Relationships; The Heart Ache of Being Dumped


Heart ache of being dumped

“Parting is all we need to know of hell.” Emily Dickinson got it right. Almost no one in the world escapes the feelings of emptiness, hopelessness, fear and fury that rejection can create. Among college students at Case Western Reserve, 93% of both men and women reported that they had been dumped by someone they passionately loved; 93% also said they had rejected someone who was deeply in love them. And these men and women were still young—with decades of love, and possible disasters, ahead of them. Ain’t love grand? You bet…when your passion is returned and things are going well. But when love is unrequited, it’s a whole other story.

Why rejection hurts so much?

Brain studies confirm that love can be described as an addiction.  It is a natural addiction.  Maybe drugs like cocaine just hop on the natural addiction systems needed for hunger, thirst, romance and attachment.

Indeed, the passion we feel after rejection shows all of the traits of an addiction.

The Cycle of Love Addiction

Foremost, like all addicts, recently rejected lovers display intense energy and motivation to get their drug: the beloved.  They focus their attention and think obsessively about him or her–intrusive thinking.   When we asked our rejected participants what percentage of the day and evening they thought about their departing partner, most replied that they thought about him or her some 85% of their waking hours; others said they never stop thinking about their rejecting mate.  Someone was camping in their head.

The besotted man or woman also craves emotional union with their sweetheart.  Sure, they’d love to have sex with him or her.  But foremost, they hope their disappearing lover will call, write, invite them out, rescind their decision to depart and say those precious words, “I love you.”   Like any addict, abandoned lovers hunger for their drug—their mate.

Rejected lovers also express personality changes, as do other kinds of addicts.  Some change their hair or clothes to look sexier or more romantically appealing; some adopt new interests to attract or appease; some even change their careers or move to a different state or country to follow him or her.

And as the cocaine addict becomes highly anxious without their drug, the lover suffers “separation anxiety” when out of touch.  Even worse, when rejected they often love even harder–frustration-attraction. Alas, barriers increase romantic passion.  Terrence, the poet of ancient Rome expressed this aptly, saying “The less my hope, the hotter my love.”

Rejected lovers distort reality, too.  Most can list all the things that went wrong in the relationship.  But they sweep these truths aside–believing they can overcome almost any obstacle to win back their lover and make their dreams come true.

Like the cocaine addict who will do just about anything to get their drug, lovers are emotionally andphysically dependent.  Most are willing to do dangerous or inappropriate things to regain their mate.  They lose their self-control, a central trait of any addiction.

Indeed, rejected lovers show all three of the central characteristics of any addiction: Tolerance; Withdrawal; and Relapse.   Like the addict who needs more and more of their “drug of choice,” the lover must see the beloved endlessly.  When rejected, they plummet into excruciating mental and physical pain as well, withdrawal. And long after the relationship is over, even the slightest reminder, such as a song on the car radio or any other external cue, can re-trigger their intense craving for him or her.

Most revealing, all of the primary addictions engage the brain’s Reward System.   So does romantic love.


Love as a natural addiction:

Individuals in the early stage of intense romantic love show many symptoms of addiction, including euphoria, craving, tolerance, emotional and physical dependence, withdrawal and relapse.  We have proposed that romantic love is a natural (and often positive) addiction that evolved from mammalian antecedents by four million years ago as a survival mechanism to encourage hominin pair-bonding and reproduction, seen cross-culturally today in Homo sapiens.  Brain scanning studies using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) support this view:  feelings of intense romantic love engage regions of the brain’s “reward system,” specifically primordial dopamine pathways, including the ventral tegmental area, caudate and accumbens also activated during drug addiction.  Thus, because the experience of being in love shares reward pathways with those associated with drug addiction, romantic love may influence drug craving.  Indeed, a study of nicotine craving has shown that feelings of intense romantic love attenuate brain activity associated with cigarette craving under some circumstances.   Could other socially rewarding experiences be therapeutic for drug addictions?   We suggest that “self expanding” experiences like romance, and expanding one’s knowledge, experience and self perception, may also affect drug addiction behaviors.  Further, because feelings of romantic love can progress into feelings of calm attachment, and because attachment engages more plastic forebrain regions and the hormones oxytocin and vasopressin, there is a rationale for therapies that help drug addiction by promoting activation of these forebrain systems through long-term, calm, positive attachments to others, including group therapies such as 12-step programs.  The medical community currently considers addiction as a negative (harmful) disorder that appears in a population subset; while romantic love is often a positive (as well as negative) state experienced by almost all humans. Thus, researchers have not categorized romantic love as an addiction.  But by embracing data on romantic love, it’s classification as an evolved, natural, often positive but also powerfully negative addiction, and its neural similarity to many drug induced states, clinicians may develop more effective therapeutic approaches to alleviate a range of the addictions, including heartbreak–an almost universal human experience that can trigger stalking, clinical depression, suicide, homicide and other crimes of passion.

Here are some suggestions we have written about for dealing with romantic rejection:

Clinicians have a host of strategies for helping lovers and drug addicts.   However, when data on romantic love and substance abuse are considered together, some approaches have a strong rationale.

Perhaps most important, rejected lovers should remove all reasonable evidence of their abandoning sweetheart, such as cards, letters, songs, photos and memorabilia, as well as avoid contact with their rejecting partner, because reminders and partner contact can act as cues that induce craving and are likely to sustain the activity of brain circuits associated with romantic passion and thus retard the healing process. Self –expansion research also finds that positive outcomes such as personal growth and positive emotions are possible (even likely) following a break-up if the relationship had offered few self-expanding opportunities and if the newly single person engages in rediscovery of the self (Lewandowski and Bizzoco, 2007).

Close, positive contact with a friend or friends is rewarding and may also help to replace the craving for substances or a rejecting partner, because looking at a photo of a close friend activates the nucleus accumbens, associated with reward (Acevedo et al., 2011).   Looking at a photo of a close friend also activates the periaqueductal gray, associated with oxytocin receptors and the calm of attachment.   This suggests that group therapies, such as Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12 step programs, are successful because these group dynamics engage the brain’s reward and attachment systems.

Data suggest that rejected lovers should also stay busy to distract themselves (Thayer, 1996; Rosenthal, 2002).    Physical exertion may be especially helpful as s elevates mood (Rosenthal, 2002), triggering dopamine activity in the nucleus accumbens to bestow pleasure (Kolata, 2002).   Exercise also increases levels of β-Endorphin and endocannabinoids which reduces pain and increases feelings of calm and well-being (Dietrich and McDaniel, 2004; Goldfarb and Jamurtas, 1997). Also, engaging in a new form of exercise can be a self-expanding experience (see Xu et al., 2010).  Because of these benefits of exercise, some psychiatrists believe that exercise (aerobic or anaerobic) can be as effective in healing depression as psychotherapy or antidepressant drugs (Rosenthal, 2002).

Further, smiling utilizes facial muscles that activate nerve pathways in the brain that can stimulate feelings of pleasure (Carter, 1998).  Focusing on the positive may be effective too.  A study by Lewandowski (2009) found that writing for 20 minutes on three consecutive days about a recent relationship break-up was beneficial when people wrote about positive feelings as opposed to when they wrote about negative feelings or wrote without expressing any feelings.  Perhaps most important, time attenuates the attachment system.   In our study of rejected men and women, the greater the number of days since rejection, the less the activity in a brain region (the ventral pallidum) associated with feelings of attachment (Fisher et al., 2010).

As disappointed lovers use strategies originally developed to quit a substance addiction, their love addiction is likely to eventually subside.

But here is the problem, and probably why it hurts so much.

It appears as if evolution has overdone the negative response to romantic abandonment.  But romantically rejected individuals have wasted precious courtship time and metabolic energy; they have lost essential economic and financial resources; their social alliances have been jeopardized; their daily rituals and habits have been altered; they may have lost property; and they have most likely experienced damage to their personal happiness, self-esteem and reputation (see Leary, 2001; Fisher, 2004; Fisher, 2014).  Most important, rejected lovers of reproductive age are likely to have lost breeding opportunities or a parenting partner for the offspring they have already produced—forms of reduced future genetic viability (Fisher, 2004; Fisher, 2014).  Thus, romantic rejection can have severe social, psychological, economic and genetic consequences.

But all the feelings are totally natural and mark us each as human beings who can love– and will love again.  It is a rite of passage into the next phase of our lives.


Signs You Are Dating A Narcissist

The Narcissist

The Narcissist

 Narcissist, it’s a word bandied around often to describe the bad behaviour of another person and in relationships it can be an easy way to explain the breakup. But what really is narcissism and how do we spot it in others but also ourselves? Do we label others as narcissist to cover up our poor relationship decisions or are they really among us passing as kind empathetic dating options?

Like any personality disorder there are specific criteria needed to be met .

  • Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love) This facade seems very believable to begin with but over time crumbles as the reality doesn’t match the fantasy. Covers up a deep sense of feeling inadequate but ultimately used to create self doubt and control in the relationship.
  • Normapathic this is when someone wears what can only be termed a “human suit” and covers the narcissistic traits with excessive normalcy. You often sense something is not quite right but never completely work out what, as they appear, talk ,behave so normal but this usually only lasts for around 3 months. At this point you are too enmeshed to easily exit the relationship.
  • Wears persona’s A shifting of personality and masks so you never quite know where you stand with them and it feels like walking on egg shells. You can end up thinking you are going nuts and not sure what is real or not real.
  •  Requires excessive admiration “so let’s talk about you…what do you think about me?” syndrome
  • Has a very strong sense of entitlement makes you feel needed for as long as you are useful fulfilling their needs then can caste you aside. Often repeats this cycle over and over again.
  • Is exploitative of others Lacks empathy, pre occupied with own needs or pain self centred but also unable to empathise or respond to others needs or emotions. This can leave you with a sense of being belittled and erode yourself worth through snide put downs ” Would you slim down for me?” or
  • Excels in leadership roles which require low empathy. Leadership roles, business or areas which low empathy, extrovertness and control are valuable often have narcissists leading the way.

On some level each of us exhibits these behaviours but it’s on a scale from “normal ” to “dysfunctional” which distinguishes what might be a  bit of self absorption( Oh hell what do people think of my new haircut) into a crippling set of behaviours which use and manipulate others.

As with any disorder the origins are usually formed from a mix of genetics, childhood experiences/trauma and neglect. The extreme narcissist is frozen in childhood. They became emotionally stuck at the time of major trauma of separation/attachment. In my work with extreme narcissist patients I have found that their emotional age and maturity corresponds to the age they experienced their major trauma. This trauma was devastating to the point it almost killed that person emotionally. The pain never was totally gone and the bleeding was continuous. In order to survive, this child had to construct a protective barrier that insulates him/her from the external world of people. They generalized that all people are harmful and cannot be trusted with this becoming a rigid personality disorder.

This helps us understand the origins and formation but it still doesn’t take away the devastating impact of living with, dating or being employed by a narcissist. So if you think you are or are dating a narcissist what an you do?

  1. Learn what is and isn’t negotiable.

Some behaviour you may not like but it’s no big deal if you let it slide. Let everything slide, however, and you’ll find yourself in an intolerable situation.  She spends recklessly. Why? Because she wants what she wants when she wants it.  She doesn’t want to be confined by your “stupid” rules. After all, “you only live once. Why restrict yourself?”  In these types of scenarios, you need to know what you’ll tolerate and what you won’t. This doesn’t mean that her spending habits must align with yours.  But it does mean that you speak up and use your leverage to prevent patterns from getting out of hand.

  1. Know when you’re being gas lighted.

When your narcissist says something, then later denies saying it or claims to have said something different, you can find yourself doubting your own sanity. Were you listening? Were you dreaming? Is he nuts? Am I nuts? What’s going on here?  Your narcissist may be doing this maliciously to throw you off balance. Or, more likely, he’s simply responding to his need of the moment, forgetting what he previously said.

  1. Don’t tolerate denigrating emotional outbursts.

At times you’ll be upset with each other and need to let off steam. But how one lets off steam is vital. If you’re being spoken to with disdain and disrespect, stop the action. Make how you are being treated the issue. Express your disappointment. Ask for an apology. If necessary, walk away, letting it be known that you’ll gladly pick up where you left off when you’re treated with respect.

  1. Learn negotiating skills.

Just because your narcissist wants something doesn’t mean she needs to get it.  Just because she expresses herself with force doesn’t mean you have to fold.  Everything is negotiable. You  need to know where your power lies and how to convey it and enforce it.  Learn more about the skills of negotiation. It will help you in many areas of life – today and in your future.

  1. Bolster your own self esteem.

Don’t be surprised if your self-esteem tanks because your narcissist is bent on satisfying their own needs, not yours.  This doesn’t mean that something’s wrong with you. What it does mean is that you’re not getting enough positive reinforcement. So, say kind things to yourself. Spend more time with others who think highly of you. Get involved with group activities that bolster your ego.

  1. Stop keeping secrets.

Don’t isolate yourself. It may be hard to be honest with others about how your narcissist behaves. You may feel embarrassed, especially if you’ve been covering for him for so long. Nevertheless, see if you can confide in a trustworthy friend or family member about what’s been so frustrating for you.  And don’t hesitate to seek out the help of a professional who can assist you in strengthening your coping skills and building up your resolve.

Living with a narcissist is not easy. Accept that you cannot create a major makeover of another’s personality. Nor should you want to.  If it’s that bad, consider splitting. But if you want to stay together, do your best to put these strategies into practice. As you do, it won’t be long before you notice how much better you feel.

Caroline Williams is a registered counsellor and nationally registered homicide / major crimes counsellor in New Zealand working with individuals and couples to help them make the life they love happen. With over 15 years training and experience in anxiety, depression, addictions and trauma she is a prolific writer and workshop facilitator. Contact her at or for in person or Skype counselling and make this year the one that counts!