“The intense emotional pain and stress resulting from unrequited love, disassociation, severance, rejection, adoption, divorce and the death of a loved one have always been associated with broken hearts. World literature, songs, and poems in every language are filled with proclamations about the distressingly painful effects of separation. Legends and fictional tales speak of characters that have died after suffering a devastating loss—a concept that dates back over 3,000 years to describe the physical pain and feelings associated with relationship loss.” Judith Land, Adoptee
Psychologists believe that primal separation fears are a survival instinct that encourages humans to form close family relationships—the reason why we experience emotional pain when those connections are lost. Broken heart syndrome, known in the medical profession as stress cardiomyopathy, is emotional pain caused by intensely stressful situations, such as the loss of a loved one. Bereaved mourners feel especially lost when rekindled memories of the departed increase anxiety, mounting frustration, grief, and emotional stress. Symptoms include exhaustion, restlessness, and feelings of isolation; as well as, sleep problems, eating disorders, chest pressure, headaches, stress and depression. In extreme cases, research has shown that mourners experiencing broken heart syndrome may also develop post traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD)—a medical condition associated with separation anxiety, adoption and traumatic loss.
Physiological and biochemical changes that contribute to physical illnesses and heart diseases have been found in individuals that have high levels of anxiety and depression. Bereaved individuals experiencing mental suffering, emotional pain, sorrow, distress, grief, and anguish are known to have compromised immune systems due to inflammation caused by the heart’s reaction to a surge of stress hormones. Feelings of acute grief, betrayal, and abandonment cause a disruption of blood being pumped in and out of the heart resulting in chest pains and shortness of breath. Intense emotional grief leads to changes in blood clotting and blood pressure that weakens and damages the heart muscle that may eventually shock the body into a fatal heart condition resulting in coronary failure and stroke. Without an apparent medical cause, death by despair is what happens when someone loses the will to live as the result of a broken heart.
Adoptees diagnosed with broken heart syndrome can benefit from the support of friends and family members, draw comfort from their faith, obtain understanding and sympathy from support groups, and profit from the advice of therapists and health professionals. In order to maintain a healthy lifestyle deprived individuals experiencing a profound absence due to an adoption must learn to take care of themselves by protecting their mental and physical health; acknowledging their inner pain; expressing their feelings in creative ways; knowing that it is okay to cry and let go of their feelings when the time is right; and anticipate life events that rekindle memories of the past.
Great post Judith. I can attest to this. I have two friends who recently lost their partner/spouse and they both experienced the symptoms you described. It was like clock work as one of them experienced the loss several months before the other. I myself, as a relinquishing mother, have also experienced this, even though I have an open adoption relationship with my son. One would think that this would erase those feelings of loss as compared to a mother who relinquished and does not have any contact or a mother who has lost her child to death. And I am not going to compare them as equal because I am sure they are not but what I can say is that I have experienced and continue experience the mental and emotional impact associated to loss.
When I experience a distressing situation I often find inspiration in Hallmark Cards and their life-affirming themes that resonate with so many readers around the world as a way to express empathy in simple but powerful words.
I know this particular kind of broken heart, I’m ever so grateful that you wrote this piece ….
The power of empathy is a great gift of humans that can never be outsourced or automated that leads to positive energy and more creative problem solving. We are all capable of expressing empathy but we don’t always take the time or have enough courage to display it.
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