Romantic relationships: This is what causes the missing state in our brain during a breakup, according to these American doctors

Breakups, sometimes we expect them and other times they happen without warning. But in all relationships, romantic or not, they are as painful as they are confusing. When Josh Kim, 30, signed the lease on an apartment in New York, he had just told his girlfriend of more than a year that he was “engaged.” After a long conversation about her future two days earlier, she had agreed to leave Austin to join him and settle down with him in the Big Apple.

Unfortunately, right after signing her lease, Kim received the fatal text message, the one no one wants to receive: We need to talk. “I’m pretty sure I had a little anxiety attack begging him to make it work,” Kim says. “I have never felt something like this. “It was like a weight crushing my chest.”

In the days that followed, he ran the gamut of emotions: “I told myself, ‘Okay, that’s okay, actually, it’s better this way,’ then 20 minutes later I told myself the complete opposite. “

To better understand the intense and contradictory feelings that go through us after a breakup, it is important to realize that the neural circuits involved when we fall in love operate according to the same principle as the “reward system” implemented by the brain when we fall in love. substances, says Nicole K. McNichols, a professor of human sexuality at the University of Washington.

Both experiences involve the activation of neurotransmitters such as dopamine, responsible for obsessive longing for a person or drug, serotonin, which provides pleasure and happiness, and oxytocin, which promotes connection and attachment. Other specialized regions of the brain are also influenced, Dr. McNichols says, including the orbitofrontal cortex, a part of the prefrontal cortex known for its role in regulating cognition and emotions, and the nucleus accumbens, known as the central nervous system. of brain pleasure. .

Why can relationships seem like a lack?

In short, romantic relationships can seem like a big downgrade. “Just as being in love can become equivalent to a drug addiction, a breakup can reflect the brain processes of withdrawal and craving, as feel-good neurotransmitters also suddenly decline,” says Dr. McNichols.

Megan Bruneau, a therapist in New York, explains that the sudden deprivation of serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin can cause withdrawal symptoms similar to those that occur when a person stops using substances: “Drug dependence is an exogenous addiction, that of neurochemicals. generated by the The feeling of love is an endogenous addiction,” he says.

But hormones and chemistry don’t explain everything. “Parts of the brain responsible for desire and emotional regulation, such as the bilateral ventral tegmental area (VTA), ventral striatum, and cingulate gyrus, are activated,” explains Megan Bruneau of this area often associated with both the use of substances as with substance use. desire to be close to your loved one.

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