A broken heart is something a lot of us have experienced. Getting over it could be as simple as the cliche of eating pints of Ben and Jerry's or going on the hunt for a rebound relationship to ease the pain, but in some cases a broken heart can be serious and affect a person's entire well-being.
While many will be celebrating love on Valentine's Day, others will be dealing with the grief of a broken relationship. For some, that grief can last longer and be more intense than mourning a death, according to Carol Erb, a therapist with the Beaufort Center for Marriage.
"It's a death-like experience," Erb said. "The experience of the grief process -- be it through relationships or death -- can be very similar. Divorce is like a shipwreck, where you have to keep going back to the wreckage to figure out what to do with the pieces."
With both death and divorce, life can feel like it's falling apart. While both are tragic occurrences, a divorce or breakup can often feel like a failure. The grieving process is entangled with feelings of abandonment.
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"It was out of choice, (whereas) death is not," Erb said. "There's a real sense of rejection. Oftentimes there's a third-party involved, so there's that feeling of betrayal."
With heartbreak, there are the expected emotional reactions: feelings of sadness and despair, rejection, frustration and agitation. But having a broken heart isn't always something experienced just in your mind; the emotions and stress often manifest physically. It can come in the form of muscle tension, migraine headaches, diarrhea or vomiting, weight loss or gain, excessive sleep or insomnia, and panic attacks that actually can mimic a heart attack. One client of Erb's described the feeling as, "an elephant sitting on my chest."
According to Libby Hardy, a marriage and family therapist in Bluffton, "attachment bonds" are formed in a relationship, and when these are broken, clients react emotionally and physically, many times simultaneously.
"The level of anger, betrayal, sadness and confusion that clients feel after (a breakup) leads to symptoms of anxiety or depression," Hardy said.
Hardy works with clients to reduce "emotional hijacking" -- when emotions completely take over a person's mind, flooding their every thought and distorting reality. She coaches clients to slow down the emotional process, allowing them to become more mindful of themselves emotionally and physically to reduce the level of distress while they process their grief.
Owen Tucker, the spiritual care coordinator at Island Hospice Care, hosts various bereavement and loss support groups in the area for people who have sustained some type of loss, whether it be divorce, miscarriage or the loss of a loved one. During the first seminar called, "What's Normal?" those grieving often come asking, "Have I gone crazy?"
"And the answer is,'no,' " Tucker said. "There's a wide variety of reactions people experience. Having physical reactions to grief is not only common, but very typical."
Tucker said those who have experienced loss go through the stages of grief often associated with death: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
"In the beginning, it's more intense and someone is more likely to have physical reactions," Owen said. "It takes something like six months to get over the hump of loss, but I've in some cases, I've known it to take years."
Erb said the most important thing for those who have experienced loss is for them to understand they are not alone in their grief, and they are not alone in the way they are affected by their grief.
"It's important for them to understand that what they're feeling is normal," Erb said. "But what they're feeling will end."
Follow Laura Oberle at twitter.com/IPBG_Laura.