How to fix a broken heart | Guy Winch

How to fix a broken heart | Guy Winch


At some point in our lives, almost every one of us
will have our heart broken. My patient Kathy planned her wedding
when she was in middle school. She would meet her future husband by age 27, get engaged a year later and get married a year after that. But when Kathy turned 27,
she didn’t find a husband. She found a lump in her breast. She went through many months
of harsh chemotherapy and painful surgeries, and then just as she was ready
to jump back into the dating world, she found a lump in her other breast and had to do it all over again. Kathy recovered, though, and she was eager to resume
her search for a husband as soon as her eyebrows grew back in. When you’re going
on first dates in New York City, you need to be able to express
a wide range of emotions. (Laughter) Soon afterwards,
she met Rich and fell in love. The relationship was everything
she hoped it would be. Six months later, after a lovely weekend in New England, Rich made reservations
at their favorite romantic restaurant. Kathy knew he was going to propose, and she could barely
contain her excitement. But Rich did not propose
to Kathy that night. He broke up with her. As deeply as he cared
for Kathy — and he did — he simply wasn’t in love. Kathy was shattered. Her heart was truly broken,
and she now faced yet another recovery. But five months after the breakup, Kathy still couldn’t stop
thinking about Rich. Her heart was still very much broken. The question is: Why? Why was this incredibly strong
and determined woman unable to marshal the same
emotional resources that got her through four years
of cancer treatments? Why do so many of us flounder when we’re trying
to recover from heartbreak? Why do the same coping mechanisms that get us through all kinds
of life challenges fail us so miserably
when our heart gets broken? In over 20 years of private practice, I have seen people
of every age and background face every manner of heartbreak, and what I’ve learned is this: when your heart is broken, the same instincts you ordinarily rely on will time and again lead you
down the wrong path. You simply cannot trust
what your mind is telling you. For example, we know from studies
of heartbroken people that having a clear understanding
of why the relationship ended is really important
for our ability to move on. Yet time and again, when we are offered a simple
and honest explanation like the one Rich offered Kathy, we reject it. Heartbreak creates
such dramatic emotional pain, our mind tells us the cause
must be equally dramatic. And that gut instinct is so powerful, it can make even the most reasonable
and measured of us come up with mysteries
and conspiracy theories where none exist. Kathy became convinced
something must have happened during her romantic getaway with Rich that soured him on the relationship, and she became obsessed
with figuring out what that was. And so she spent countless hours going through every minute
of that weekend in her mind, searching her memory for clues
that were not there. Kathy’s mind tricked her
into initiating this wild goose chase. But what compelled her to commit to it
for so many months? Heartbreak is far more insidious
than we realize. There is a reason we keep going
down one rabbit hole after another, even when we know it’s going
to make us feel worse. Brain studies have shown that the withdrawal of romantic love activates the same mechanisms
in our brain that get activated when addicts are withdrawing
from substances like cocaine or opioids. Kathy was going through withdrawal. And since she could not have
the heroin of actually being with Rich, her unconscious mind chose
the methadone of her memories with him. Her instincts told her
she was trying to solve a mystery, but what she was actually doing was getting her fix. This is what makes heartbreak
so difficult to heal. Addicts know they’re addicted. They know when they’re shooting up. But heartbroken people do not. But you do now. And if your heart is broken,
you cannot ignore that. You have to recognize that,
as compelling as the urge is, with every trip down memory lane,
every text you send, every second you spend
stalking your ex on social media, you are just feeding your addiction, deepening your emotional pain and complicating your recovery. Getting over heartbreak is not a journey. It’s a fight, and your reason
is your strongest weapon. There is no breakup explanation
that’s going to feel satisfying. No rationale can take away
the pain you feel. So don’t search for one,
don’t wait for one, just accept the one you were offered
or make up one yourself and then put the question to rest, because you need that closure
to resist the addiction. And you need something else as well: you have to be willing to let go, to accept that it’s over. Otherwise, your mind
will feed on your hope and set you back. Hope can be incredibly destructive
when your heart is broken. Heartbreak is a master manipulator. The ease with which it gets our mind
to do the absolute opposite of what we need in order to recover is remarkable. One of the most common tendencies
we have when our heart is broken is to idealize the person who broke it. We spend hours remembering their smile, how great they made us feel, that time we hiked up the mountain
and made love under the stars. All that does is make our loss
feel more painful. We know that. Yet we still allow our mind to cycle
through one greatest hit after another, like we were being held hostage by our own
passive-aggressive Spotify playlist. (Laughter) Heartbreak will make those thoughts
pop into your mind. And so to avoid idealizing,
you have to balance them out by remembering their frown,
not just their smile, how bad they made you feel, the fact that after the lovemaking,
you got lost coming down the mountain, argued like crazy
and didn’t speak for two days. What I tell my patients
is to compile an exhaustive list of all the ways
the person was wrong for you, all the bad qualities, all the pet peeves, and then keep it on your phone. (Laughter) And once you have your list, you have to use it. When I hear even a hint of idealizing or the faintest whiff
of nostalgia in a session, I go, “Phone, please.” (Laughter) Your mind will try to tell you
they were perfect. But they were not,
and neither was the relationship. And if you want to get over them,
you have to remind yourself of that, frequently. None of us is immune to heartbreak. My patient Miguel was a 56-year-old
senior executive in a software company. Five years after his wife died, he finally felt ready
to start dating again. He soon met Sharon, and a whirlwind romance ensued. They introduced each other
to their adult children after one month, and they moved in together after two. When middle-aged people date,
they don’t mess around. It’s like “Love, Actually”
meets “The Fast and the Furious.” (Laughter) Miguel was happier
than he had been in years. But the night before
their first anniversary, Sharon left him. She had decided to move to the West Coast
to be closer to her children, and she didn’t want
a long-distance relationship. Miguel was totally blindsided
and utterly devastated. He barely functioned at work
for many, many months, and he almost lost his job as a result. Another consequence of heartbreak
is that feeling alone and in pain can significantly impair
our intellectual functioning, especially when performing complex tasks
involving logic and reasoning. It temporarily lowers our IQ. But it wasn’t just the intensity
of Miguel’s grief that confused his employers; it was the duration. Miguel was confused by this as well and really quite embarrassed by it. “What’s wrong with me?”
he asked me in our session. “What adult spends almost a year
getting over a one-year relationship?” Actually, many do. Heartbreak shares all the hallmarks
of traditional loss and grief: insomnia, intrusive thoughts, immune system dysfunction. Forty percent of people experience
clinically measurable depression. Heartbreak is a complex
psychological injury. It impacts us in a multitude of ways. For example, Sharon was both very social and very active. She had dinners at the house every week. She and Miguel went on camping trips
with other couples. Although Miguel was not religious, he accompanied Sharon
to church every Sunday, where he was welcomed
into the congregation. Miguel didn’t just lose his girlfriend; he lost his entire social life, the supportive community
of Sharon’s church. He lost his identity as a couple. Now, Miguel recognized the breakup
had left this huge void in his life, but what he failed to recognize is that it left far more than just one. And that is crucial, not just because it explains
why heartbreak could be so devastating, but because it tells us how to heal. To fix your broken heart, you have to identify these voids
in your life and fill them, and I mean all of them. The voids in your identity: you have to reestablish who you are
and what your life is about. The voids in your social life, the missing activities,
even the empty spaces on the wall where pictures used to hang. But none of that will do any good unless you prevent the mistakes
that can set you back, the unnecessary searches for explanations, idealizing your ex instead of focusing
on how they were wrong for you, indulging thoughts and behaviors
that still give them a starring role in this next chapter of your life when they shouldn’t be an extra. Getting over heartbreak is hard, but if you refuse to be misled
by your mind and you take steps to heal, you can significantly minimize
your suffering. And it won’t just be you
who benefit from that. You’ll be more present with your friends, more engaged with your family, not to mention the billions of dollars
of compromised productivity in the workplace that could be avoided. So if you know someone who is heartbroken, have compassion, because social support has been found
to be important for their recovery. And have patience, because it’s going to take them longer
to move on than you think it should. And if you’re hurting, know this: it’s difficult, it is a battle
within your own mind, and you have to be diligent to win. But you do have weapons. You can fight. And you will heal. Thank you. (Applause)

22 comments

  1. If someone is breaking up with you doesn't mean he/she didn't care for you. Breaking up is painful too. Sometimes it's better to do it for both people sakes.

  2. Plz don't give fake hope to people, that is worst thing to do to any body.
    Once people know there is no hope its easy to get over

  3. Amazing talk, I feel four times better after I watched it. It really helps every word and story about his patients he said. I feel fine already, and when bad thoughts are coming I will put into motion all the tips and recommendations he made, it is like a drug a hearth broken, I miss mi ex so much but I do not want to dwell in the very unlikely come back or in the all mighty good old times, she did to me very wrong things twice, that I know of, shattered trust and doomed a long beautiful relationship, I must accept she is not who I thought she was, move on and let her go, I truly want her to be happy in her new life without me, which I now she is and by her own words, so I am glad for her, now I must focus on me and recover my confidence in myself, and in due time I hope I can trust someone and love and be loved again.

  4. Hi there i feel ya people. but to be honest the best thing to do is use 2 days in bed and feel everything you need to feel. and after that go out with you'r friends 24/7 never be alone! soon enough you will see that you're fine with yourself and you'r friends

  5. Reading all this comment make me more stronger to let him go. If he is not meant to be by our side their are billions of people around the world some day some time and some one meant to be is waiting for us who will loves us crazily madly and deeply. So all we need to stop wasting our precious time and let them go.

  6. My girlfriend and i broke up after 2 years recently, however there's not a single bad thing i can say about her. The only reason we broke up is cos her parents didn't approve due to religion. Other than that our relationship was perfect and she was a blessing in my life. Her parents don't mind if we just stay as friends but thats the hard part; how do we talk to each other? How do we act towards each other? Im just scared the feeling won't ever go away if i keep contact, however i don't want to cut contact cos she is my bestfriend. I don't know what to do

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