Love hurts, love wounds

Lynne McTaggart

A study caught my eye this week that underscores the powerful connection between us.  It concerned the emotional pain of rejection, and social psychologists from the University of Michigan made an extraordinary discovery:  the pain of rejection is not simply an emotional pain, but an actual physical hurt.
Sad splits
In the study, 40 volunteers who’d recently suffered an unwanted break-up were shown photos of their ex-lovers while they were scanned by functional magnetic resonance imaging.  Brain activity was discovered to occur in the same regions that get activated when people suffer a physical pain, such as getting punched or holding a hot object. 
The 40 volunteers were instructed to study a photo of their ex and to concentrate on how it felt during the split.
The Michigan scientists then scanned the volunteers after attaching a thermal device to their arms, which was turned up from warm to painfully hot— akin to the pain of holding a hot cup of coffee.
Both situations elicited activity in the brain region associated with pain sensations.   The same areas of the brain – the secondary somatosensory cortex and dorsal posterior insula —  were involved in the emotional as well as physical pain.
Up to now, neuroscientists have believed that the section of the brain involved with the pain of emotion only overlapped that brain region involved with the emotional experience of pain.
 “These results give new meaning to the idea that rejection ‘hurts’,” the scientists wrote.  
Chronic pain
The researchers also believe that intense rejection, as occurs during a breakup with a lover, can lead to chronically painful conditions, such as fibromyalgia.  They are also consistent with the idea of ‘embodiment’ – that physical sensations are an integral part of the experience of emotion. 
This latest evidence provides more information about the intrinsic connection we feel with others. We not only mimic others’ emotions, we also feel them deep within our bodies. We are so attuned to the emotional landscape surrounding us that a positive or negative environment affects our bodies and their ability to function.
Natural killer cells – the immune system’s front line of defense against cancer and many viruses — are profoundly reactive to stress in our lives, particularly social stressors.  Large dips in NK cell numbers and activities have been observed during arguments or even minor conflict.
The pain of arguing
A study of couples showed that the stress of reliving an argument delays wound healing by at least a day. In an ingenious study by Ohio State University College of Medicine, the researchers gathered together 42 married couples and inflicted small wounds with a tiny puncture device on one partner of each pair. During the first sessions, the partners held a conflict-free, constructive discussion and the wound healing was carefully timed.
Several months later, the researchers repeated the injury, but this time allowed the partners to raise an ongoing contentious issue, such as money or in-laws. This time, the wounds took a day longer to heal. Among the more hostile couples, the wounds healed at only 60 per cent the rate of the more compatible pairs.
Examination of the fluids in the wounds found different levels of a chemical called interleukin-6 (IL-6), a cytokine and key chemical in the immune system. Among the hostile couples, the levels of interleukin-6 were too low initially and then too high immediately after an argument, suggesting that their immune systems had been overwhelmed.
Emotion and disease
In fact, social stress has been shown to affect the functioning of the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal gland axis — one of the chief regulators of the body’s ability to fight off disease. Psychologist David Spiegel and his colleagues have found a link between marital discord and negative effects on the cortisol rhythms of the body, which are now considered a risk factor for early cancer mortality.
This type of visceral connection between us – the fact that we ‘feel’ emotions in our bodies – is another instance of nature’s design to reinforce the connection between us. Whether we wish to be or not, we are constantly attuned to the emotional landscape around us.
Here’s a little preview of me speaking to just this point from my new book THE BOND:

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Lynne McTaggart

Lynne McTaggart is an award-winning journalist and the author of seven books, including the worldwide international bestsellers The Power of Eight, The Field, The Intention Experiment and The Bond, all considered seminal books of the New Science and now translated into some 30 languages.

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14 comments on “Love hurts, love wounds”

  1. Thank you Lynn for sharing this with us. Now it's clear how it works, it opens ways to deal with it and to act in the right way!

  2. I am excited to see the research being conducted that PROVES what we have known and felt for years.
    Dr. Bruce Lipton wrote in a groundbreaking book about the Biology of Beliefs and Lynn brings us to another
    level of understanding, in how important emotions are in our health. With these tools, I can now bring the
    scientific data to support my claims, and share it with my clients.
    Thank you Lynn
    Linda McCarthy Ph.D

  3. However what this fails to point out is that we are creating these responses, through our choices about how to interpret situations. We create the feeling of stress whenwe believe, This should not be happening. Instead we can choose to accept without resistance that it is happening (and then respond from there).
    For example, if I'm thinking, she shouldn't have left me, sheshould have treated me better, etc., I can ask myself, is it true she shouldn't have left me? Is it absolutely true she shouldn't haveleft me? What happens when I believe it? Who would I be without that thought? and so on, into self-inquiry.
    There is a radical proposition out there that physical pain is necessary, but mental pain is not.
    Thanks, namaste!

  4. This can go a long way to explain the connection between self-harming and emotional trauma - directly replacing the emotional pain with a physical one is easier for some to deal with. Such an important discovery.

  5. Thanks indeed Lynn!! but my dear, set aside this few cases it's more than emotional, and physical pain.
    Take care dear!

  6. Lynn, This is a great post! Your blogs and bulletin serve such a valuable service. I used to subscribe to the late Marilyn Ferguson's Brain/Mind Bulletin in the 80s and 90s, and so miss her helping me stay up to date with the latest mind-body studies and their implications. Thank you for your dedication, thoroughness, and ability to clarify issues and concepts that are extremely important for all of our welfare. My best to you and Bryan, Dean

  7. I would be interested to see a study of this nature (physical pain and break-ups) spliced together with a study on perception of pain. That is, I think that pain is a perception and not necessarily a consequence of the termination of a relationship. So, even if someone was with their partner for years and they break-up, it may not be painful because they perceived it that way. However, to someone else in a relationship that was, say, shorter in length, could perceive the ending of the relationship as catastrophic.
    With Love and Gratitude,

    1. I thought that both fysical and emotional pain experience were dealt with in the same part of the brain, this is w hat I read. The work of Jon Kabat Zin, mindfulness and meditation practice, in research have proven to both bring change to the view and experience of pain. As I read: "Suffering= pain x resistance."
      So I think both kinds of pain, fysically and mentallly originated, are experienced by the brain and are interdependent. And since the neuropathways in the brain have plasticity, the experience of pain will differ due to biological, both fysical and mental make up.
      You are right it would be great to combine those researches. The change in peception will chang the brain is also, this kind of research seems really helpful.

  8. Breakthrough research. I hope this will lead to an understanding of how to counteract this type of pain.
    Recently diagnosed with fibromyalgia, the medical profession seems at a loss when faced with this condition.
    I am an experienced meditator, 20 years plus, although the fibromyalgia has developed despite the meditation. Meditation is one of the complementary therapies that medical doctors suggest may help sufferers of this condition, and I will soon complete an accredited meditation teacher training course. I began the training before the diagnosis of the fibromyalgia, and this has now led me to a specific area of interest as I am hoping to be able to teach others to better manage their pain and state of mind.
    This condition as I have experienced it has been slowly developing for some years, and is now obvious in its manifestation.Doctors have been at a loss to explain the individual aches and pains and symptoms as they developed over the years and have only recently looked at the whole picture. There is no denying that I have experienced a lot of stress and emotional pain in my life, and this was one of the reasons that led me meditation in the first place, as well as a compulsion to explore my spiritual nature - the 'being' part of the whole human if you like. Meditation changed my life and probably saved my life, as initially it gave me a sense of empowerment, of taking back control and responsibility when I felt helpless, frightened, desperate and at rock bottom. It enabled me to overcome depression, anxiety and panic attacks and released me from anti depressants and anti anxiety medication, and enriched my life on many levels.
    This diagnosis of fibromyalgia is my latest challenge. As a meditator I am not keen to take the medication prescribed which adds to the 'brain fog' that happens on some days, anlthough I am unable to go to work without painkillers most days. The painkillers have nasty side effects and only take the edge off the pain and never eliminate it. The standard treatment seems to be anti depressants, but I am not depressed and have no desire to mess around with my brain chemistry.
    I look forward to further developments in this area. I am working on a specific meditation/visualisation technique as I am determined to reverse and eliminate this condition in myself, and from a personal point of view, if I can visualise what has taken place on a physical level I can visualise a reversal and or elimination of the causes at an energy level. I find that the traditional healing/energy meditations ( I use chakra and qigong ) and positive affirmations are only partly effective, and it is my aim to completely eliminate this condition from my life. If I can do this then I can help others to find their own holistic approach to regaining their health.
    I sincerely hope to be able to develop something worthwhile to be able to help people with this debilitating condition. Anyone out there who has experience of, or an interest in meditation and fibromyalgia please feel free to contact me,

    1. I love this book: Living well with pain and illness, from Vidyamala Burch.
      I am a long time meditator and meditation teacher and have been suffering from chronica bronchitis most of my life and also had breastcancer during a long retreat.
      Healing is a very deep and intrinsic process for me, mostly coming down to opening my heart to myself and others, deeper and deeper. Mindfulness training has further supported me and supports me still to keep my mind open and fresh.
      I live in the Netherlands and hope to help a lot of people living with disease with mindfulness training.
      Good journey to you!

  9. Lynne.......when one has experinced what you are saying, my thoughts go to the eternal, grateful thanks to God for my being able to recognise God in my life, have an acquaintenance with Him and have Him as a Friend.
    Thank you, I have all your books and hope to soon have the 'Bond'

  10. I think unconditional love and non-judgmental mindset is the solution to avoid this pain.

    1. Re unconditional love and non-judgmental mindset, my favorite true story is "Six Months To Live: The Story Of Evy McDonald" at If we want to take our personal situation to the next level, this is what worked and continues to work for me. I have to admit that it was the last thing on earth I would have tried, but then I was a real hard head. I thoroughly checked out Evy's story which led me to a good friend of hers who lives right here in my little town and is an associate of mine. 🙂

  11. Lynn, I am a huge fan. I have come to the belief that my emotions are an indicator of the direction that a thought or action is going. In other words, that knot in my solar plexus tells me that what ever I am thinking about in that moment is not what my inner being is thinking about' a misalignment. So ignoring that eventually leads to other signs of seperation from my inner being (higherself or God) resulting in various diseases. When a thought creates a feeling of joy then I move in the direction of that. There is no other better source of well being than paying attention to how you feel. I suppose you could say that our emotions are our 6th sense. All the answers to all our questions lie within, just Ask and you shall receive. Looking forward to reading your new book.

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