The first time I went through a breakup, I thought the pain would never end. This was before texting was ubiquitous, so I’d spend my time phoning friend after friend, hoping they’d pick up the phone and spare a few minutes listening to my wise 21-year-old views on love and life and why the greatest relationship of all time (mine) ended with some dude telling me I was whiny and clingy (only one of those things was true).
I read book after book about break-ups (from one that taught me to practice “no contact” to one that suggested I might consider utilizing dark magic to get back at the man who had broken my heart), but in the end the only thing that helped was saying “I’m over it” and pretending that I was until I actually believed it and was able to love and laugh and do everything in that one song that goes “I hope you daaaaaaaance” again.
If you’ve ever done something similar, it turns out you were right! New research suggests that the key to getting over a breakup (one that wasn’t initiated by you and may have come out of nowhere even though you thought you were happy; you were happy, damn it) (sorry) is to trick yourself into believing that you are. So maybe that suggestion to use black magic wasn’t wrong, after all?
New research published in The Journal Of Neuroscience paints a fascinating picture of how well deceiving ourselves works. The study, The Cut reports was conducted at University of Colorado Boulder and studied the responses of 40 people who had gone through an “unwanted breakup.” Participants were instructed to come prepared with a picture of their ex and a platonic friend of the same gender. They then had their brain imaged, received a “heat stimulus” to their forearm, and were asked to discuss their breakup. It sounds like a lot for what I’m sure was a couple of points of college credit. And not just for the participant! Imagine you’re the researcher who’s sitting there with a person who’s just been dumped and is trying to hold it together.
But here’s where things get interesting, via The Cut:
During the process, the participants took a brief break to be given a nasal spray. Half were told it was a “powerful analgesic effective in reducing emotional pain,” while the other half was told it was just saline solution. The participants then went back into the brain-imaging machine. Those in the placebo group were found to feel less pain and feel better emotionally, and their brain responded differently when they saw the picture of their ex.
What does this mean for you, the person (possibly) reading this through a veil of tears because you’ve just been dumped and are googling how to get over the breakup? Glad you asked because this is where you come in:
“Just the fact that you are doing something for yourself and engaging in something that gives you hope may have an impact,” study author Leonie Koban said in a statement. “Doing anything that you believe will help you feel better will probably help you feel better.”