A broken heart can hurt like no other pain, and it can be hard to mend.
Some people can live with a broken heart all of their life, others find it near impossible. The impact can be emotional and physical. We can develop broken heart syndrome with chest pain and angina. Some people are said to have died of a broken heart.
1. Reasons for a broken heart
There are many reasons why we may feel broken-hearted, and most, you will know, will have to do with love. It does not necessarily have to be love in an intimate relationship. It can also be the love between good friends or relatives.
A broken heart can happen as a result of the loss of love – actual, imagined, or the love we never had.
As Alfred Lord Tennyson put it in his famous quote about romantic regret, “’tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all”.
I think worst of all is to have never been loved – unconditionally by another.
Love in a relationship can get damaged, questioned or lost through death, betrayal, boredom and the like. Sometimes people talk about having changed, or grown tired of each other. They can remain friends, or they become enemies.
Then you may find that the love you thought you felt for another, or you thought another had felt for you, never was. There might have been deceit or mixed signals or “liking a lot” – but not love.
You might “love” from afar – never to be known by the other, or never responded to in kind.
Unrequited love can be just as painful as a love lost.
2. Shock and grief
The shock and grief of a broken heart can look like too much to overcome.
Life can feel impossible and pointless. Not much else matters but the all-consuming pain. We either cannot but feel it, or we try our best to avoid it.
Often people say they feel numb or shell-shocked. They have to be very still, as if every single movement, thought or feeling could be powerful enough to make them crumble for good.
Others keep very busy and distracted at all cost to keep the painful reality at bay.
Sometimes it is difficult to carry on with a broken heart, with the routines and responsibilities of ‘normality’. What is ‘normal’? It is as if our radar and compass to navigate life are now broken and can no longer be trusted.
Something has ended: the way we were; the life we had; the things we took for granted; the safety and predictability we thought we had.
If a heart is broken due to a betrayal, an affair, or because one or both can no longer give the other what is needed, then the pain can be mixed with moments of intense anger and self-doubt.
How could this happen? Why did I get it so wrong. Why did I not see it coming? How can I take revenge and hurt you the way you hurt me? How can I trust my instincts ever again? How can I trust you? Can I ever take the risk again of trusting another and becoming intimate? Who will want me now? Is this my lot – alone, for the rest of my life?
During this time of pain and self-doubt, everything and everyone can turn into a stabbing reminder of what we have lost. We may either do too much or too little eating, sleeping, going out, crying. We may smoke, drink or engage in other unhelpful habits in the hope of forgetting.
We may rush into a replacement relationship. We may even consider giving the other another chance, in the hope that it all was a terrible mistake, a misunderstanding or just one of those things.
And some people choose to carry on, for a whole variety of reasons. Remaining in a relationship with a broken heart, that’s not easy.
Neither is living with sadness, bitterness and emptiness.
If you have a broken heart, then some of this may resonate with you. Or your circumstances are quite different altogether.
My heart has several cracks. Some more or less defined. The reasons vary.
3. So what do we do with a broken heart?
Most people share, at least for some time, the fear of being unable to cope, of being out of control, of struggling to make sense of what happened. They may find it difficult to move on and get their lives back on track.
If it’s a relationship that is on the rocks, then some choose to try and work it out. And that can make love stronger – while some cracks may remain.
Talking with friends or family may not feel helpful after a while. Some may take sides, or say I told you so. We may not want to upset others. We start to get less empathy as time goes by and wonder whether people get bored hearing of our predicament.
We may remain overwhelmed by feeling our broken heart, without a positive outlook, motivation, hope, purpose or energy. We may feel depressed and largely indifferent.
Perhaps we manage to keep a lid on our feelings, but struggle doing so, and are afraid of what might happen, when our feelings suddenly erupt.
Such painful experiences of the past can also spill over into existing or new relationships.
4. We need to attend to a broken heart.
Whatever the circumstances, and why it happened, there is no shame in having a broken heart. On the contrary, this is serious business and can affect all areas of our lives.
The pain will take time to heal. The scars will remain to show. And sometimes they may crack open again.
We need to take extra care and look after our health – physical, emotional, mental, spiritual.
A broken heart drains our energy. Our immune system can take a hit and we might get ill.
We might need to find ways of working it through, rebuild confidence in us, humanity and life itself.
We may need to gradually develop little activities or routines, that get us out of the house and give us new interests.
We need to start “feeling” again, gently.
In time, what may have felt like some nebulous dark blur, will start to take on some shape and colour. We can see and understand more clearly the rubble that is lying in our broken heart. And we may find the courage and inclination to deal with it the best we can.
We may clear some of it, and leave some until another day. We may be able to linger a little bit longer each time we think about what happened.
We may be able to contain and carry those feelings a bit longer without fear of breaking down.
Mending a broken heart, like so many painful things in life, takes time and there is no quick fix – for any of us.
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