This Is How Your Brain Changes After A Breakup

No, you can’t just “snap out of it” when your BF leaves you and all you want to do is sit around and listen to Adele. Don’t feel bad for wanting to wallow for a while—the breakup is literally messing with your brain. Here are 12 ways it affects your mental functioning.

  1. You’re in physical pain and your brain proves it. Don’t feel ashamed of thinking that you’re taking the breakup badly. Your brain actually equates the pain of a breakup with physical pain. A study by Columbia University used brain scans to look at the brain activity of people who’d been dumped. Participants had to look at images of their exes while thinking of experiences shared with them. Then, they had to look at pictures of friends. Finally, they were exposed to pain via a hot probe that was put in their arms. Ouch! The results found that when people looked at pictures of their exes and were physically hurt, the same part of the brain lit up! This didn’t happen when they looked at pictures of their friends.
  2. Your brain’s a meth head. Feel addicted to your ex? You’re not exaggerating. Dopamine, which controls the brain’s reward and pleasure centers, comes to life during obsessive love and drug addiction, making you crave a fix of your ex. Stay away from his Facebook profile, FTLOG!
  3. You’re unconscious. Okay, not literally, but your brain’s still unconsciously in love with your ex. WTF? The part of your brain that controls unconscious activities like breathing also processes falling in love so it’s no wonder you feel stuck in that state. Neuroscientist and professor Dr. Lucy Brown says that there’s a non-verbal level of the brain, which is hard to control. Ugh. No wonder you can’t get that douchebag out of your head!
  4. Your brain’s built pathways to your ex. Everything you do during the day strengthens neurological pathways in your brain, so it’s not crazy to think that all the habits you’ve formed from living with your ex and having great times together are still there. Time to create new pathways and new connections.
  5. You’re grieving. In a study published in the Scientific American, when researchers asked women who’d gone through a breakup to think about their exes, they found that brain activity was the same as when people experience chronic depression. Yikes!
  6. You’re unfocused AF. Ever wondered why it’s so hard to focus on work and studies when you’ve been dumped? There’s activity between your brain’s prefrontal regions and amygdala that regulate attention and sadness during times of grieving. So, instead of working on your presentation, you’re obsessing over what your ex said. It’s not your fault—it’s your brain doing its own thing.
  7. Your personality changes. A US study published on looked at the effect of divorce on men and women. It found that divorced women had greater extrovert qualities, such as being open to new experiences, after a breakup, instead of emotional instability as in the case of men. Hmm. Seems we’re winning this.
  8. Your brain shows signs of anxiety and post-traumatic stress. It’s not just that your brain’s grieving, but an increase of activity in many areas of the brain linked to sadness means that there’s less going on in the areas related to motivation and emotion. Probably why you can’t be arsed to get up off that sofa. Similar things happen when someone’s going through anxiety disorders or post-traumatic stress!
  9. You feel lost. Maybe you don’t know what you want in life anymore or you just feel like you don’t know who you are. It’s normal. Research has found that you actually lose your sense of self after a breakup because you’re changing how you view yourself or the relationship changed you a bit. But hey, sometimes those changes are worth it, like when you come out of the relationship stronger!
  10. Your iq drops. You might think your IQ must’ve dropped during your last relationship—why else would you have dated such a jerk?—but research by the Case Western Reserve University in Ohio has found that it can actually fall during a breakup. By how much? Up to 25 percent! WTF? Researchers of the study say it’s because rejection interferes with your sense of control. It might cause you to become more impulsive and maybe even self-destructive. So, without self-control, you end up being reckless and making bad decisions.
  11. Your brain’s fighting with itself. Some parts of the brain actually try to overrule each other during a breakup. WTF? This is because the orbital frontal cortex gets activated. This part of the brain wants you to learn from your emotions and control your behavior. So, it’s really like your wise BFF telling you not to drunk-text your ex because you’re going to regret it tomorrow morning.
  12. But your brain will bounce back. Thank goodness! It just needs some time. It’s a resilient dude, and soon those pathways will change, along with your obsessive need to check your phone for any messages from him. Time to heal!
Giulia Simolo is a writer from Johannesburg, South Africa with a degree in English Language and Literature. She has been working as a journalist for more than a decade, writing for sites including AskMen, Native Interiors, and Live Eco. You can find out more about her on Facebook and LinkedIn, or follow her on Twitter @GiuliaSimolo.