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Healthy Relationships
October 11, 2018
The Aftermath Of A Relationship

Shift Team

A man lying on his bed cuddles his dog while processing his pain.

Understand Pain

The end of a relationship can be extremely painful, whether it’s with a romantic partner, a friend, or a family member. Sometimes there are people in our lives that we can no longer be around because it’s not healthy for us and it’s no longer working. Yet, regardless of how necessary it might be to end a relationship, it will still take time to get over that loss.

There are a few ways to understand relationships and the feelings you get when you lose them. To help you navigate this topic, this blog is divided into three parts:

  1. “What happens inside your mind and body” talks about the biological and chemical
    changes that happen
  2. “What attachment theory can teach you” discusses the relationship itself (by taking a look at early childhood relationship patterns known as “attachment patterns”) to understand why the relationship is - or was - so important to you
  3. “How do I get over this pain?” The pain that you might feel physically and emotionally from this loss, and how to get over it.

What happens inside your body

Our bodies respond to relationships in unique ways. In our body, we create chemicals (like dopamine, oxytocin, adrenaline, and vasopressin) that give us those “feel good” moments when we’re in a relationship, help us build a bond with others, and create patterns that we use as templates to understand relationships in our lives.

So, what happens with these bodily chemicals when a relationship ends? First off, chemicals like dopamine, oxytocin, adrenaline, and vasopressin decrease; so this means your probably won’t have those “feel good” moments as you did when you were part of that relationship. Then, the body’s stress hormone, cortisol, increases as a response to what it thinks is a “stressful event”. What this means is, you probably already don’t feel as great anymore and your body is also responding to say “hey, I’m super stressed about this!” and this results in the confusing feelings you might be feeling at the end of a relationship.

The good news is, we have enough research to tell us how to help our body limit production of cortisol and boost up those chemicals that help us have “feel good” moments.

What attachment theory can teach you

Attachment. You’ve probably heard this word before, maybe even used negatively “you’re being way too attached”. What does it actually mean to be “attached”?

Attachment theory is a psychological model used to help us understand how we respond in relationships; especially when we’re hurt, separated from loved ones, or think something dangerous is about to happen. This response is a process that starts in childhood through one of our strongest bonds, a mother-child bond (but don’t be mistaken, this bond can also be formed with others too. The most important role model or attachment figure in your life is your template for a strong bond). These bonds we build are what make us feel connected and safe. In adulthood, we try to re-create relationships where we hope to feel those same safe and connected bonds.

Usually, when a relationship ends, that bond is threatened. This means you lose that sense of safety and connectedness, which can make you feel scared, alone, sad, or even betrayed and angry. It’s hard to tell what emotions will come out because of this loss. Especially in the storm of these emotions, we may feel a need to go back to that relationship in order to feel safe and be comforted. That feeling of safety may be temporary. It’s important to remember why you ended that relationship and take time to go back to actual relationships that are safe, as well as learn about how you might be able to let go of this relationship (keep reading!).

How do I get over this pain?

Losing a relationship is painful on so many levels. Our body responds with chemical changes to this loss  and the loss in sense of safety and connection.

The good news is, there is something we can do about all this. Here are some tips that you might find helpful:

One, trick our body into thinking the positive chemicals are still around by:

  • Participating in exercise and new activities so that we can create adrenaline
  • Doing activities that help us relax such as going for a walk or meditation, and making sure we stay hydrated to regulate vasopressin
  • Get some rest. Sleep the recommended 7 to 8 hours, because this will help with minimizing cortisol (the stress hormone) and also balance our dopamine levels
  • Cook a nutritious meal (for example, you can try these recipes) maybe even share that meal with family or friends

Two, be kind to yourself. Sometimes we will doubt if we did the right thing to end a relationship, that’s totally normal. It’s all part of what we call the grieving process, where we physically, emotionally, and mentally have to get over a painful loss but it’s not forever.

Three, ask for support from those around you. This can include seeing a therapist. They might be able to help you understand more about your attachment patterns and work with you to form new patterns that are healthier for you. They can also help you get through this experience of loss.

This article was written by Vivian Zhang during their time at Shift Collab.

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