Almost every adult experiences a break-up at some point in their lifetime. Most of us in time accept the loss and move on, but there are some people who never get over a break-up, who never “let go” of the hurt and pain.
Why? Why do some grieve and ultimately adapt, while others can’t get over their pain?
Scientists at UCLA suggest that such long-term or “complicated” grief activates neurons in the reward centers of the brain, possibly giving these memories addiction-like properties.
Basically what this means is that people who accept a break-up (and/or move on) are able to do so because they stop getting neural rewards from seeing their ex or things that remind them of an ex. Those who go into what psychologists call “complicated grief” continue to crave their ex. Each time they see him or her or see/hear something that reminds them of their ex, they still get that neural reward.
Neural reward doesn’t mean you get emotional satisfaction from your pain. It means that yearning and longing (or stalking) serves as a type of validation or compensation.
For some people it ‘proves’ how much they loved and still love their ex. For others, it is a statement of how badly they’ve been hurt.
Prolonged or complicated grief – intense painful emotions, overwhelming yearning and longing, preoccupation with thoughts of an ex etc make adapting to the reality of the break-up more difficult.
I’ve worked with people who insist that their ex is expecting them to call, or stalk their ex claiming their ex wants to see them but is too proud to reach out. Most of them fail to get back their ex because they have a hard time separating reality from what they call “intuition” about their ex. They also struggle with separating who they were when they were with their ex and who they are post break-up. Some are even scared of a life without their ex because that life feels empty and meaningless.
The good news is that most grief thoughts are conscious and that means you can work on the emotions by yourself, with no help. The bad news is that when it is outside of conscious thought, there is no intention about it and therefore hard for you to work on it all by yourself. You need someone to help you separate what is raw grief from what is complicated grief.