A broken heart — what is it, really? And where do reality and fiction intersect? How do you survive a broken heart?
A Broken Heart — The Facts and Definitions
The definition of broken heart is…
1 : a state of extreme grief and depression
2 : rupture of the heart muscle (as after myocardial infarction)
The Medical Diagnosis
Broken Heart Syndrome is a real medical diagnosis treated by medical providers. It can also be called takotsubo cardiomyopathy, apical ballooning syndrome, or stress cardiomyopathy.
This is when there’s a temporary disruption of the heart’s normal beating pattern. It can give a person chest pains or make them believe they are having a heart attack. However, the heart’s other functions continue normally, and the pain felt may be a reaction to the disruptive heart beat.
Broken Heart Syndrome can be brought on by a close loss or death of a loved one, also known as bereavement. According to the DSM-V, this is explained as “the state of having lost through death someone with whom one has had a close relationship. This state includes a ranger of grief and mourning response.” American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.).
It’s a reaction caused by the body’s stress hormone, and usually lasts a few days or weeks.
But that time can feel unending and is nearly universally understood, making it a great conflict point in books.
A Reference Throughout History
Broken hearts aren’t new, even if the medical diagnosis required modern technology to explain the heart breaking pain.
Biblical references reach back as far as 1510 BC
Insults have broken my heart and left me weak, I looked for sympathy but there was none; I found no one to comfort me. -Psalm 69:20
Look at the cloud, how it cries like a grieving man
Thunder moans like a lover with a broken heart.
–Rudaki also referred to as Adam of Poets, 900s
Two more references (because we can’t leave out Shakespeare)
Antony and Cleopatra features a character, Enobarbus, who dies of a broken heart after betraying a friend. Lady Montague dies of a broken heart after the banishment of her son in Romeo and Juliet.
In each example throughout time, a broken heart is accepted and understood in fiction. We empathize with the characters or story. But why? How can so many people experience the same thing when everyone has a different cause and reaction? Because a broken heart is brought on by stress, and stress impacts the human body.
- Brain – headaches, insomnia, mood and cognitive symptoms
- Heart – increased strain/pressure; chronic medical conditions and even in severe cases can lead to heart attack or stroke
- Lungs – shortness of breath
- Stomach – nausea
- Groin – impact on sex hormones or body parts functioning
- Muscles – strains, aches and pains
Meaning that when a reader comes across a brokenhearted scene in a book, each person has their own version of what that may feel like. Every author should take into consideration that their characters will react to stress and broken heart differently. This is one of the reasons why the same type of story can be told over and over again, from different authors, and the reader might experience a same-but-different reaction.
For real life and fiction, there are ways that people (or characters) deal with a broken heart.
Surviving a Broken Heart
First and foremost is to do something! Take part in the experience in order to make your way through it.
I do not need to fight my feelings.
I can realize my feelings will pass.
I can accept my new feelings of peace, contentment, compassion and confidence.
This (fill in with the loss of a relationship, person, etc) may seem hard now, but it will become easier and easier over time.
I am able welcome my feelings and ready to grow from this hurt and change.
Everyone grieves differently. Variations can manifest differently for social, cultural, age, and gender. It’s important to remember that self-expression is a great way to cope with a broken heart.
Examples of self-expression include:
- eating for nutrition
- deep breathing
- dance/ movement
- reach out to my support system
Music can be healing for a broken heart, and I’m often asked for suggestions. Some songs that I know have helped others include:
- No Such Thing as a Broken Heart by Old Dominion
- Since U been Gone by Kelly Clarkson
- Fighter by Christina Aguilera
- Fight Song by Rachel Platten
Know Your Triggers and Prepare to Cope
A trigger is any event, situation, date, etc that causes a reaction. In this case, the reaction is pain. Be aware of anniversary of dates, birthdays, holidays, times of family visits and look for early warning signs. If symptoms persist it would be helpful to seek treatment for feeling of loss / bereavement.
Preparation equals coping!
Consider gathering all of your needed coping ideas in one place. That way you know where everything is for unexpected moments of pain. NOTE: More to come in a future post about how to make a coping box.
Share Your Experience
What suggestions or songs have helped you in the past? What ideas can you share with others? Feel free to comment below to help empower others to cope. #TitanStrong
Courtney Patti is a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) with experience treating patients in inpatient and outpatient settings, who works with individuals, couples, and families. She has special knowledge working with military population (both service members and their families), traumatic brain injuries (TBI), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), chronic medical, depression, and anxiety.
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