Dating - what to watch out for when you’ve had a bad experience

Recovering from hurt in a romantic relationship - cognitive versus primitive response and the sympathetic nervous system explained.


When we are hurt by someone emotionally - and this can occur in so many ways - we are pretty much operating from our sympathetic nervous system. Let me explain.

We have something in our brain called the amygdala and it is basically like an alarm system. It is triggered and goes off when we sense danger, this fires up our adrenals and then we are flooded with adrenaline.

When this happens rarely, it can help and alert us appropriately. It’s a good thing.

However, when we spend our time in a relationship that sets this off too often, we are mostly operating from unhelpful mental states. This in turn also has a negative biological effect on us from our sympathetic brain - where our reasoning goes out the window.

This has more adverse effects than you might think, whereby we are walking around wired and anxious (often without even knowing it).

Some of the symptoms of sympathetic dominance (which is the definition of this) are:

  • shoulder and neck muscle tightness
  • sensitivity to light
  • sensitivity to sound
  • light sleep and vivid dreams
  • digestive upsets like bloating, constipation or diarrhoea
  • high blood pressure

This is, as mentioned, the part of us that responds to danger; flight, freeze or fight.

Quick-acting things you can do when this happens to put us back in our reasoning parasympathetic response are:

  • splash your face with cold water
  • run water over your hands 
  • take four breaths in hold for two then release for four

These help to disengage from the triggered state.

When we have been emotionally injured, we are moving around mainly in our primal and childhood responses where the logic and reasoning of our parasympathetic brain are not available to us. We can’t and aren’t thinking straight. These things help us whilst we are vulnerable.

How to activate the parasympathetic nervous system to decrease anxiety:

  • spend time in nature
  • get a massage
  • practice meditation
  • deep abdominal breathing from the diaphragm
  • repetitive prayer
  • focus on a word that is soothing such as calm or peace
  • play with animals or children
  • practice yoga
  • smell of food cooking or scent of flowers

We can know lots intellectually but when we have been through an upset with someone we love, we are always in a primal response. We need to become aware of this so can we can calm this state down to allow us access to what calms us.

Taking more walks than normal maybe after a break up when that thud of loss kicks in you as you first wake. Grab your leggings or throw a jacket over your PJs and get outside.

Nature is so levelling. Look at the trees, hear the birds sing. You might be thinking, "Oh yes sure, this isn’t going to help me when l feel hurt and heartbroken", but it truly, truly does. Fresh air changes our brain chemistry and puts space between the pain that triggers us. It also changes our awareness through changes in thought and, therefore, feelings.

In this painful stage of loss, acknowledging that you are not yourself sounds obvious but we need to focus on our own allowing too. Little by little, day by day, the little things we can do heal us.

We know this happens when:

  • we ruminate less
  • we don’t attempt to look at their social media 

Gradually remember that if you loved someone, things will take time but you will come out the other side!

I think to sum up here using simple terms, dating right now in the current arena of the 'swipe' can be pretty traumatic, to say the least!

You can be numbed out by the lack of values, and common decency not to mention the breeding ground that cultivates the questionable quality of character and basic good manners you come across if you are using apps and online dating to find someone to spend the rest of your life with.

Check out my article on here on love bombing.

But also important to remember that although the numbers of the rampant n’er-do-well brigades are higher than the genuine, genuine people also do exist.

Just pay attention to the red flags. Never put on your profile that you are looking for a relationship, it’s the first thing narcissists hone in on. Watch out for too wonderful too soon. Ramp up your awareness. Listen rather than tell at first. 

I hope some of these tips help. Also, if you are finding yourself in the same situation again and again, seek out the help of a coach. You are worth the investment.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Life Coach Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London, N8
Written by Gail Berry, Emotional and Relationship Coach
London, N8

Written by Gail Berry Emotional Coach - both a therapist and an alternative medical practitioner who works with healing people’s core wounds and uses Bach Flower Remedies alongside talking and behavioural therapy to make real change and transformation possible.
07771 715072
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