Help your teen recover from a broken heart

When our teens get into dating, it can be pretty scary for us, as parents. Negotiating all those emotional, physical and social aspects that come with relationships can be tough. KELLY EDEN takes a look at what we can do when the relationship turns sour, and our teenager is dealing with heartbreak.

Heartbreak, psychologist Dr Guy Winch says, shares all of the same traits as loss and grief: not being able to sleep, obsessive thoughts, lowered immunity and even clinical depression. Losing a girlfriend or boyfriend has a huge impact. 

EIGHT STEPS TO HELP FIX A BROKEN HEART

1. Understand what’s happening in a heartbroken brain.
Brain studies have shown that heartbreak is like withdrawal from drugs. You become obsessed. Biological anthropologist, Helen Fisher, studied what heartbreak did to people’s brains by looking at people’s brains in a functional MRI.

“We found that when they looked at a picture of the person they love, the hypothalamus was pumping out dopamine,” she says.

Dopamine is the hormone we release that makes us feel all gooey when we fall in love. It gives us feelings of happiness, mood swings, cravings, and obsessive thinking. But when we break up, we plunge into dopamine withdrawal. Helping your teen understand this is an excellent place to start.

2. Cut off social media.
This is a hard one, especially for teenagers, but encourage them to block their ex on social media, even if it’s just for a short time (say, two months). Don’t push it. It’s not an easy thing to do. 

3. Get rid of the reminders.
As much as possible, encourage your teen to remove or hide all the reminders of their ex. This will make recovery much easier. Of course, if they are at school with their ex then there will be reminders that they can’t get rid of, but they can be limited.

4. Make a list of why they weren’t perfect.
Winch suggests teenagers writing down all the reasons that the ex was the wrong one for them. It’s not about being mean and hateful to the other person, but it’s acknowledging that no-one is perfect and giving a bit of balance. 

5. Get a sense of closure.
We can waste a lot of energy going over and over the question “what went wrong?” but it just holds us in our heartbreak. Winch says we either need to accept the reason the ex gave or make one up to get closure.

6. Fill in the voids.
Moving on involves finding ways to replace the gaps that the ex left. Going out with friends, or meeting new people, starting a new hobby, exercising, having fun. Support your teen in getting outside and getting active with friends. 

7. Don’t try to be friends.
It’s not easy to get over an ex if they are still trying to be friends. Teens usually say they want to stay friends, and they might have to if they are in the same social circles or school, but it can drag the heartbreak out longer. If it’s possible, encourage a “no-contact” month.

8. Distract your brain.
Because your teen now understands what’s happening in their lovesick brain, they can control it a bit. When they feel themselves obsessing, encourage them instead to redirect their focus. Even if it’s just doing math equations in their head or they could play a challenging puzzle or word game on their phone. 

It may seem bad right now, but, with your support, it can be a positive life lesson. They can learn some new skills, be resilient, and discover that they are capable of handling difficult emotions.

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