Relationship Tips

When Your Heart is Broken

April 12th, 2006

By Susan Dunn, MA, The EQ Coach

Alexander is inconsolable over his recent divorce, instigated by his wife of 10 years. Perhaps you know or love someone like this. His behavior and reaction to the loss are driving other people from his life as well. His family tell me they’ve “done everything they could” and are at their wit’s end. They understand the sadness, but are concerned about his litany of physical complaints ranging from what looks like chronic fatigue syndrome to the heart pains he claims to be having.

He’s driven off a new girl-friend because of his “obsessing about his former wife,” his flash anger, and his ambivalence about plans, activities, and their relationship.

His friends have quit inviting for dinner because he’s so withdrawn and forlorn, and his business partner is becoming increasingly concerned at Alexander’s neglect of their business.

Alexander’s personality has changed and increasingly he is adding more and greater problems to the initial problem. Evidence mounts daily that calling it a “broken heart” is an astute bit of folk wisdom.

When you lose a love relationship, a set of symptoms ensues that other people usually try and talk you out of: the dragging around, sleeping too much or too little, crying, weight gain or loss, talking and thinking obsessively about the lost love, inability to enjoy life and the things that used to bring pleasure, and also a host of physical ailments.

Some people focus on the psychological pain, while others focus on the physical suffering, but usually there is both, and there’s mounting evidence that the physical symptoms aren’t “psychosomatic.” Well, not in the old and common use of the term. We recognize the seamless mind-body connection in the field of emotional intelligence. What we feel emotionally, is “felt” physically in the cells of our bodies.

When we see it in others, we want them to “just get over it” - to quit thinking, talking and acting that way and get back to normal. We can understand the loss, but in many cases we know it will fix itself in time, and also it isn’t we who are suffering. We remember having gotten over things in the past, but we may not remember what it was like for us during the worst of it. In fact, we try not to remember it and apply our “selective remembering.”

What have been the remedies? At one time the cure was, at least for the wealthy, to take an ocean voyage.

Well, there’s wisdom in that, as well. Let’s take a look at what happens when our “heart is broken,” because it could be the result.

If it’s happened to you, you’re probably aware that it isn’t something that lends itself to a “quick fix,” and that it’s somehow more than “in your head,” as some seem to imply. At your better times, you’d like to get over it too. But if you’ve survived this sort of heartbreak, and gone on to thrive, as many of us have, you also know things can get better, and can shine your light on the dark corners of someone else’s life and be patient while time works its cure. However, there’s something else they need to be doing as well besides having hope and waiting.

That time will heal isn’t an absolute.

The panoply of symptoms of “the broken heart”, it turns out, were aptly named.

Studies are showing that there are measurable physiological changes that take place that can be detrimental to our physical health and exacerbate the psychological suffering. After all, if it were “all in your head,” you yourself know that, as well-meaning others tell you, you’ll probably love again, most do; that time will heal; it usually does; that if they didn’t want you, you’re better off without them; that other people have gone through what you’re going through and seem to be okay; and that moping around, eating poorly, drinking too much and neglecting important things and people in your life isn’t going to help anything.

Research is showing that people in the state of what’s called melancholic depression, have a heart rate and blood pressure significantly higher than normal people in normal times and other crucial health measurables get significantly out-of-kilter.

In typical medicalese, researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health, Bethesda, Maryland, USA, reported that patients with melancholic depression could “experience an increase in norepinephrine levels of a similar magnitude to that associated with twice the risk of mortality in patients with chronic heart failure (CHF).”

Translated, this means that it can put you at two times the risk of death from a heart attack as someone who has chronic heart failure (CHF). Correlations continue to be found. It turns out that levels of cortisol and epinephrine peak in the morning, a time when depressive symptoms are worse (thus the not wanting to get up and go to work), and also the time when many heart attacks occur. (You’ve heard of the Monday morning heart attack.)

What can you do about this? If you’re in the life of the suffering person, understand it’s more than “in their head,” and encourage them to go to their healthcare professional for a checkup. If you’re the person, understand the health ramifications and see your health care professional.

Things known to help include talking about it in therapy, exercise, cognitive work (like EQ), medication and other physical treatments. And yes, also the folk cure often recommendeded of taking an ocean voyage … even gazing at water can raise the levels of those brain chemicals that make us feel good.

While this is not intended as medical advice, which you can only get from a healthcare professional, if you have any propensity for heart trouble (physically) and receive heart trouble (emotionally), keep in mind, as always, the mind-body connection and take care of yourself. And do this especially when you don’t feel like it, because that’s one of the symptoms.

This is especially important for men, since men are more prone to heart trouble of the physical kind, and less less resilient in the face of heart trouble of the emotional kind.

© Susan Dunn, MA, The EQ Coach. Susan is the author of “Depression: The EQ Approach”. She offers coaching, Internet courses and ebooks around emotional intelligence for your personal and professional success and wellness. She trains and certifies EQ coaches internationally. Email her for info on this fast, affordable, comprehensive, no-residency program. for FREE EQ ezine and visit for books

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