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Relationship Withdrawal – Why You Feel Like You’re Going to Die
You just broke up with your boyfriend/girlfriend and you can’t eat, sleep, feel panicked, disoriented, can’t concentrate at work and feel like you’re going to die. Maybe you have nausea, headaches, feel depressed, can’t function at home or work, crave the person, have suicidal thoughts, feel shaky, forgetful, or many other symptoms that make you feel horrible.
Welcome to relationship withdrawal. Yes, the symptoms you feel are the same symptoms a drug or alcohol or any other addict feels when their “substance” is removed from their life.
How can it be so? And why is it so intense?
I have written several articles on the effects of dopamine on the brain. Dopamine is the “feel good” transmitter that our brain produces in response to something that triggers it. The trigger can be positive: exercise, falling in love, being surprised with some wonderful gift from a loved one. and it can also be caused by something negative: spousal abuse, an unexpected response or event, drug/alcohol abuse.
The bottom line is this: Our brains like dopamine, and they don’t care what we have to do to get it for them, as long as they get their “fix.”
When we’re out of touch with someone, it doesn’t matter to the brain whether it was a healthy or destructive situation. As long as the brain was meeting its dopamine needs, it felt okay. But once that supply is gone from our lives, the brain goes crazy and starts flooding us with all kinds of physical and psychological symptoms. Sometimes these symptoms are so bad, that we will voluntarily return to whatever supply we left, including horrible and painful relationships, just to get that dopamine high and thus calm down and quell the terrible withdrawal. This is one of the reasons some people can’t leave a bad relationship. It’s also why we feel like we’re dying when what we thought was a good relationship is rejected. It’s like being on a treadmill running 5 miles an hour for a long time and then suddenly the treadmill turns off. We’re still on the move, even though the treadmill isn’t running us anymore. Instead of euphoric dopamine production, we crash and burn in a dysphoric state.
The brain knows there are many ways to get our dopamine “kicks”. But as creatures of habit, we will seek the same thing over and over until it destroys us. Alternatively, we can switch addictions and leave the drama-filled relationship and do other things to meet our dopamine needs. With each bout of addiction comes the need to raise levels because the brain will need more and more as it gets used to the ever-increasing levels of dopamine. The plan becomes a disease of the brain that constantly talks to us and tells us to feed it more and more. This explains why people literally feel like they are going into withdrawal when they get out of a relationship. The brain begs for a solution.
Anyone who has ever been through drug or alcohol addiction knows that it takes time to get over the withdrawal. Time has an elegant and eloquent way of calming us down if we let it. If you or someone you know is suffering from relationship withdrawal, please share this information with them. Be as supportive as you can and if you are going through this alone, don’t isolate yourself. Isolation will magnify symptoms and prolong recovery. Get active and stay busy doing something positive. Start walking, jogging, volunteering with animals, working out at the gym or taking a class to get your dopamine levels in your brain positively activated. And do this every day whether you want to or not. If you wait for your emotions to catch you, you’ll never get there! Take a notebook and journal about your feelings each day, then put the notebook away and take precautions by doing something positive for yourself. Allow yourself just 5 minutes twice a day to cry about it and then get on with your life between crying spells. Seriously, schedule and limit your crying spells. Then get on with it. Learn from the relationship and make a firm plan of what you will, won’t do, will allow, will not allow next time you are in a relationship. Know that in time, you will look back on your withdrawal and it will be over…for good.
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