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How Your Brain Tricks You Into Missing Your Ex

How Your Brain Tricks You Into Missing Your Ex

You know when you and your ex broke up that it was for the best. The relationship wasn’t healthy, and the two of you couldn’t see eye to eye. “You’ll get over it,” everybody said. “Just move on.”

The trouble is, you’re having a hard time moving on. No matter how much you think of the bad memories, of how you’re better off now, there’s a small part of you that wonders if you maybe you two could be a couple again.

Why does this happen? Why do you keep thinking about your ex? What exactly is going on that makes you miss your ex so much? Wouldn’t it be great if somebody came up with an explanation so you could understand why you keep doing this to yourself?

Science comes to the rescue on this issue by explaining what the chemical reactions in your brain experience through each stage of the relationship.

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The Science Behind It All

It’s important to understand what happens to your brain at the beginning of a romantic relationship. When you first start a relationship, the amygdala and prefrontal cortex in your brain turns off. These areas are usually in charge of helping you make judgment calls before making decisions.

With these areas turned off, it prevents you from being judgmental and thinking negative thoughts about your new partner.

So pretty much, your brain is the reason you got into a bad relationship to begin with. But why? Why would your brain deceive you in this manner?

Well, your brain controls these responses in order to boost emotional attachment in your relationship. In the early history of human development, this helped encourage mating.

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Remember all the butterflies you had in your stomach every time the two of you brushed hands? How you would worry 3 days in advance about what to wear on your Friday night date? All of those wonderful feelings you experience when first falling in love happen because your brain is controlling your emotions.

Essentially, your brain is doing everything in its power to make you addicted to your partner. So after you decide on a breakup, you’re left feeling addicted to your ex.

That’s right.

Are you missing your ex? It’s because you’re going through withdrawals.

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According to anthropologist Helen Fisher, “Love is not an emotion – it’s a motivation system, it’s a drive, it’s part of the reward system of the brain.”[1] You can take this as good new or bad news. All of your past relationships have been guided by the rewards system of your brain. Kind of takes the romance out of it, right?

After a breakup, the ventral segmental area of your brain is activated, producing increased dopamine. Do you find yourself constantly thinking about your ex? Dopamine is the culprit; it’s responsible for obsessive and repetitive thought processes.

The idea behind this research is not to make you feel like love doesn’t exist, or that there’s no point trying again in the future. Instead, it’s that understanding where these feelings come from can help you get over your breakup, and forget that failed relationship.

Recognizing that your thoughts and feelings are normal can also help. Remember that these chemicals will decrease after some time. Missing your ex is temporary.

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What can you do in the meantime, though? Understanding this process doesn’t exactly diminish your pain.

Try spending time with friends and family. Surround yourself with community, people you love. Being with others helps your brain produce more opioids, hormones that make you feel good.[2] Avoid being alone to get through this post-breakup moment.

Try not to feel too upset right now. Everything you’re feeling is natural, normal, and temporary. You’ll get through this and you’ll come out stronger.

Reference

More by this author

Amber Pariona

EFL Teacher, Lifehack Writer, English/Spanish Translator, MPA

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Last Updated on June 6, 2019

Science Says Silence Is Much More Important To Our Brains Than We Think

Science Says Silence Is Much More Important To Our Brains Than We Think

In 2011, the Finnish Tourist Board ran a campaign that used silence as a marketing ‘product’. They sought to entice people to visit Finland and experience the beauty of this silent land. They released a series of photographs of single figures in the nature and used the slogan “Silence, Please”. A tag line was added by Simon Anholt, an international country branding consultant, “No talking, but action.”

Eva Kiviranta the manager of the social media for VisitFinland.com said: “We decided, instead of saying that it’s really empty and really quiet and nobody is talking about anything here, let’s embrace it and make it a good thing”.

Finland may be on to something very big. You could be seeing the very beginnings of using silence as a selling point as silence may be becoming more and more attractive. As the world around becomes increasingly loud and cluttered you may find yourself seeking out the reprieve that silent places and silence have to offer. This may be a wise move as studies are showing that silence is much more important to your brains than you might think.

Regenerated brain cells may be just a matter of silence.

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     A 2013 study on mice published in the journal Brain, Structure and Function used differed types of noise and silence and monitored the effect the sound and silence had on the brains of the mice.[1] The silence was intended to be the control in the study but what they found was surprising. The scientists discovered that when the mice were exposed to two hours of silence per day they developed new cells in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is a region of the brain associated with memory, emotion and learning.

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    The growth of new cells in the brain does not necessarily translate to tangible health benefits. However, in this instance, researcher Imke Kirste says that the cells appeared to become functioning neurons.

    “We saw that silence is really helping the new generated cells to differentiate into neurons, and integrate into the system.”

    In this sense silence can quite literally grow your brain.

    The brain is actively internalizing and evaluating information during silence

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      A 2001 study defined a “default mode” of brain function that showed that even when the brain was “resting” it was perpetually active internalizing and evaluating information.

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      Follow-up research found that the default mode is also used during the process of self-reflection. In 2013, in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, Joseph Moran et al. wrote, the brain’s default mode network “is observed most closely during the psychological task of reflecting on one’s personalities and characteristics (self-reflection), rather than during self-recognition, thinking of the self-concept, or thinking about self-esteem, for example.

      “When the brain rests it is able to integrate internal and external information into “a conscious workspace,” said Moran and colleagues.

      When you are not distracted by noise or goal-orientated tasks, there appears to be a quiet time that allows your conscious workspace to process things. During these periods of silence, your brain has the freedom it needs to discover its place in your internal and external world.

      The default mode helps you think about profound things in an imaginative way.

      As Herman Melville once wrote,[2]

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      “All profound things and emotions of things are preceded and attended by silence.”

      Silence relieves stress and tension.

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        It has been found that noise can have a pronounced physical effect on our brains resulting in elevated levels of stress hormones. The sound waves reach the brain as electrical signals via the ear. The body reacts to these signals even if it is sleeping. It is thought that the amygdalae (located in the temporal lobes of the brain) which is associated with memory formation and emotion is activated and this causes a release of stress hormones. If you live in a consistently noisy environment that you are likely to experience chronically elevated levels of stress hormones.

        A study that was published in 2002 in Psychological Science (Vol. 13, No. 9) examined the effects that the relocation of Munich’s airport had on children’s health and cognition. Gary W. Evans, a professor of human ecology at Cornell University notes that children who are exposed to noise develop a stress response that causes them to ignore the noise. What is of interest is that these children not only ignored harmful stimuli they also ignored stimuli that they should be paying attention to such as speech. 

        “This study is among the strongest, probably the most definitive proof that noise – even at levels that do not produce any hearing damage – causes stress and is harmful to humans,” Evans says.[3]

        Silence seems to have the opposite effect of the brain to noise. While noise may cause stress and tension silence releases tension in the brain and body. A study published in the journal Heart discovered that two minutes of silence can prove to be even more relaxing than listening to “relaxing” music. They based these findings of changes they noticed in blood pressure and blood circulation in the brain.[4]

        Silence replenishes our cognitive resources.

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          The effect that noise pollution can have on cognitive task performance has been extensively studied. It has been found that noise harms task performance at work and school. It can also be the cause of decreased motivation and an increase in error making.  The cognitive functions most strongly affected by noise are reading attention, memory and problem solving.

          Studies have also concluded that children exposed to households or classrooms near airplane flight paths, railways or highways have lower reading scores and are slower in their development of cognitive and language skills.

          But it is not all bad news. It is possible for the brain to restore its finite cognitive resources. According to the attention restoration theory when you are in an environment with lower levels of sensory input the brain can ‘recover’ some of its cognitive abilities. In silence the brain is able to let down its sensory guard and restore some of what has been ‘lost’ through excess noise.[5]

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          Summation

          Traveling to Finland may just well be on your list of things to do. There you may find the silence you need to help your brain. Or, if Finland is a bit out of reach for now, you could simply take a quiet walk in a peaceful place in your neighborhood. This might prove to do you and your brain a world of good.

          Featured photo credit: Angelina Litvin via unsplash.com

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