The rejection of betrayal inflicts a unique, unprecedented pain you only comprehend once you experience it. If you are reeling from an intimate betrayal, you know. The depth of the pain stuns you, it changes you. Having your trust destroyed not only hurts, it shreds your identity and upends your life.
When your trust is shattered, a veil lifts from your eyes, and you can never see the world in the same way again. Before, you lived shielded from the indescribable hurt you feel now that the veil has lifted.
Yet, we are apt to doubt and shame ourselves for the intensity of hurt of this rejection because the pain is “only emotional”…
Now we know better. Neuroscience is finally proving that the extreme stress of being abandoned, betrayed, rejected by someone you love causes ‘real’ pain. MRI studies have validated what many have long suspected: Heartache can cause the worst kind of suffering.
Emotional and Physical Pain Intersect in the Brain
This research has shown the emotional pain of lost love travels along the same pain-processing pathways as physical pain and registers in the brain as an equal threat to survival. As far as our brain is concerned, the pain we feel in loss, heartache and rejection is not different from a serious burn or a knife wound.
Invisible mental and emotional suffering can even be more painful and chronic than obvious physical pain. We are hardwired to stay attached to survive. In a bonded relationship, the brain produces relaxing chemicals, such as oxytocin, that give us a sense of safety, comfort, and soothing. Any time a relationship ends suddenly, through death or abandonment, the production of these hormones abruptly stops. The effect on the body is similar to going cold turkey.
Rejection Activates Craving as well as Aversion
Rejection adds another ingredient to the pain of sudden loss. In an ironic twist, it reactivates the same brain center, the caudate nucleus, that fires when we first fall in love. This part of the brain releases the drive-oriented pleasure chemical dopamine. This is also the same center that lights up when we experience cravings or addictive compulsions.
Who knew that recovering from romantic rejection not only hurts, it emulates, not metaphorically, but viscerally, withdrawal from a nicotine or cocaine addiction. The nervous system sends out life-or-death signals to reconnect with your abandoning partner that amount to nothing less than the most intense cravings you have ever felt.
With the pain and pleasure centers of the brain lighting up simultaneously, a rejected lover lives in a crossfire. Desperate to reconnect with your executioner, but also traumatized, angry, confused and terrified by how much s/he has hurt you. Your brain is pumping the accelerator and the brakes at the same time. A kind of neurochemical torture chamber. All you want to do is find a way out.
That brings us to the dark gift of betrayal. Betrayal drives us, with great urgency, to come to terms with the mystery of pain and suffering itself. The way out, I found, is through. Entering into the hurt with care and kindness begins to open us beyond the broken heart. In the cracks of brokenness, we discover an unexpected well of warmth and goodness.
To read more about the transformation of suffering and opening to love….
“Love and the Mystery of Betrayal”—available in print and ebook.
Great article … please notify me of updates.
You have been added to the email list. Thanks!
Hello and thank you so much for validating how I feel now: destroyed
Do you know of any safe places to recover?
Kelly, I am so sorry you are suffering. Just one friend you can count on to be there for you can make all the difference. Hold yourself gently through this.
I was wondering about treatment centers
I am not personally familiar with any treatment centers, as I worked with local therapists and healers myself. But here is an article that gives an overview of different kinds of programs and also lists the most respected PTSD treatment centers. I hope this helps.
I talked to a therapist friend at my VA Hospital and they referred me to a Trauma Specialist which I have seen once so far… we have another session scheduled. Just getting it all out helped me a great deal on the first session. Hang in there.
God Bless you and thank you so much
I am suffering from betrayal trauma at this time
Great article – this is vital information.
If I had known it after my first husband died, it might have saved me from enduring the agonies of a divorce following a short lived marriage five years later. However there is nothing like lived experience to really drive a lesson home and so I am grateful.
After my second husband’s betrayal and abandonment I read somewhere of this very notion of attached love being like a drug that produces withdrawal symptoms when the attachment is severed. That is exactly how I felt at the time and that little piece of information sustained me in my self torment. I have passed it on at appropriate times to several others but as the book I had read was probably written 20 years ago or so, there wasn’t the detailed information available that we have today from neuroscience.
The other thing that I have learned through my experiences is that when the ‘other’ is no longer around for whatever reason, it results in the withdrawal of shadow projections, i.e. until we do the deep work, we habitually project onto others what is within our own unconscious and therefore when the primary receiver of the projections is no longer there to carry them, they have to go somewhere.
This can initiate an exciting journey of self discovery but it takes great courage to look within and own what we have previously seen as being outside ourselves – the good, bad and indifferent.
Gloria, I appreciate you sharing your experience; it helped me too take it all less personally (as in, am I losing my mind!?!) when I began to see how much we do not understand about the powerful instinctual nature of attachment. And yes, projections, in a close relationship, it is like a hall of mirrors! Take good care.
Sandra – your writing is quite evocative. So heartbreak includes craving. That makes so much sense! No wonder romantics can get caught up in it and why it truly is one of the most painful experiences we can have.