How to Fix a Broken Heart Summary and Review

by Guy Winch
Has How to Fix a Broken Heart by Guy Winch been sitting on your reading list? Pick up the key ideas in the book with this quick summary. Nothing hurts like heartache. From a painful to the passing of a childhood pet, grief can be all consuming. This is often where people start ruminating, blaming yourself, and feeling guilty. This is never good. As Guy Winch shows, much more suffers than just your mental health when you get caught in this negative feedback loop. Your body can take a toll too. The key to healing is to start moving forward as soon as possible. Time, as the old saying has it, can heal wounds, but there are plenty of other things you can do to help mend your broken heart. Proactively letting go, practicing compassion, becoming mindful, and getting in touch with your core values are all things that you can learn. Put them into practice, and you’ll be well on your way to recovery! In this summary of How to Fix a Broken Heart by Guy Winch, you’ll learn
  • why it’s so important to share your feelings after loss;
  • how to break negative thought patterns; and
  • why heartache is like physical pain.

How to Fix a Broken Heart Key Idea #1: We have a tendency to internalize society’s unrealistic expectations for getting over a heartbreak.

Everyone’s experienced heartbreak at some point in their lives. Moving past a heartbreak requires time and support from friends, family, and our surrounding society. Generally, society tends to have a lot of sympathy for people who have just been through a divorce or lost a close relative. But it’s a different story when it comes to losing an “unofficial” partner or pet. This is a huge problem. Without social recognition, the healing process becomes a lot harder. Let’s look at breakups. Support quickly evaporates when we’ve “only” lost a girlfriend or boyfriend. This is even more apparent when it seemingly takes us longer to get over the heartbreak than people think it should take us. After a certain point, sympathy turns to irritation – as if we’re not trying hard enough. But just because you weren’t married, or your dog wasn’t a two-legged relative doesn’t mean you’re not grieving. The emotional pain is just as intense. And when it comes to pets, there’s often no sympathy at all. Take Ben, for example. He lost his beloved dog, Bover, after years of close companionship. As Bover grew old and sick, Ben took him to the vet and stayed by his side on countless occasions. He was so devoted to his four-legged friend that he even called in sick from work to be with him. Soon, his boss realized what was happening and demanded that Ben come back to work. Ben asked for a few days off, but his boss told him to get over it – he simply saw Bover as an animal, and nothing more. When Bover died, Ben’s therapist – the author – had to write him a doctor’s note to excuse his absence from work while he grieved. At it turns out, others’ lack of understanding can actually make grieving harder for us. It makes us internalize their insensitivity. This can lead to us judging and shaming ourselves for feeling the way we do. This is something that Ben expressed when he first contacted the author. He told him how much he needed someone to talk to about his agony regarding Bover’s poor health. But, he added, that wasn’t easy. He was embarrassed about his feelings, which made him worry about what the author would think of him. In the book summaries that follow, we’ll take a closer look at what exactly heartbreak is, and how we can recover from it.

How to Fix a Broken Heart Key Idea #2: Heartbreak is a systemic injury which affects both the brain and the body.

Heartbreak often feels very specific. We always say that someone or something broke our heart, so that’s what must be “damaged.” In fact, heartache is a systemic “injury.” Let’s look at the brain. Ethan Kross and his colleagues at the University of Michigan used a functional MRI scanner (fMRI) to analyze the brains of volunteers who’d recently experienced a painful breakup. The researchers showed the volunteers images of the person who’d left them. They then compared this brain activity to that of when they experienced physical pain – the result of a heat source applied to their forearms. What they discovered was that emotional pain from heartbreak can actually cause the exact same reaction in our brains as physical pain, which the volunteers described as “unbearable.” Knowing this helps us get to the bottom of the question of why it’s so hard to function normally when we’re heartbroken. When we really think about it, we wouldn’t expect someone who was suffering from a migraine to function the way they would on a normal day, so why should we expect someone going through a heartbreak to? But heartbreak doesn’t just affect our brains – it can also physically harm our bodies. That’s something that Dev learned when his girlfriend moved to another city and rejected his idea of a long-distance relationship, which left him heartbroken. The day his ex was due to leave town he experienced a full-blown panic attack. His chest tightened and the blood drained from his cheeks. He felt he couldn’t breathe and started hyperventilating. He was convinced he was about to have a heart attack. This is one of many ways our bodies can react to the trauma that comes with heartbreak. Another common response is to go into fight-or-flight mode, triggering the release of a stress hormone called cortisol. Prolonged periods of cortisol release can negatively affect our health severely. This is because the hormone prevents the immune system from working properly, making it much harder to fend off viruses and diseases. Lots of people have experienced being struck down by a bad cold after a stressful work week. The exact same thing happens when we’re heartbroken and cortisol flows through our veins. We read dozens of other great books like How to Fix a Broken Heart, and summarized their ideas in this article called I Hate Myself. Check it out here!

How to Fix a Broken Heart Key Idea #3: It’s often difficult for us to accept reasonable explanations for breakups, which can lead us to blame ourselves for our heartbreak.

Now that we know how heartbreak can affect our bodies, it’s time to shift our focus toward how we can recover. To start, it might help to look at some of the most common mistakes people make when they’re grieving. Let’s start with something that we’ve all been guilty of at some point: refusing to accept our ex-partner’s explanation of why they broke up with us. When we’re going through immense pain, it’s likely that we’ll try to find an explanation for the pain that’s just as monumental as our grief. So, when someone gives us a fairly banal or straightforward reason for their decision, we tend to reject it. We tell ourselves that there must be some deeper explanation. So, we keep digging, hoping to unravel this terrible mystery. In reality, doing this only prolongs our pain, postponing our recovery. Let’s look at Kathy’s situation. She’d been dating Rich for six months when they decided to go on a short weekend trip to New England. The weekend had been so wonderful that Kathy assumed rich was going to propose during their trip. However, quite the opposite happened. He actually ended up telling her that he wanted to break up with her. She was in shock. He stated that although he genuinely cared for her, his feelings just weren’t developing any further. Sadly, he just wasn’t in love with her. Sounds reasonable, right? Upon hearing this, Kathy just wasn’t able to accept Rich’s explanation. It didn’t measure up to the enormity of her pain. This led to her spending months obsessing over what could’ve been the reason for this sudden breakup. What, she asked herself, was she missing? This type of obsessive questioning can lead to a second common mistake: assuming that the breakup must be our fault. Psychologists call this negative cognition. This is simply a fancy way of referring to the self-critical, harmful, and often inaccurate thoughts we often have toward ourselves. The problem is, it’s hard to recognize this when we’re in the midst of emotional trauma. We think that these thoughts must be true. This then stalls our recovery process, which can leave us exposed to the risk of serious grief, and even depression. Self-blame is another result of negative cognition. When Rich broke up with Kathy, she believed that she must’ve done something to prompt his action. She hadn’t, of course, but the thought haunted her and sabotaged her healing process.

How to Fix a Broken Heart Key Idea #4: It’s much easier to heal when we actively work toward letting go and treat ourselves with compassion.

Time, as the old saying says, heals all wounds. While there’s truth in this saying, it doesn’t mean that we need to wait out our heartbreak. In fact, there’s plenty we can do to expedite the healing process. Although letting go isn’t easy, it’s the first essential step toward recovery. In order to heal ourselves, it’s necessary to let go of everything from our hopes to happy memories and objects that we associate with the ex-partner or pet we’re grieving. Remember Ben and his dog Bover? When Bover died, Ben held on to his old stuff like leashes and pillows. He didn’t want to throw them out because he felt that doing so would render him disloyal – the worst way to repay his beloved dog’s unconditional loyalty. The thing is, keeping these objects was also keeping Ben from healing. During his counseling sessions with the author, Ben was gradually convinced that he’d been more than loyal to Bover while he was alive. But now that Bover was gone he could move on without feeling guilty. This is something we can all do as we work through a heartbreak. All those old things are good for is keeping us trapped in our grief and agony. Learning self-compassion is another method for speeding up the recovery process. This means treating ourselves with kindness, rather than blaming and punishing ourselves. Picture this as a rewiring of our self-critical mental habits that can help you replace your negative tendencies with supportive, patient, and understanding thoughts. The best way to get into this new frame of mind is to practice compassion toward others. Studies have shown that writing supportive messages to others who might be in the same boat can make us more compassionate toward ourselves. The thing is self-compassion can be difficult to maintain. It’s all too easy to fall back into old self-blaming ways. In order to beat negativity, its’ important to keep reminding yourself why you deserve compassion. A great example of this is Lauren, a woman who came to the author after she was dumped immediately following a first date. It was particularly difficult for her because it was the first date she’d been on in years. In order to keep reminding herself that she was both attractive and deserving of love, she posted up self-compassion messages around the house, on her laptop, and on her phone screen. This ended up helping her develop new positive thoughts that helped boost her self esteem.

How to Fix a Broken Heart Key Idea #5: Speed up your healing practice by reconnecting with your core and practicing mindfulness.

Closure is the key to getting to over heartbreak. But, as we’ve seen, letting go can be hard when we can’t find a “good” explanation for what’s happened. This can cause you to dig deeper into the past, dwelling on information that might cause you even more pain. So, it’s a good idea to create your own positive narratives to explain breakups. These should be realistic but still make you feel good. When it came to Kathy, the reasons her ex gave were fair, compassionate, and non-judgmental – he hadn’t fallen in love with her, but he did care for her. While it might be hard to accept, this is a great story that can help you to make sense of a breakup. When someone says, “it’s not you, it’s me,” you should take them at their word! That said, it’s difficult to stop those negative thoughts from swirling around in your head. When you’re stuck in that kind of feedback loop, you’re ruminating. The best way to get yourself out of that trap? Mindfulness meditation, which involves non-judgmentally focusing on the moment. You can be mindful when doing anything – even breathing. The first step is to tune into your sensations. Really stop and feel the wind on your skin, or focus on the smells around you. Of course, sometimes a negative thought will come into your head. You’ll suddenly think something like “He really dumped me?” It’s important to acknowledge the thought and shift your focus back to the present. The more time you spend practicing this skill, the rarer it’ll be for negative thoughts to come to mind. It’s also important to your recovery to reconnect with yourself. Doing this will speed up your recovery exponentially. When you’re in a relationship, “we” and “us” come to replace “I” and “me.” But once it’s just you again, you’ll need to take some time reconnecting with who you are. It’s important to remember that you aren’t defined by your actions. Make sure not to judge yourself if you end up crying a lot or working less than you normally would. Instead, make sure that you focus on who you’re going to become and what elements will get you closer to that vision. Doing this will allow you to get back in touch with yourself and discover your true core. If you follow this, try to steer clear of common mistakes the heartbroken make, and avoid placing blame on yourself, you’ll be clear on the road to mending your broken heart.

In Review: How to Fix a Broken Heart Book Summary

The key message in this book summary: Nothing hurts like heartache. The thing is, it doesn’t just feel awful, heartache is also bad for our mental and physical health. Healing, however, takes time as well as support. Finding that can be tricky. Other people often get annoyed with how long it takes us to get over a breakup or the lost of a beloved pet. Worst of all, we’re often far too self-critical and judgmental about the way we’re feeling. So how do we get out of this negativity trap? The best way to do this is to ditch the negativity, so that we can become more mindful, compassionate, and patient. Actionable advice: Don’t idealize your ex! After a breakup, people often look at their ex through rose-tinted glasses. This means they tend to forget the negative aspects of the relationship, and pine for their former partner even more. Trying to avoid this will only expedite your healing.   Suggested further reading: Find more great ideas like those contained in this summary in this article we wrote called I Hate Myself