Are you trying to let go of someone you love but who you know is really, really bad for you?
Has the person who you love decided he no longer loves you?
Are you sick of craving your ex, ruminating on good memories, trying to figure out personal flaws, catastrophizing about never loving again, seeking information about your ex, and stalking them on social media?
Trying to let go of someone you love is frustrating, emotionally exhausting and feels, at times, fruitless. But understanding why it’s so hard to let go of someone you love can is great way to start down the path to healing.
Because you can heal. Really.
#1 – History.
Believe it or not, the number one reason that it is so hard to let go of someone you love is based on evolutionary theory.
Back in the day, as mankind was evolving and becoming who it is today, a key part of survival was the need for attachment.
In order for people to come together to make babies and to ensure the babies survival, men and women needed to form attachments that were strong – even unbreakable.
And, because of these attachments, mankind has evolved to be the dominant species on earth (which is too bad but that’s another article).
So, basically, the need for attachment, the need to have a person in your life permanently, is literally needed for the survival of the species. And, as much as we have evolved into modern society, our most basic need, for attachment, persists because without it we would become extinct.
#2 – Chemistry.
When we are falling in love, and in love, our brain chemicals actually change.
Falling in love raises your dopamine which means you are happy, ecstatic even, but lowers your serotonin. When your serotonin is lower you feel more anxious, agitated and restless and have a tendency to be obsessive, compulsive and impulsive. Think about when your new love hasn’t texted for a while and you are jittery and wondering where he is and if he still loves you.
As the relationship stabilizes into a secure attachment, dopamine is replaced by more serotonin and oxytocin, both of which combine to make you want to nest and feel calmer.
When we are fully settled and attached, the brain produces oxytocin. This chemical is fed by spending time together, doing chores, having sex etc.
When we are trying to let of love, or when we are being broken up with, when obstacles get in the way of the attachment, even more dopamine is produced because the experiences of romantic love are heightened by diversity, obstacles and uncertainty. This increase in dopamine means the feelings of love get intensified which means we fall deeper in love with our person at the prospect of being left.
Finally, when our person has left and we are all alone, we are left literally craving the chemicals that have been in our body throughout the relationship. Kicking this craving will be like kicking alcohol or tobacco. It will be really hard.
But, like alcohol and tobacco, the longer you stay away from it, the less you will crave it.
This is why it is essential, when trying to let go of someone you love, that you put a permanent and compete distance between you and him. Don’t feed the craving but let it go.
#3 – Internal conflict.
There are three parts of the brain:
- the brain stem, which is responsible for bodily functions
- the limbic brain, which regulates emotions and attachments
- the neocortex, which regulates executive functioning.
The limbic brain and the neocortex have a very difficult time communicating.
You know how you know that a relationship should be over but you just can’t let go because you don’t ‘feel’ like it’s over. This is because the two parts of your brain aren’t communicating.
We stay in a relationship that doesn’t serve us because our logical brain (neocortex) knows that the attachment is unhealthy but the limbic brain NEEDS that attachment to exist and survive.
This internal conflict is something that you can’t control when you first break up but, like with the chemicals, with time the neocortex will prevail.
When we start to take care of ourselves, stay away from the person who gets our limbic brain agitated and use mindfulness to focus on other things, our neocortex gets stronger and finally the two parts of your brain will connect and tell you that, in fact, the relationship is over and that it’s time to move on.
#4 – A decimated self-esteem.
There is nothing more personal than being left by someone you love. No matter what, we are left with feelings that we aren’t good enough. That we are missing some personality trait that makes us unlovable. That no one will ever love us and that the world would be better off without us, losers that we are.
Tise reduced self-esteem is one of the reasons why it is so hard to let go of someone you love. When we feel bad about ourselves we want to reach out to the person who once loved us, to get confirmation that we aren’t all that we think we are, that they left us not because of our limitations but because of some external force.
And that is something we rarely get. We continue to feel bad about ourselves no matter what.
Furthermore, the end of a relationship is like a death – something that was super important to us, that we had such high hopes for, that we had pinned our future on, is gone and we are left mourning that loss.
Unfortunately, in this modern culture, mourning is not okay. Sure, we are allowed to be sad for a while but it doesn’t take long for your friends and family to tell you to ‘just move on.’ For them to get sick and tired of listening to your pain and want you to get on with your life does not help how you feel about yourself.
Having your feelings belittled and neglected only adds to the feelings of shame. Not only has our love abandoned us but so too our family and friends.
#5 – Lack of answers.
Almost worse than the trauma of being apart from our loved one is the lack of answers. We have been rejected and are confused and we have no idea what happened.
We spend all of our hours wondering what happened. Why did something so promising fall apart? Why did someone we had been married to forever decide to walk away?
Those unanswered questions torment us and, with the decreased serotonin, we become increasing agitated. We seek ‘closure’ which only aggravates our limbic brain and gets us going down the same path that we have been on already.
And, more often than not, there aren’t any answers. “It’s about me, not about you.” “I just need to spend some time alone.” None of these answers will be enough to calm your aching heart.
If you can try to disregard the questions, knowing that you might not get the answers that you seek, then it might help you move on more quickly
I know you are in a lot of pain right now because you have to let go of someone you love.
There might truly be nothing worse than a broken heart. But you can survive it.
Understand that the history of our species makes us want to stay attached, that our chemistry makes withdrawal from an attachment supremely difficult, that our brain’s internal conflict is powerful, that our self-esteem has plummeted and that we are left mostly only with questions. Understanding these things will help you let go of someone you love so that you can get on with your life and meet the guy who you are supposed to be with.
It will happen. Winston Churchill said ‘If you are going through hell, don’t stop.’ Suffer through the pain and you will emerge, like a butterfly, on the other end.
If you’ve made it this far you must really struggling how to let go of someone you love.
Let me help get you there, NOW, so you can start to heal.
I am a NYC based Certified Life Coach and mental health advocate. My writing has been published on The Huffington Post, Prevention, Psych Central, Pop Sugar, MSN and The Good Man Project, among others. I work with all kinds of people to help them go from depressed and overwhelmed to confident and happy in their relationships and in their world.