Medicine for heartbreak

February 19, 2020

This Saint Valentine’s day, I happened to be in the city where his bones rest, Dublin, Ireland. As I stood at the airport arrivals entrance waiting for a friend, red roses and kisses were being exchanged like they were going out of fashion.

Since love was in the air, I was curious to read of a new drug that could help us get over our ex. Apparently, this blood pressure drug helps ease the painful memories of the one you once called ‘the one’.

A cure for heartbreak, I thought. Now there’s a drug worth making. Or is it?

Many of us know the pain of emotional loss that comes from a break-up. Our memories lock us in a prison of sadness and grief that seems, at times, inescapable. But those days of Kleenex boxes by the bedside and evenings of comfort eating may well be a thing of the past. Enter propranolol – a beta blocker – aptly named as researchers claim it can help block painful memories, or more accurately, resave the memories without the emotional sting.

So how does it work?

Brain science tells us that factual memory is saved in the brain’s hippocampus, but the emotional aspect of the memory is saved in the amygdala. The heartbroken person is asked to write a detailed account of their emotional experience and read it aloud. The drug is taken an hour before this reading. Then, as the person relives the traumatic memory, the propranolol targets the amygdala inhibiting its “reconsolidation” and surpassing its pain. A memory recalled under the influence of the medication will then be “saved” by the brain in its new, less emotional version.”[1] There you have it, time to put the Kleenex away.

But is forgetting the heartbreak of a break-up the healthiest way to go about dealing with the pain?

I don’t know, but my gut and experience tell me otherwise. There’s something that makes me question the artificial (a pill) soothing or altering of the natural (emotions); using artificial synthesis to heal a very deep human experience. Emotions are so much of the fabric of what it is to live and learn as a human. I’m not sure that avoiding pain is an ideal that should be pursued to such lengths. After all, isn’t pain a teacher and guide to our future selves – a hard but merciful voice of wisdom?

We can all see the wisdom in externalising trauma through writing and speaking. Shakespeare, a man endued with insights into the human condition above most, said well, “Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak knits up the o-er wrought heart and bids it break”.

Though in trying to create a pill to numb the pain, I wonder whether we are missing a more effective way of healing from our heartbreak. Is there not a more natural medicine available?

I once read something Alan Paton, an anti-apartheid activist, said that made me think. “There is a hard law…”, he said, “when an injury is done to us, we never recover until we forgive”. Could forgiveness be a better pill to take when dealing with the hurt from an emotional break-up?

A few years ago, I studied at the well-known mental health clinic, Tavistock and Portman. I was intrigued to learn of the growing attention and use of the idea of forgiveness in the counselling world. This often-shunned idea because of its ‘religious’ connotations was being explored with fresh eyes because of its efficacy in patients’ healing from broken relationships. I wanted to learn more.

Consequently, I took a more bespoke counselling course which led me to Everett Worthington Jr., a leading expert in the psychology of forgiveness, who shares the “REACH” model for forgiving someone who has behaved wrongly. It goes like this:

R – Recall the hurt

E – Empathise

A – Altruistic Gift of Forgiveness

C – Commit Publicly to Forgive

H – Hold On to Forgiveness

Often emotionally painful memories get replayed because we harbour anger and sometimes bitterness for another person (with good reason, too). But that unforgiveness is often born out of an inability or unwillingness to empathise with an offender. In contrast, Worthington shares that “experiencing empathy for the transgressor is the first arduous step” [2] in the potential for forgiveness. Here’s another way of explaining that kind of empathy: “You did something I have never done, and I am deeply hurt by it, but I’ve done some bad things too so I can begin to understand how this might have happened”.[3]

Forgiveness can be a pill that releases you from the prison of pain. It brings us freedom. It is the medicine that says, ‘I no longer have to be a victim to my experiences’.

If you would like to learn more about forgiveness and the power it can have in your life, then please reach out and let us know at the below email address.

Richard Fowler

Richard is editorial assistant at Because

[2] Sin and Grace in Christian Counselling, by Mark R. McMinn (2008), published by InterVarsity Press. Page 45.
[3] Ibid.

Love is in the air

January 9, 2020








It seems like we’ve only just put the Christmas decorations away and – whoah! – here comes Valentine’s Day.

Love is in the air everywhere you look (especially if you look in the shops). But have you ever wondered where love comes from?

I’m a Christian and my belief is that it comes from God. After all, God says of himself that he is love. In the Christian Bible, we can read a radical statement that takes this thought further: “We love because He first loved us”1. In other words, we are only able to love because God invented this thing called love.

You might ask, if God first loved us, when did this happen? The answer is, before you existed, before the world began, before matter and time were created. Yes that’s right, even before there was a you, God loved you. When there was nothing and no-one else, you were in his heart.

What all of this means is that not only is there no love without God but without God loving us, we would not be able to love others.

Does that mean, then, that God is to blame for Valentine’s Day? Certainly not – He has far too much taste for that!

Peter Mill

Peter editor-in-chief at Because

11 John 4:19 (NIVUK)

True Love

February 9, 2018

My wife and I saw a movie recently about a woman who, on occasion, poisoned her husband slightly as an expression of love towards him. I’m not going to spoil it for you by saying which film it was, or what happened in the end.

I hope it does not give anyone ideas for Valentine’s Day! But, in the words of a 1970’s TV detective drama, let’s be careful out there…

How can true love be defined? The Bible gives an idea, and it relates to how Jesus Christ expressed his love to humanity. It tells married couples to love each other by putting the needs and interests of our partner before our own. A mutual self-giving. It sounds a bit dramatic, I know, but husbands should be willing to lay down their lives for their wives, and vice versa, just as Jesus sacrificed himself for all of us.

Of course, we don’t need a special day to celebrate love. Every day is a day to show not only that special someone but also to others around you, that you love him or her.

Why not begin today?

Just as Jesus put us first before himself, why not put someone else before you and your needs?