Talking about why a relationship failed doesn’t soothe the pain of heartbreak and in some cases can make people feel worse, a US psychologist has said.
Instead, Walter Mischel advises to take a couple of aspirin to take the edge off of our pain and urges us to keep some distance to improve perspective. Brooding over a broken relationship could just send us into a downwards spiral, Mischel maintains.
But does he have the scientific evidence to back this up?
In a 2011 experiment, researchers rounded up those who had experienced an unwanted breakup and showed them a photo of their ex-partner. As they did this, their brains were being scanned by MRI.
The same individuals were then subjected to experience intense physical pain from thermal stimulation to their forearm.
During both conditions, the two brain areas for physical pain, the secondary somtosensory cortex and the dorsal posterior insula, became activated, proving that emotional pain really can hurt in a physical way.
The experiment raised many questions about how emotional and physical pain are experienced. Specifically, could painkillers help with heartbreaks?
Turns out, the answer is a resounding yes.
Scientists at the University of California in Los Angeles gave participants in a study an over-the-counter prescription pain killer that they took daily for three weeks, another group they prescribed a placebo. They monitored the levels of pain caused by ‘social rejection’ and those on the painkiller reported a significant reduction in daily hurt feelings. Those on the placebo showed no change.
From now on, when a friend calls you to lament about a bad breakup, some acceptable advice would be: “Take two aspirin and call me in the morning”.
If that doesn’t work, Mischel says there is another antidote: “When feeling rejection pain, it helps to think about those to whom you are enduringly and securely attached.”
Just like looking at a picture of the person who rejected you can reactivate the pain of a broken heart, “thinking about the people to whom you are deeply attached — people you love who love you back — can make it easier to overcome the kind of pain that could otherwise keep you trapped in your past,” the psychologist says.