To sum up my blogs of the past few days, you learned to love that person on many levels including a deep neural physical level in your brain. That fact, that the love you feel for that person is something you have learned to feel, is tremendously important. It is important because, if you learned to love someone, you can unlearn that love.
If you can learn to unlearn, what freedom! You won’t have to spend years struggling in the backwash of an old love affair. You won’t have to rely on illuminating the whys and wherefores of your former relationship with insight.
If love is learned, you can unlearn to love someone, because you want to stop the pain.
You won’t have to rely on wishful thinking (“if only, if only”), the advice of friends or “experts,” or the random chance of inspiration or insight, or the slow passage of time.
You can do it yourself. And you can do it now.
Recent scientific studies have tracked down your former love’s existence to the deepest, most fundamental level in your brain. “He” or “she” is a systematic part of your nerve-cell pathways and is embedded in the neurons and synapses of the brain.
When you lose someone you love, your brain reacts by trying to make those connections in your brain like those unfortunate people who lost an arm or a leg but still “feel” hot or cold or pain in their missing limb.
Since “he” or “she” is still in your neural connections, you expect to see, hear, feel, and touch “him” or “her” when you wake up in the morning, when you turn around, and when you close your eyes.
Insight or working through your memories of the happiness, pain and sorrow of a lost lover continually reinforces the damage, while not thinking about “him” or “her” weakens the pain.
That’s why traditional therapy prolongs the pain and sometimes makes it worse. Traditional therapy asks you how you felt about “him” or “her.” And asks you what “he” or “she” was like? And why did you feel that way? I don’t ask those questions because, as I’ve just pointed out, going over how you felt and why you felt that way just reinforces all those old thoughts and images. When a new patient comes into my office suffering from the pain of a lost love, I don’t even let her tell me the whole story and I don’t let him go into the details. They have already gone through their story with all of its painful details a thousand times in their own mind.
Traditional therapists thought that the way to get over the pain of painful memories was by understanding those memories. They assumed that the way to overcome the pain of a former love was to examine those memories of your former love so you could understand why you were in love in the first place. Then, armed with your new “understanding,” you could “grow” out of your former attachment.
It’s a nice theory, but modern research has shown that reviewing your memories of “him” or “her” not only doesn’t help your pain, it makes it worse.
Memory is an unreliable witness. Painful memories are especially unreliable. However real your memories may seem, things may not have happened the way you remember they did. The American Psychiatric Association warned that it is ‘impossible to distinguish false memories from true ones’. (“It is not known how to distinguish, with complete accuracy, memories based on true events from those derived from other sources.” American Psychiatric Association, 1993 to pick just one study of many that prove the same point.)
Joseph Wolpe the great behavioral scientist, the father of Behavior Therapy, and my mentor at Temple University Medical School, wrote the introduction to How to Fall Out of Love. In it he explained the foundation for behavior therapy.
Our emotional habits resist logical argument or good advice, because something learned emotionally cannot be dealt with purely at an intellectual level.
He wrote: Anxiety is central to unadaptive behavior. Anxiety is learned behavior. Because of certain experiences, an individual forms the habit of reacting automatically with anxiety or fear to certain situations. Sometimes fear is appropriate, because real danger is involved. In cases where no real danger exists, the fear or anxiety is inappropriate (a fear of heights while looking out of a window would be an inappropriate fear). For some people, such anxiety, whether it’s fear of flying, fear of heights, fear of rejection, fear of what others think, fear of taking risks, fear of criticism, fear of intimacy, and a whole range of sexual fears, can become so debilitating that it seriously interferes with daily life.
I was giving a seminar on sexuality at the very posh Carlisle Hotel in New York City years ago. I wanted couples to reconnect, communicate, throw off their old sexual habits and bring romance back into their sex lives. I’d invited BobJudd, a young copywriter from JWT, then the world’s largest advertising agency, because I wanted a professional to write a brochure on my course which was fundamentally about communication. I thought a bright young copywriter would understand and communicate my ideas and I’d been told that Bob was the best.
After the first morning session, Bob and I were having lunch and he said, “you have a wonderful program. I think you should do a book about sexual communication.” And I said I had a better idea for a book. I had a program to help people get over a lost or impossible love affair. And the program worked. Bob said “great.” He said he was going through a divorce and he understood the pain and the need for a program that really helped. “Let’s call it ‘How to Fall Out of Love,” he said.
The program in the new version of How to Fall Out of Love is behavior therapy.
That is, it is based on what neurologists, behaviorists, and other scientists have found
out in the laboratory about the way we learn. So it’s not a pep talk for following moral
guidelines. It won’t give you directions for achieving more insights. And it will not offer
the platitudes of “common sense.” How to Fall Out of Love is a straightforward positive
program based on observed facts. I developed the program at Temple University Medical
School and at Princeton University. It has been enormously successful. As I’ve said I
wish it could be in the bookstores now, but doing it right takes a little time and while
the first galleys are being printed now it won’t be available until January 6 next year.
On my last trip to L.A., several friends and patients asked me, why are you re-writing How to Fall Out of Love. It’s still in print after thirty years. Why change it?
It’s a good question. I know How to Fall Out of Love has helped thousands of people. I have received letters and calls from all over the country from people who say that this book “saved my life.” I met a woman in Palm Beach, Florida, who had been walking toward the ocean intending to wade into the water and swim out as far as she could and drown. She saw How to Fall Out of Love in a bookstore window on her way to the ocean and thought it must be fate. She bought the book and started reading it as she continued walking but turned around when she reached the beach. I met her several times because she kept showing up at my television interviews all over the country. She felt I had saved her life.
When you can’t see or touch or talk to “him” or “her” as you usually do, the limbic part of your brain (which is responsible for your emotional life and where a lot of the formation of your memory takes place) where “he” or “she” has been embedded, becomes hyperactive, trying to make those connections.
Hyperactivity in the limbic, or emotional part of the brain, has been associated with depression and low serotonin levels, which is why you may have trouble sleeping, obsess about your former love, shut yourself off from other people, lose your appetite and nothing feels good anymore. Scientists have also detected an associated deficit in endorphins, which modulate pain and pleasure pathways in the brain and contribute to the physical level of pain you feel during a breakup.”
Ask any therapist and they will tell you that no therapeutic technique or program can ever be expected to be 100% effective. But in the small sample of the 100 cases I treated or supervised before writing How to Fall Out of Love: evenly divided between male & female; college students to people in their late sixties; gay, straight, and bi-sexual, I had a 100% success rate. I couldn’t believe it, but it was true.
“It works, it works,” I shouted out loud. I was so happy. I thought “this is how Edison must have felt when his light bulb first glowed.”
I felt as if I had invented aspirin or penicillin. And I knew that I had to write a book about my program. I have never had an unsuccessful outcome with my How to Fall Out of Love clients. I do a two year follow-up and in a few cases, I’ve done some “touch-up,” usually for jealousy, the most stubborn of the emotions in unrequited love.
Yes, falling out of love is harder to do by yourself without the guidance and encouragement of a trained therapist. But if you are in enough pain, do the exercises, the program in this book will work for anybody who is in pain because their love is not returned or because they are in a dead end relationship.