Do you remember your first break-up and what an emotional toll it took on you? What about the physical pain that you may have experienced? The headaches, tight chest, heaviness on your shoulders and or stomach knots! It wasn’t a figment of your imagination, those physical elements are real! Now think back to some of your friendship breakups; people you thought you’d have relations with forever.
Isn’t it interesting how even though our minds and bodies have experienced breakups many times before it still doesn’t make it any easier when a new one occurs? Well, it is scientifically proven that breakups affect our bodies. Our bodies go into fight or flight mode after a breakup, and whether we decide to reach out to the other individual for closure or choose to distance ourselves and venture into the Khloe Kardashian ‘Revenge body’; “glow up after break up” mode that is our prerogative. However, whatever route we choose doesn’t change the fact that breakups really suck and none of us is exempt from experiencing some of the biological phases. Going through a breakup is like grieving, except in this case you know that the person is still alive.
In a 2021 podcast titled “The truth about breakups” dedicated to her daughter; Intimacy Expert, Author and Sexologist Shan Boodram beautifully unpacks the phases our bodies go through during a break-up. Boodram first touches on how the brain is a “social organ” and how humans are pair-bonding mammals who work best in tribes, communities and groups. So with our brains knowing that there’s a better chance of survival when bonded to another; they prioritise connections and primary pair bonds over separation and detachment, this is why we are still affected by a breakup even if the relationship was toxic.
“You know that phrase, the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t? Your brain lives by that phrase”Shan Boodram
Here are the six biological phases of a healthy breakup according to Shan, you may be able to identify with some or all of them:
- Freedom vs Failure
This is when a wave of freedom comes over us when we break up with someone and immediately feel some form of a high from the praise we get from other people close to us for leaving the relationship. You may feel proud of yourself for finally cutting the cord if the relationship was holding you back. On the flip side – when you know that the break-up is going to make people judge you or jeopardise other connections you have formed as a result of the relationship, you may perhaps experience thoughts of failure.
- Withdrawal and Protest
This was when the individual we were in a relationship with was your go-to person in times of stress but now they have become the cause of your stress. The brain now has to retrain itself to rely on other kinds of connections and relationships for support. It’s like when a cigarette smoker tries to quit; they can either choose to go cold turkey or use nicotine-infused products to slowly wean them off their tobacco addiction without experiencing drastic withdrawal symptoms. On the opposite side, our brains might protest against the break up and want to still be with the individual regardless of the circumstances.
- The Negative Bond
This is when your brain goes into survival mode and tries to convince you that the person you broke up with is a horrible being so that you can cope with the loss and justify why breaking up with them was the best decision you could have made. Grieving is a complex thing and it’s normal to move from loving someone to feeling like you hate them, however, it can be unhealthy to stay in that phase for an extended period. ”For as long as you hate someone; you are engaged, interested and intertwined with them”- Shan Boodram
- Untangling the Tungsten Chain
This is when we go through the process of detangling and unpacking our feelings of grief so we can find healing and ways to move on with our lives. This is where therapy can be helpful if you feel like you cannot do it by yourself.
This is when we finally find ourselves on the other side of the pain and lessons of what we went through and we feel stronger and more confident to get back out into the world and start over or move on with our lives.
- Bond Reformation
This is when we feel comfortable enough with reconnecting with the individual we broke up with; it may not necessarily be that we want to have the same relationship we once had with them but our spirits feel safe enough to co-exist with them close to you. However, some people may feel safer if they never had to see this individual ever again. Whatever is safe for you is what you need to do.
My biggest takeaway from this is that some things will be out of our control when we are going through a breakup and it is okay to give ourselves some grace when going through the process. Time is also an important factor in the healing process, so we must allow the brain and body to feel the impact of the breakup for us to eventually find ourselves on the positive side of healing.