The Neuroscience of Moving On
Dr. Fisher and numerous anthropologists, psychologists, and neurologists alike all agree that love “on the brain,” exists. MRI scans support that the same areas of the brain that light up when experiencing highs from drugs, light up when you’re in love. Therefore, breaking up doesn’t act but rather, performs as addiction withdrawal.
So when you’re hurting like there’s no escape, don’t blame yourself. Blame your brain. After reading several studies and articles, I, someone who is currently amidst a love withdrawal herself, can find some comfort and even solutions. That’s right. We can deal with heartbreak, in a practical and scientific way.
Love fires dopamine into your brain. In the basest terms, love can be called a “goal-oriented motivational state.” Motivation and goal-oriented behavior reign the caudate nucleus, the part of the brain that acts as a modulator for the dopamine reward system. The caudate is a feedback processor, using information from past memories (with loved ones) to influence future actions and decisions.
That’s why we all seek a feedback to kickstart that dopamine process again. Again and again. That kiss, touch of a hand, that misty-eyed look, that heart-racing phone call, or that sudden gut-wrenching text. It also explains why even though our partners are gone, our brain is still on “reward-mode.” Memories remain along with the urge to keep sustaining them.
I have this lovely image (and the memories to support it) of my loved one. So to not have the continual same happy feedback by their continued positive presence, will of course, wreak havoc on my brain.
Fisher’s research team, published in the Journal of Comparative Neurology, conducted a study in which post-break-up participants engaged in cortex-stimulating tasks like… “pay[ing] your bills, balance[ing] your checkbook, play[ing] Scrabble, memorize[ing] a poem, play[ing] with Legos,” to detract the lighting up of love-laden brain regions. Time heals. Especially, with more cortex-stimulating distractions.
Awakening old passions and discovering new interests are all stimulating. They help with the break-up now, but also, in the long-run. Because your brain is spiking in other areas.
Laslocky recalls what a scientist explained: “In the case of a lost love,” he told me, “if the relationship went on for a long time, the grieving person has thousands of neural circuits devoted to the lost person, and each of these has to be brought up and reconstructed to take into account the person’s absence.”
This extremely hits home.
Countless neurons and countless triggers can remain. That’s why the no contact period effectively disrupts that “network” of entrenching romantic memories.
It's enlightening in that that’s what memories are made up of. Just that- neurons. I can remember something, yes, but also, I can remember it again, with a new context and new understanding. There comes the reconstruction.
That’s where personal growth barges in. Well, it depends, on what stage of the break-up you’re in. The time…. we made out in the park, transitioned from romantic to immature to cherished to finally teachable.
Love is a decision. Love is a mind-set. Breaking up ensues heartbreak. Heartbreak is still…a decision. Heartbreak is a mind-set.
And just like any learning experience, your mind and view of love can expand with the Growth Mindset (Carol Dweck, Stanford University) as opposed to Fixed. The growth mindset is the perspective in which our character/characteristics can continuously change (with an upper and exponential outcome). Take that, brain!
And if love, if nothing else, is really simply, a motivational reward system, why can’t we achieve something else again? Why can’t we reward ourselves again?
Moving is when you Set your mind to move on. Moving on isn’t the finish line but the starting line. What comes next. Is. Anything 😀
Here are references (and cortex-stimulating reads) for your benefit:
https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/this_is_your_brain_on_heartbreak (Morgan & Fisher)
https://elemental.medium.com/you-can-force-yourself-to-fall-out-of-love-16c7a409909e (Laslocky & Fisher)
https://www.brainpickings.org/2014/01/29/carol-dweck-mindset/ (Popova & Dweck)
Sarah Suhaimi practices 명음 by day and the art of dark chocolate bar swindling by night. She is currently working closely with a local Pittsburgh non-profit that serves sex-trafficked victims, Living in Liberty, as a volunteer and grant proposal writer. She founded the Southeast Asian Student Alliance (SEASA) at her university, and, as well, the "Offer Islam Campaign." Her works vary from prose to poetry to articles. Her published works include, ‘The Home of an Immigrant’s Daughter’ in the Art Catalogue for the 2012 Dublin Biennial, Dublin, Ireland and ‘Hidden Beauty Reveals Itself (Intellect Vs Instinct)’ in the Art Catalogue for the 2011 Florence Biennale VIII, Florence, Italy.
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