Why it hurts
May 31, 2018
An excerpt from my book:
In order to alleviate some of the pain you’re feeling, it’s worth understanding why those emotions are there in first place. By understanding their purpose, it will become easier to deal with them.
Our emotional circuitry evolved over the course of millions of years. Like any other biological system we carry around with us, it evolved because it helped our ancestors survive and reproduce.
In the case of emotions, your brain provides you with positive feelings when you do something which helps you survive and reproduce. Conversely, it provides you with negative feelings so you avoid things which may jeopardise your odds of surviving and reproducing.
So given that you’re experiencing a lot of negative emotions right now, we can conclude that our million year old brain is telling us we’ve endangered our survival and reproductive odds.
Love elicits a stronger emotional response than any other. The reason for this, is that love plays an incredibly important role in our reproductive success.
Love and heartbreak are Nature’s carrot and stick that help guide our behaviour so we stay with our partners and care about their wellbeing long enough for us to rear a child together.
Pain focuses our attention on significant events and promotes correction or avoidance of those events in the future. Heartbreak is a form of pain. It is a message passed on from our ancestors carried by our genes telling us we need to correct or avoid the events that triggered it in the future.
Emotional pain, as opposed to physical pain, is caused by circumstances that negatively impact our social connections. Some examples are:
- The death of a genetic relatives or close associates
- Loss of status
- Sexual jealousy
- Inclusion in social groups
- Emotional pain is analogous to physical pain. In fact, it uses the exact same neurological constellations as physical pain.
This is because as social animals, social inclusion has always been key to our survival. Threats to our social connections are processed at a basic level as severe threats our safety.
You’re in pain right now because you’re wired to maintain your relationships and avoid social exclusion. In our ancestral past, breaking up with your lover could have led to social exclusion, loss of status or the inability to reproduce.
In essence, the pain you’re feeling is your million year old brain perceiving the breakup as a threat to your ability to survive and reproduce.