How to Fix a Broken Heart with Guy Winch
"The withdrawal of love evokes the same addiction responses in our brain and behavior that substances do."
Dr. Guy Winch
Today’s question for the Kwik Brain community is how do you fix a broken heart?
I’m excited to welcome today’s guest, Dr. Guy Winch. Guy’s books have sold millions of copies and been translated into 26 different languages, and his TED Talks have been seen by people all over the world. Heartbreak is a challenge so many of us face and Guy is here to talk us through it.
Heartbreak can make us crazy—there is no other experience that can make people do things completely out of character. It causes deep grief, and pain, and can cause our brain to perceive the relationship inaccurately. The good news is that by learning to override our natural brain responses, we can teach ourselves to heal and come out stronger on the other side.
In this conversation, we’ll define romantic heartbreak, explain why heartbreak can manifest like an addiction and how heartbreak affects our mind. We’ll give you some practical ideas for getting through heartbreak, and offer advice for those of you wanting to help a loved one who might be going through heartbreak.
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Please note, this episode is educational only and is not intended to diagnose or treat medical conditions. Please consult your healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns.
- People use the term “heartbroken” in many ways e.g. to explain their soccer team losing—this is painful, but not as much as heartbreak
- Romantic heartbreak is unusual, there is no other experience in life that can make a sane person act crazy and do things they wouldn’t otherwise
- Heartbreak can cause out of character behaviors—Guy has heard many stories of people impulsively getting on planes to visit the person who broke their heart, flooding people with hundreds of messages, stalking, all as a response to the grief they’re feeling
- MRI brain scan studies on recently heartbroken people—participants were asked to bring a picture of a person who broke their heart and relive breakup.
- Result: same brain activity you would see in addicts experiencing withdrawal, meaning people will go to desperate measures to get a “fix”
- Withdrawal of love evokes same the addiction responses in our brain and behavior that substances do
WHAT HEARTBREAK DOES TO OUR BRAIN
- During romantic heartbreak our heart is hijacking the brain, leading us to do things we have zero control over
- Our mind evolved to keep us from harm e.g. if we touched a hot stove as a child it was keeping that painful memory alive and create anxiety so we don’t make the same mistake again
- Similar brain response with heartbreak: the mind’s job is to remind us it was painful so we don’t make mistake again
- The brain will remind us how amazing the person was and how wonderful things were because these are the memories that hurt the most and aggravate grief the most
- By doing so, our mind is hoping we won’t make the same mistake again, and our mind doesn’t distinguish between touching a hot stove and love
- We need to override those natural brain responses and understand that our mind is manufacturing curated memories to keep hope alive
- Our brain is not creating a realistic picture—we don’t remember bad things about the person and the relationship
HOW TO REGAIN CONTROL
- List all the negative things about the person and the relationship to balance out the unbalanced picture you have in your mind
- Important for you not to go down the rabbit holes you brain is trying to send you down to reinforce your grief
- Our goal in recovery from heartbreak is very simple: to get that person out of our thoughts as much as possible, to have that person occupy our thoughts less and less, and to have that hurt less and less as it happens
- Our mind wants to work in opposite directions—it’s going to make us think about them over and over again, but we need to not indulge this
- We need to not engage in behaviors like stalking them on social media, going through old pictures and letters, reminiscing about good times—all this is doing is exacerbating our pain
- Reminders of a significant other are everywhere—possessions, restaurants, streets, friends, social media, connections embedded everywhere online
- Because reminders are everywhere, we have to be diligent about limiting exposure to this person
- Social support is very important—have to be careful in how we get it as it can be taxing on our relationships, we need to be careful not to overload on 1 or 2 specific people
- Voids exist after a breakup e.g. weekend plans together, activities you used to do.
- We have to actively rebuild so we can recover sooner—this means doing activities, changing our homes, rebuilding our identity
- Ask yourself questions: Who was I before I met that person? Who do I want to be now I’m not with that person? What aspects of myself did I have to sacrifice? What parts of myself do I want to recover?
ADVICE TO FRIENDS & FAMILY
- Even if you’re not currently going through a breakup, it’s likely you’ve seen friends and family go through a breakup and suffer
- Offer emotional support and validation, allow them to speak
- In early stages of heartbreak, offer them the same kind of condolences you would any other type of grief
- We experience heartbreak in a similar way we would experience grief in other situations e.g. the death of a loved one
- As you move further on, you can try little reminders of the truth of the relationship e.g. I want to remind you of the conversation in which you said you couldn’t stand them, remember how they upset you in this way, or how you had to compromise about that
- Remind yourself of negative attributes—even by putting a list in your phone
- Do the best you can to fill in the gaps the relationship has left in your life
- Start replacing the person in your life very consciously and proactively—find a new workout partner, find a new person to watch that series with
- It’s not giving up activities that were important to you, it’s finding ways to reclaim them as yours now, and as part of you, rather than you in the context of a relationship
- Any difficult experience does have the potential to teach us something
- This doesn’t happen naturally, we have to make that happen
- You might want to go through and figure out: what did I learn about relationships? What did I learn about myself? What did I learn about how I should be in relationships? What did I learn about what I like and don’t like? What was I ignoring, and what should I not ignore in the future? What should I address earlier in the future?
- You get to redefine yourself afterward, and that reboot is up to you
- Good opportunity to implement changes that you have always wanted to do
- Don’t forget to take a screenshot of this episode, tag us both on social media (@GuyWinch & @jimkwik) and share your greatest “aha!” moment from this episode with us!
Related Kwik Brain Episodes You Might Enjoy
Episode 51: Fix A Broken Brain with Dr. Hyman (Part 1)
Episode 95: How to Get Out of Your Own Way with Todd Herman
Episode 108: Heal a Broken Heart with Dr. Shefali Tsabary
Episode 114: How to Undo Your Limiting Beliefs