Medical Concept - Doctor showing heart hologram generated from tablet computer.

The Science Behind Heartbreak

Heartbreak is a universal and natural response to grieving the end of a relationship. It’s a dreadful experience that makes your day to day life a fog, and you feel that your world is caving in with every step that you take. The entire relationship replays in your head from beginning to end like a Nicholas Sparks film. It can leave you in a fetal position in your bed with empty bags of potato chips, boxes of tissues,and random cookie crumbs scattered on your half off bedsheet. I’m speaking from experience. But this is normal so please don’t worry. Heartbreak may signal that you weren’t in a healthy relationship, to begin with. There’s always hope.


The responses to the end of a relationship can drastically vary depending on individual feelings, the situation involved, and whether or not that feeling is mutual. There can be an even-keel where the relationship ends because the two partners see themselves better off as friends. It could be the dreaded abusive relationship or the blindsiding take where deceit such as infidelity comes into play. The weight of heartbreak is real; not an animated cartoon with laughable caricatures. There are phases similar to the ones of grieving the death of a loved one. According to, there are two main phases of heartbreak: the protest phase and the resignation phase.


The protest phase is what you would expect from the name. It’s the denial stage. One can display violent mood swings, high agitation, and the pleas that everyone regrets in hindsight. We are vulnerable, and our judgment is damaged which can lead us into a bigger hole, expanding that heartbreak even more.


The resignation phase is the wave of melancholy and depression. This is the initial heartbreak stage depicted on television; moping around with large bags underneath their eyes, swollen from crying the day away after calling out of work because the idea of being around people creates nausea.


And then lastly, the acceptance phase. This is the signed, sealed, delivered letter to your brain that says, “well it’s really over. I guess I better bounce back.” That bouncing back is what we see in the 1998 classic, “How Stella Got Her Groove Back,” starring Angela Bassett. This emotional cycle pops up throughout decades of television and movies, so we know it’s normal.


According to Dr. Helen Fisher (Dr. Georgianna Donadio, Huffington Post Contributor, March 21st, 2016), “love is really a drive that is deeply primordial and primitive.”


Doctor Theodore Smith, a seasoned psychiatrist in Midtown, specializes in general psychology, adolescent psychology and depression. He spoke of the addiction aspects that come with heartbreak, why we react in such ways, the recovery process, and a test that may measure the compatibility of a relationship.


“Adaptive behavior can manifest its way into addiction. Addiction engages in a behavior that is to health, and unfortunately, relationships can fall into this malevolent cycle,” said Dr. Smith.


“Dealing with rejection and how people react to rejection catches them off guard. That pain turns into anger. It really can feel like a dagger to the heart which can encapsulate this manifest effect. This person will be able to tolerate those negative feelings and thoughts and will try to compromise. There are hormones such as adrenaline that can attack the heart, but we aren’t exactly sure what causes this fiscal pain, and function in the heart.”


So love can get to the point of addiction. The end of a relationship can thus bring on the onset of withdrawal symptoms such as a devastating depression, uncontrollable anger, and a sense of despair. The true nature of heartbreak brings out the worst in us, but why?


“We’re taught how to receive things, but we haven’t been taught how to accept no for an answer,” he told Georgia Voice. “Putting your partner through a stress test, telling them ‘no’ to see how they respond. Sometimes this changes the dynamic of the relationship, but it teaches you about yourself and your significant other. You have to make a judgment call whether it’s something you can work out on your own or seek help. If the pain is severe, please seek help. Ask questions. Find a support group,” said Dr. Smith. “You can associate a similar pain to the death of a loved one. It’s a sense of rejection.”


So the circumstances of the relationship can be a tell-all of how the relationship ends.


Heartbreak can be traumatic on several levels, an inevitable sense of paranoia around your possible future partners. However, this feeling of desolation passes with patience and someone to talk to. Understanding that it is your body’s natural response to the end of a relationship can help you move along to find your life partner.