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Why Love Actually Hurts According to Science

David Wilson
February 2, 2024

Think about two situations. In the first scenario, you are riding a bicycle, and you fall, bruise your knee, and experience intense pain. In the second scenario, you look at a picture of one of your loved ones who you have lost due to any reason.

You will experience heart-wrenching pain in the second scenario as well, but it won't be like the one you felt when you injured your knee. Clearly, both the ‘pains’ are different. Even though both stimuli are very different, both scenarios produce some uncomfortable feelings that your brain interprets as pain.

The question now is whether the "hurt" or "pain" we experience as a result of a love relationship is real pain or if it's only a made-up emotion promoted by romance flicks and classic books. So let me clear your doubts.

The pain we feel out of love is just as genuine as any agony we could experience from a broken limb. Indeed, the pain that you might experience after a breakup, after losing your spouse, or after the death of your close one is scientifically proven to be a real pain. Yes, love indeed hurts according to science, and today, we will find out the scientific reason behind it.

Can love cause pain?

While love would bring immense joy and a feeling of fulfillment, it also makes you vulnerable and has the potential for emotional hurt. Hence, yes, love can cause pain.

The science behind this is the disruption of the perfect blend of hormones and neurotransmitters in your brain. When you lose someone, the level of happy chemicals in your brain dips, making you feel rejected and in pain.

Physical symptoms of love 

Being in love is like a drug addiction. No, I'm not quoting any song or famous writer, but this is what researchers believe. It is because of the beautiful concoction of hormones in our body whose releases are governed by love that ends up making us feel euphoric. Love not only makes us happy but also takes physical form. These symptoms are:

  • Increased heart rate on meeting your loved one.
  • Flushing of cheeks and sweating of palm when meeting them
  • Losing your appetite and feeling uneasy when around your partner.
  • Your pupils dilate when you see or meet them.
  • High sex drive.
  • Worrying when you're not near your partner.
  • Gaining weight.
  • You can also have trouble sleeping.

Why can love cause pain?

Love is the most studied yet the least understood of all emotions. Yes, for many years, researchers have been studying the effect of love on our brain and body.

One such study was led by Fisher and the team in 2005, where they studied the brains of many individuals using functional MRI images and found that when the subjects were shown pictures of someone special to them, their brains became active in regions that were rich in dopamine.

Now, what's important to know is that dopamine levels also rise when a person is love-struck. 

Dopamine, which is also often called the “feel good” chemical, activates the reward system of the brain and motivates us when released. It acts by helping us associate actions with positive outcomes and making us feel happy. When someone suffers a heartbreak, their dopamine levels fall, making them feel dejected, low on mood, and unmotivated.

Serotonin is another such hormone that is crucial to our pleasure and general well-being. This hormone also tends to dip during heartbreak.

Other important hormones that affect our bodies and minds when we fall in love are Vasopressin and Oxytocin. The levels of these hormones in our body tend to drop when we experience heartbreak from a breakup or the death of a loved one, which makes us feel pained and lonely.

Things to do when love hurts 

By now, you probably would have realized that love can be both painful and beautiful. If you happen to be suffering from heartbreak or you know someone who is, here are a few things that you can try to feel better:

  1. Acknowledge your emotions: Acknowledge your emotions and allow yourself to feel them. Bottling up your emotions or denying them would worsen your pain. Rather, you should try to encounter them with courage by crying your heart out, talking to friends or therapists, or writing them down in a journal. When you acknowledge your pain and give yourself the time to grieve, you allow your brain to process it and eventually get over it in due course of time.
  2. Avoid isolating yourself: You should avoid isolating yourself, rather you should try to reach out to friends and family who can sympathize with you and help you out of your grief. Try being around people who care about you and your emotions.
  3. Practicing Self-love: You must have heard many people advocating for self-love. This, indeed, is a very good way to get over your grief. Even though you may be feeling miserable and hopeless, you should make an effort to love yourself. You can do this by taking care of your physical health, starting a new hobby, exercising, or even eating healthily.
  4. Try doing things you enjoy: Simple actions like reading a book, taking a walk, listening to music, or just doing what you love can sometimes have a big impact on your healing.
  5. Avoid interacting with any trigger that would remind you of your partner: Even though this is a challenging step, avoiding interactions with anything that would remind you of your partner will give you time to heal.
  6. Meditation: When it comes to emotional healing practices, yoga and meditation are also excellent choices.

How long can love pain last?

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, unfortunately. The "love pain" is a highly subjective and personal pain experienced, which is influenced by many factors.

Unlike physical injury, the mental and emotional hurt doesn't heal on a clock. It depends on the severity of the wound, how attached you are to your partner, your healing capacity, and the care you get.

Though there are researchers who believe that in 3 months, most people start feeling better after heartbreak, there is no solid data backing it. Healing isn't linear and it takes time. You can't mark a date on your calendar when you will start feeling better.

In fact, there are many phases through which you go through, and in due course of time, you learn how to win over your pain.

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David Wilson

David Wilson is a skilled clinical psychologist dedicated to enhancing lives through healing and growth. Specializing in empowering clients to overcome challenges, he offers personalized therapy that fosters emotional well-being and resilience. With a compassionate approach, David guides individuals on their journey to discover self-awareness, develop coping strategies, and find lasting happiness. Trusted and revered, he is committed to making a positive impact and nurturing positive change in every life he touches.

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