since, i am a man i don't know woman's perspective.

I am not bothered much by the loss of a person in relationship, what bothers me the herculean efforts I put including compromises, blood, sweat and sacrifices which is now lost.

That Ferrari I bought for you, the sea side bungalow i gifted you. All the evenings i arranged for you and the vacations which we spent together, all lost.

A man almost never only brings his body/mind/heart to the relationship, he brings with him the obsession to labor tirelessly for her comfort - destroying yourself to get that bonus which will statisfy her seems perfectly rational then.

The value of those experiences drastically declines for me when I realize the person has separated from me.

It's not very different than a teenager wanting his favourite couples in the movie to be in relationship or marriage in a real life.

Once the relationship ends, i realize that person isn't even as beautiful as i always perceived them. The 7/10 girl looks 10/10 when you love her she gets back to 7/10 when the realationship ends. I wonder if the love is self dilllusion.


For me a relationship is a way to have support in your life.

After a break up, all the support a person has given you is still there. The effect of that person helping you in your life should have lasting inpact on you. It's a strange way to put it but see it as a tool. When you lose a tool nothing that was build with it will crumble. The house will stay up even if the hammer break.


So the TL;DR is: move on.


This strategy replaces heartbreak with bitterness. Not such a great deal.


its really easy for men. Refocus on a something else, new parter/dates( sex with new person works the best), new project, new class ect.


That article was quite literally just a bunch of common sense. Are those techniques for coping not widely known? I thought that's what everyone did after a breakup. ::Shrug::


In my opinion it doesn't hurt to re-state common sense sometimes, particularly for 2 reasons:

1. We have so much going on in our head it reminds us that we can simplify it down to a more basic concept. In layman's terms, "get out of our own heads".

2. It provides external validation that our approach is correct. Seeing it stated in Scientific American and knowing that other people such as yourself also adhere to this "common sense" logic validates my line of thinking.


To add to this, "unspoken" rules, or common sense, are things you expect people to know and then get upset when they don't. If being explicit helps someone, why is that a bad thing?


I like how I was down-voted for simply stating that it is common sense. You're agreeing with me! I didn't say the article was bad... haha.




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