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Have you ever wondered why some people get physically sick in the days and weeks following a break-up? How come, when thinking about the moment the relationship ended, even if it wasn’t a long, passionate affair, but a seemingly relatively harmless casual fling, you can feel an urge to be violently ill?

Personally, when I was told stories of elderly couples who died very shortly after each other “of a broken heart,” I always thought that it wasn’t possible, that was the stuff of Hollywood romances or old wives tales. Love, or more accurately, the loss of love, can’t actually kill you. Sure, you can grieve and not want to get out of bed, get dressed or talk to anyone ever again, but surely your body would keep you alive. Life goes on, right?

Well, a new study from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, has found that the regions of the brain that respond to physical pain overlap with those that react to social rejection; in other words, feelings of rejection can “hurt” just like actual physical pain, is reporting.

Ethan Kross, University of Michigan social psychologist and lead author of the article said, “these results give new meaning to the idea that social rejection hurts…. On the surface, spilling a hot cup of coffee on yourself and thinking about how rejected you feel when you look at the picture of a person that you recently experienced an unwanted break-up with may seem to elicit very different types of pain. But this research shows that they may be even more similar than initially thought.”

These findings tell us just how seriously and intensely people can feel rejection, said study author Edward E. Smith, director of cognitive neuroscience at Columbia University. “When people are saying ‘I really feel in pain about this breakup,’ you don’t want to trivialize it and dismiss it by saying ‘It’s all in your mind.'” While this news may not make dealing with the aftermath of the break-up any easier, it is comforting to know that these intensely physically painful reactions are a normal part of functioning, and not a sign of emotional weakness.

Although, it does kind of put to bed the old “think with your head, not your heart” debate, considering that when it comes to social and emotional rejection, your brain can’t tell the difference, and as such, even when everyone is telling you that you ought to move on, or forget about it, actually doing so is much tougher!

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