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Understanding your brain after a relationship ends

It feels like every new beginning when we have it and the end of the world once it's over. Love, at all its many stages, is a complicated business indeed. Leading anthropologist Helen Fisher has literally read the minds of individuals in love, and individuals suffering the after-effects of rejection. And the conclusions to be drawn are surprisingly comforting and uplifting for all concerned. 

WATCH FISHER'S TED TALK, THE BRAIN IN LOVE, OR READ THE HIGHLIGHTS BELOW.


FISHER'S RESEARCH TEAM’S DATA IS BASED ON THE MRI BRAIN SCANNER RESULTS OF 17 PEOPLE HAPPILY IN LOVE AND 15 WHO’D RECENTLY BEEN REJECTED.

"Around the world, people love. They sing for love, they dance for love, they compose poems and stories about love. They tell myths and legends about love. They pine for love, they live for love, they kill for love, and they die for love. Anthropologists have found evidence of romantic love in 170 societies. They've never found a society that did not have it."

 If you’re reading this because you’ve recently been hurt, it’s worth pausing to reflect on the fact that at some point in time, almost every single person has been in your shoes.

"In one study of college students, they asked a lot of questions about love… the two that stood out: ‘Have you ever been rejected by somebody who you really loved?’ and, ‘Have you ever dumped somebody who really loved you?" Almost 95 percent of both men and women said yes to both. Almost nobody gets out of love alive."


"MY LONGING HAS NO TIME WHEN IT CEASES."

Eighth-century Japanese poem


INSIDE THE BRAINS OF THE HAPPILY IN LOVE

"How many people have suffered in all the millions of years of human evolution? How many people around the world are dancing with elation at this very minute? Romantic love is one of the most powerful sensations on Earth.

"We found activity in a tiny, little factory near the base of the brain called the ventral tegmental area. We found activity in some cells called the A10 cells, cells that actually make dopamine, a natural stimulant, and spray it to many brain regions. Indeed, this part, the VTA, is part of the brain's reward system. It's way below your cognitive thinking process. It's below your emotions. It's part of what we call the reptilian core of the brain, associated with wanting, with motivation, with focus and with craving. In fact, the same brain region where we found activity becomes active also when you feel the rush of cocaine.

"But romantic love is much more than a cocaine high - at least you come down from cocaine. Romantic love is an obsession. It possesses you. You lose your sense of self. You can't stop thinking about another human being. Somebody is camping in your head. And the obsession can get worse when you've been rejected."


“PARTING IS ALL WE NEED TO KNOW OF HELL.”

Emily Dickinson


INSIDE THE BRAINS OF THE RECENTLY BROKEN UP WITH

"We found activity in three brain regions. We found activity in the brain region, in exactly the same brain region associated with intense romantic love. What a bad deal. You know, when you've been dumped, the one thing you love to do is just forget about this human being, and then go on with your life, but no, you just love them harder. The reward system for wanting, for motivation, for craving, for focus, becomes more active when you can't get what you want.

"We found activity in other brain regions also - in a brain region associated with calculating gains and losses. Last but not least, we found activity in a brain region associated with deep attachment to another individual. No wonder people suffer around the world, and we have so many crimes of passion. When you've been rejected in love, not only are you engulfed with feelings of romantic love, but you're feeling deep attachment to this individual. Moreover, this brain circuit for reward is working, and you're feeling intense energy, intense focus, intense motivation and the willingness to risk it all to win life's greatest prize."


“THE LESS MY HOPE, THE HOTTER MY LOVE.”

Terence, the Roman poet


LOVE CAN LAST – THE THIRD AND FINAL EXPERIMENT PROVES IT

"I have come to think that romantic love is a drive, a basic mating drive. Romantic love enables you to focus your mating energy on just one at a time, conserve your mating energy, and start the mating process with this single individual. I've also come to believe that romantic love is an addiction: a perfectly wonderful addiction when it's going well, and a perfectly horrible addiction when it's going poorly. The god of love lives in a state of need. It is a need. It is an urge. It is a homeostatic imbalance. Like hunger and thirst, it's almost impossible to stamp out.

"It has all of the characteristics of addiction. You focus on the person, you obsessively think about them, you crave them, you distort reality, your willingness to take enormous risks to win this person. And it's got the three main characteristics of addiction: tolerance, you need to see them more, and more, and more; withdrawals; and last, relapse.

"Our newest experiment: putting people who are reporting that they are still in love, in a long-term relationship, into the functional MRI. We've put five people in so far, and indeed, we found exactly the same thing. They're not lying. The brain areas associated with intense romantic love still become active, 25 years later. 

"My final statement is: love is in us. It's deeply embedded in the brain. Our challenge is to understand each other.”


Are you ready to move on from a past relationship? Request a call from the Flame Introductions professional matchmaking team to discover how we can help you find your path to true love.


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Author: Rebecca

Rebecca lives in London with her husband, daughter and dachshund. She hopes her dating blogs for Flame Introductions will inspire you to seek out the best London and UK locations for brilliant dates, and discover some tips along the way to help you find your perfect partner.