Learning to heal from emotional pain
// Lindsay Howe

The dark, gloomy weather of the winter months, combined with the realization that your parents will be the only people buying you flowers and chocolates this Valentine’s Day, is enough to have anyone feeling a little bit down about a recently-failed relationship. The Student Success Workshop series at Capilano has devoted a workshop entitled “Breaking Up and Letting Go” to help students cope with their relationship woes.
At any age, dealing with a break up can be emotionally devastating, but dealing with a break up whilst trying to juggle studies, a part-time job, and a social life can prove to be even more difficult. However, those dealing with heartbreak can take comfort that brain research on emotional pain shows that, despite the intensity of pain in the immediate aftermath of a breakup, people are resilient, and that in virtually all breakups (though it may take months) they are eventually able to move on and put it behind them.
To this end, the goal of the workshop is to give students the tools to deal with their emotions and show them how this split can actually result in becoming a stronger, better person. According to the organizers, participants will walk away with the strategies they need to focus attention on their studies and other goals, and according to the organizers, “have the ability to keep moving on.” This workshop is being run by Maggie Feist, a counsellor who works in the Counselling Services department at both the North Vancouver and Squamish campuses of Capilano University.
Feist describes the workshop as “a one-hour workshop focusing on letting go and dealing with breakups. We will look at feelings that we commonly have after break-ups which include having doubts about who we are, how we feel, and reconciliation.” Feist explains that there will be a significant amount of focus on learning how to accept the situation and talk about your feelings openly, as opposed to submerging them and rushing through them without truly understanding why you feel a certain way.
The workshop will be set up in a way that educates individuals about key concepts in the healing journey as opposed to being a step by step workshop. Feist explains some key concepts being learned as “awareness, common issues, how people can personalize the information being given, and explaining why common emotions occur after breakups, and how everybody is different and will ultimately have a slightly different way of responding to break-ups than other people.”
Much of the research on emotional pain and break-ups shows that it is a normal and essential part of the human experience. “Our brains appear to process relationship break-ups similarly to physical pain,” says Dr. Melanie Greenberg on the website Psychology Today.
She cites research in which participants who had recently broken up with their partners had the same brain areas light up on an MRI scan, both when they were shown pictures of their former lover and when a hot probe was applied on the arm. “There may be an evolutionary reason for this. In the animal kingdom, one's chances of avoiding predators are much higher as part of a group than alone; therefore, social rejection may have been an actual threat to physical survival for our early ancestors. If this is the case, it might partially explain how difficult it is for many people to let go of the ex-partner and move on.”
Those who have gone through a breakup may also be familiar with the obsessive thoughts and “cravings” about their former partner that come with a traumatic separation. There may be physiological reasons for why these cravings occur, says Dr. Greenberg. According to one study that used similar methodology, viewing photos of the former lover prompted intense activity in the area of the brain that deals with reward/motivation and the release of dopamine, similar to the activity that is seen in drug addiction. “People may experience cravings for their ex-partner similarly to the way addicts crave a drug they are  withdrawing from,” says Dr. Greenberg. “This can lead to intense distress and physiological as well as psychological discomfort.”
 Those who have found that they’ve loved and lost often find themselves on a pendulum of sadness, jealousy, anger, and many other feelings that they cannot figure out on their own. According to Feist, despite the pain a student may be experiencing, one of things she wants to convey is that “many of the feelings you experience post break up are perfectly normal and are supposed to have a serious impact on you.”

The workshop is being held on Friday, Feb. 3 from 11:30am-12:30pm in the Library Building, room 119.

//Lidsay Howe, writer
//Graphics by Jason Jeon

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