Heartbreak Really Does Hurt

a young woman with a headache


A study published by the   journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences confirms that, to the brain, heartbreak hurts just as much as physical pain. The study used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to explore the brain and found that thinking about a person who rejected us activates the same part of the brain that is activated when we’re burned by hot coffee.

Heartache and painful breakups are “more than just metaphors,” says Ethan Kross, Ph.D., the lead researcher and an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor. His findings suggest that emotional trauma can play a role in chronic pain disorders.

Psychologists who participated in the study encourage those experiencing physical pain to explore their emotional trauma and baggage as part of the recovery process. Read the article here and share your insights. Has emotional pain affected you physically?

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  1. 1

    This makes sense to me.   If you’ve ever seen the Cymbalta commercial, the motto is “depression hurts”.   The emotional pain of a break up may be temporary, but its a form of depression nonetheless.   There is most certainly a mind-body connection.

  2. 2

    The results of this study don’t surprise me a bit. I’ve often felt that grief is given short shrift in our society. Many people will jump into another relationship in order to avoid the pain of dealing with the previous one. I suspect that’s the main reason that the divorce rate for second marriages is higher than it is for first marriages, and even higher than that for third marriages. Even the words “broken heart” have both a physical and emotional connotation.

  3. 3

    I agree 100%. Once when someone was breaking up with me, I actually felt like I was punched in the stomach. He was a jerk, but I had built up expectations about the life we were going to have based on allusions.  Anyway,  if there is resulting depression after a break-up, that certainly affects the body in various negative ways.

  4. 4

    It’s funny- in eastern spiritual circles and modern ‘new age’ groups the above has always been a given. Only when science has to ‘prove’ it do people take note.

  5. 5

    This was definitely my experience – as though I walked around with broken pieces of razor wire inside of me.   A shock and a real loss of identity.   I considered us a couple and while we had no firm future plans, we’d grown so close, I thought we’d be together for quite a while. I attended a support group for several months, and therapeutic counseling for more than a year.   The relationship lasted a year and a half, but it took more than 3 years to get past it, to accept that we wouldn’t start over. I’ve never grieved over anything so much. In the end, time was the healer, but by going to groups, I felt like I was doing something. I finally was able to decide to enjoy life and be a happy person, but seeing him in passing still brings on some sadness.

  6. 6

    @ Sayanta #4,

    Only when the Federal government spends thousands of dollars on a grant to study the subject is it considered official.

  7. 7
    The InBetweener

    So the human brain interprets emotional and physical pain the same but for some humans (myself specifically) it feels no where NEAR the same.
    I can’t ever recall feeling any type of physical pain behind losing a person in my life – whether it be a break-up or any other type of loss.
    I guess it’s because I don’t have the same faith in the human race as most. I generally feel that human beings are almost guaranteed to disappoint me someway or another so it’s logical to almost always go into every situation expecting the worse but hoping for the best – especially in relationships. 🙂
    If you expect the worst and hope for the best, there is a lesser chance of disappointment and/or pain.

  8. 8

    Not surprising at all, heartbreak in my experience certainly did hurt and was very painful. But I guess because it’s not something like a conventional illness it’s often hard for people to genuinely relate and sympathise unless they themselves have experienced…

  9. 9

    #7 :   I cosign that InBetweener

  10. 10


    Lol!!! So rite

  11. 11

    InBetweener #7

    The study doesn’t break anything down by gender, but I’m curious, are you male or female?  

  12. 12

    This article resonates with me.

    I was recently dating a guy and was in the height of passion.   During this phase, I noticed that I felt absolutely no cramps during my menstrual cycle (very unusual for me) and I was also able to work out hard without feeling any residual muscular pain.   It was like magic!

    We broke up suddenly during this passionate phase and I felt totally the opposite as I had before.   I felt sluggish, had body aches and had really bad cramps during my next couple of cycles.   Looking back, I was amazed by the incredible physical reactions I had to “love” (endorphins) and the absence thereof.

  13. 13

    How a person experiences heartbreak is different for each individual, but there’s no doubt that for me, heartbreak (which I think would describe it too lightly) was emotionally, mentally and physically devastating, and representative of a major life altering event. If anyone’s interested, look up broken heart syndrome. Heartbreak isn’t bad though. Ironically, heartbreak is about healing.

  14. 14

    Oh yes, I just went through it!   It was both a physical and mental depression and everything felt achy and my heart area felt like it had been injured, not stabbing exactly, but like it had been punched hard.   Thankfully, it’s over now, but I don’t feel comfortable getting involved again with someone and risking going through the same damage to my physical health.

  15. 15
    The InBetweener

    @ Ruby #11
    Not that it should really matter – male.
    Why do you ask?

  16. 17

    I def agree. I am a medical practitioner and have found that many patients with chronic pain and specifically, back pain, relate it to emotional trauma.
    I, myself, had a few symptoms when married to my verbally abusive husband. The last year of the marriage I had 2 weird symptoms. The first was a chronic cough. At the time I was in my mid 40’s. The cough went on for a year. I was worked up, chest X-ray, CT, and even bronchoscopy. Nothing was found. I continued to cough. The other symptoms was itching. I began itching like crazy all the time. It drove me insane. I had even read a study where elderly patients who had this chronic itching issue were high risk for suicide due to it.
    Interestingly, the week I moved out and began divorce proceedings these 2 symptoms stopped altogether and never recurred.
    And, recently, with this guy I just broke up with, about a month ago when I began to see some subtle verbal abuse my back started hurting. It was bad enough that one weekend I couldn’t drive to see him (an hour away). I knew immediately it was associated with my emotional state with him.
    I see many people manifest their emotional pain and traumas in back pain, stomach problems and neck pain. Something to think about….maybe recognize??

  17. 18

    “The study used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to explore the brain and found that thinking about a person who rejected us activates the same part of the brain that is activated when we’re burned by hot coffee.”

    AHA – Now I know what my problem is ! I was burned very badly by coffee when I was about 3 months old. Baby pictures of me at that age show me with a huge bandage on my leg. So no wonder I can’t find love, my brain has been activated for heartbreak since I was 3 months old. But for some reason, I LOVE coffee.

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