Dr. Guy Winch is a renowned psychologist, keynote speaker, and author. His books, Emotional First Aid: Healing Rejection, Guilt, Failure, and Other Everyday Hurts, How to Fix a Broken Heart, have been translated into twenty-seven languages, and his TED Talks Why We All Need to Practice Emotional First Aid, How to Fix a Broken Heart, and How to Turn Off Work Thoughts During Your Free Time have been viewed over 26 million times. Guy, one of the world’s foremost experts on healing after heartbreak, has joined with Circles as Chief Strategic Officer for our Relationship Circles.
You’re known as the heartbreak expert. What piqued your interest in studying heartbreak?
As a psychologist, it has always fascinated me that there is no other human experience that we can have, that can take somebody who has no psychiatric history, no kind of issues, and when heartbreak happens, overnight, they can turn into a non-functional person that can’t get out of bed, can’t eat, can’t sleep, can’t focus, can’t work, and are completely consumed and obsessed. The only other experience we know that does that is grief. Heartbreak is a form of grief, but it’s different. When you’re mourning the loss of a loved one in that form of grief, you’re also extremely sad and bereft. But heartbreak, in addition to that, makes people act completely out of sorts and do truly irrational things that can even be alarming to them. In a recent poll, 79% of people said they’ve been heartbroken. It’s so common and it’s so dramatic, and yet people tend to know very little about what’s going on with them, why they’re acting the way they are, and what they can do about it. The advice they get is time will heal. Time might, but it might not. So to me, it was a really fascinating topic, and then when I started looking at the research, especially the brain studies, I found it so interesting and ended up writing a book and giving a TED Talk and doing a lot of work around it.
What would you tell someone who’s heartbroken and trying to recover?
There are basically two parts to recovery. First, avoid mistakes that will set you back, and second, take action to heal and recover. When your heart is broken, the same instincts you ordinarily rely on will time and again lead you down the wrong path. You simply cannot trust what your mind is telling you. The problem is that heartbreak creates such dramatic emotional pain, our mind tells us the cause must be equally dramatic. O we go down rabbit holes searching for answers that are not only irrelevant but usually incorrect. Most people break up because they drifted emotionally or feel the fit is not right for them. But those are unsatisfying answers. So we come up with mysteries and conspiracy theories where none exist. And that just keeps us preoccupied and obsessed when we should be trying to detach and move on. Brain studies have shown that the withdrawal of romantic love activates the same mechanisms in our brain that get activated when addicts are withdrawing from substances. You have to recognize that, as compelling as the urge is, with every trip down memory lane, every text you send, every second you spend stalking your ex on social media, you are just feeding your addiction, deepening your emotional pain, and complicating your recovery. Additionally, to heal, you have to reformulate your sense of identity and fill the voids in your life. That can take time and effort but that’s where the healing is.
At Circles, a major part of what we’re doing is tackling the loneliness epidemic. How does loneliness psychologically impact us?
Loneliness is defined subjectively. What matters is that you feel disconnected from the people around you, even spouses or family. What makes loneliness dangerous is that chronic loneliness increases your likelihood of early death by 14-26 percent (depending on the study). In fact, scientists have concluded that taken together, chronic loneliness poses as significant a risk for your long-term health and longevity as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Now, cigarette packs come with warnings saying, “This could kill you.” But loneliness doesn’t. And that’s why it’s so important that we prioritize our psychological health and take steps to address loneliness when we experience it.
Why did you decide to join Circles?
As a psychologist with a private practice, I’m used to treating people one on one, sometimes two, if it’s a couple, and it takes a long time to help a lot of people. I joined Circles because we have the opportunity to help a lot of people all at once. You get the professional support but you also get peer support, you get the people who have experienced what you’ve experienced, who are going through the same thing, and you get that sense of community that I as an individual therapist cannot offer. I joined because I really believe that this is an important opportunity to scale up emotional help and support to a number of people that individual therapists can never even touch. For me, being able to be part of a much larger solution is incredibly exciting, and something I feel very passionate about. The other thing that excites me about Circles is how they leverage technology to help the group leaders, the professionals, do a better job than they would otherwise. I’ve led groups, there is a lot to focus on, a lot to remember, a lot that you have to pay attention to when you’re doing that. Technology is the perfect partner to keep tabs on everyone in the group and know who needs to speak who hasn’t been able to reflect things in a better way. It is a perfect augmentation of the skills a therapist brings to the room by themselves. This merging of professionals plus technology really heightens the effectiveness of the Circle leaders, and therefore of the Circle itself. It’s a perfect marriage of professional skills and technology to bring you something even more powerful.
With World Mental Health Day just around the corner, how important is it to emphasize our psychological health in addition to our physical health?
When I became a psychologist, I began to notice how much more we value the body than we do the mind. We all know how to maintain our physical health and how to practice dental hygiene, right? We’ve known it since we were five years old. But what do we know about maintaining our psychological health? Well, nothing. What do we teach our children about emotional hygiene? Nothing. How is it that we spend more time taking care of our teeth than we do our minds? Why is it that our physical health is so much more important to us than our psychological health? We sustain psychological injuries even more often than we do physical ones, injuries like failure or rejection or loneliness. And they can also get worse if we ignore them, and they can impact our lives in dramatic ways. And yet, even though there are scientifically proven techniques we could use to treat these kinds of psychological injuries, we don’t. It doesn’t even occur to us that we should. “Oh, you’re feeling depressed? Just shake it off; it’s all in your head.” Can you imagine saying that to somebody with a broken leg: “Oh, just walk it off; it’s all in your leg.” It is time we closed the gap between our physical and our psychological health. It’s time we made them more equal.
Join Guy and Circles tomorrow on World Mental Health Day for a special webinar on rebuilding your self-identity after a breakup. Register here.