Suddenly, Martin had the feeling that the world was collapsing around him. His girlfriend, the woman he had lived with for the last 10 years of his life, had just told him that he didn’t want her anymore, that he had fallen in love with another man, and that the same night he “ left the lodge.
The feeling of disbelief that gripped Martin at this point lasted several days, if not months, after his departure. Distressed and confused, he kept wondering what had happened.
He usually wandered around the house alone, deep in questions and gloomy thoughts. Over time, all kinds of happy moments started to come to mindMemories of better times that tormented him constantly: he remembered his ex-girlfriend’s smile, the last time they were gone on vacation, the walks they took together every weekend in the neighborhood park, hugs and gestures of affection that were professed to each other, going to the movies and the theater, shared humor, and a whole cascade of etc. that were projected before his eyes like a movie, over and over again.
In addition, she often had the feeling that she was always in the house. He could smell her, see her standing by the living room window and hear her echo-like bitter laughter, now in her sad and desolate abode.
She was no longer there, but he had become a very present ghost that pursued him wherever he went. It was Martin’s story. Now I am going to explain to you another case, very different and very similar at the same time.
Breakups and sentimental losses
Just like Martin lost his girlfriend, Diego lost part of her body. He had suffered a serious car accident that led to emergency surgery where doctors had no choice but to amputate one hand.
The funniest thing about the case, and leaving aside the sad and dramatic part of the story, is that in the days and months following the operation, Diego felt the hand that had been taken was still in place.
He knew rationally, of course, that he was missing now. In fact, he couldn’t see anything where his hand had been before. The evidence before his eyes was irrefutable. But even so, Diego couldn’t help but feel that the injured hand was still in place. Plus, he assured the doctors he could move his fingers, and there were even days when his palm was itchy and he wasn’t quite sure what to do to scratch.
The strange phenomenon that plagued Diego has a name … it’s known as Phantom Limb Syndrome. It is a well-documented pathology which, like everything that happens to us in life, has its origin in the architecture of the brain.
The phantom member
Each part of our body occupies a specific place in the brain. The hands, fingers, arms, feet, and the rest of the components of human anatomy have a specific and identifiable neural correlate. Simply put, our entire organism is represented in the brain, that is, it occupies a given space made up of a set of interconnected neurons.
If misfortune lurks within us and we suddenly lose a leg in an accident, what disappears from our body, instantly, is the real leg, but not the areas of the brain where that leg is represented.
It’s something similar to what happens if we extract a page from a book: that particular sheet will no longer be part of the volume in question; however, it will continue to exist in the index. We face a gap between what we are meant to have and what we really have.
Another way to understand this is to think of the actual geographic territory of a country and its cartographic representation, that is, the place that country occupies on the world map … giant sailor might well cause Japan to sink into the ocean, but it is evident that Japan would still exist on every school map scattered across the face of the Earth.
Likewise, if overnight the hapless Diego no longer has his right hand, but his brain still exists, the poor boy is expected to feel that he can take things with the limb. missing, playing with his fingers, even scratching his ass when no one is looking at you.
The brain that adapts
The brain is a flexible organ capable of reorganizing itself. For the purposes of this case, that means the area of the brain where Diego’s injured hand used to sit doesn’t die or go away.
On the contrary, over time, when they stop receiving sensory information from the environment, such as touch, cold and heat, nerve cells cease to perform their specific function. Since there is no longer any reason for them to continue there, their existence not being justified, the arrested neurons are put to the service of another member of the body. They usually migrate to neighboring regions of the brain. They change teams, to put it in colloquial terms.
Of course, this does not happen overnight. It takes the brain months and years of such feats. During this transition period, the injured person can be deceived, Believing that there is still something where in reality there is nothing left.
however, What does Strange Hand Syndrome have to do with poor Martin and his runaway girlfriend who gives this article its title?
Pretty good, in a way, because not only our different parts of the body have a physical representation in the brain, but also everything we do during the day, our most diverse experiences.
If we take Czech language or clarinet lessons, the resulting learning triggers the literal reorganization of certain areas of our brain. All new knowledge involves recruiting thousands and thousands of neurons so that this new information can be fixed and stored for the long term.
The same goes for Clarita, the woman with whom Martín lived. After many years of dating and dozens of experiences together, she held a very specific place in the human brain, just as the lost hand held a specific place in Diego’s brain.
Outstretched hand and outstretched Clarita, both brains will need time to adjust to the new circumstances; clinging to the past, they will only bombard each other with illusory flashes of a reality that no longer exists. So, while Diego feels that he is still holding her hand, Martín feels Clarita’s presence, and the two suffer condemned in the face of the strong emotional contrast that occurs whenever they realize that this is no longer the case.
The problem doesn’t end there
There is one aggravating factor, and that is the feeling of discomfort that arises when the old, accustomed brain cannot get what it wants.
When a person dazzles us, the central nervous system begins to release large amounts of a substance called dopamine. It is a neurotransmitter whose function, in this case, is to stimulate what is called the brain’s reward circuit, responsible for the feeling of well-being and fullness that characterizes the lover.
On the flip side, the excess dopamine circulating in our neurons blocks a region called the prefrontal cortex which, coincidentally, is the biological seat of reflective thinking, critical judgment, and the ability to solve problems. In other words, when we fall in love, the ability to think and act intelligently will end in the seventh circle of hell, and beyond.
Blinded and stunned by love
Falling in love leaves us half-stupid, and it meets an evolutionary ending. Blind in love, not being able to perceive the faults of our partner makes it possible to quickly consolidate the bond. If the person in question impresses us, they look perfect, no negative traits, it will make us want to spend a lot of time with them, which in turn will increase the likelihood of us ending up in bed, having children and that we continue to populate. the world. That, by the way, it’s the only thing that really interests our genes.
However, if for some reason the relationship is permanently interrupted, the reward circuitry is deprived of its source of dopamine, which triggers a true withdrawal syndrome. Instead, the stress circuit is activated and the lover suffers like a criminal for not being able to get what his brain urges him to do.
As a recovering alcoholic or drug addict, the abandoned bride or groom can even commit all kinds of recklessness and nonsense in order to get their loved one back.
The time it takes for the brain to readjust to this disorder is what is commonly referred to as grief., And is usually variable from person to person, as it depends on the type and intensity of the bond, the affection and importance we attach to those we have lost.