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  • Paula Thompson
    Paula Thompson

    Grieving While Redrawing Your Brain's Neural Map: Neuroscience's Insights on Overcoming Loss

    Losing a beloved partner can be one of life’s most challenging experiences. During such times, it’s natural to feel overwhelmed by the absence of the other and to become consumed with confusion, anger, and heartache as we grapple to comprehend such a drastic change in our lives. But neuroscience has something to offer in the midst of the grief— a reason for the strain you experience and a plan for the reprogramming of your brain that comes with the loss.

    To understand how this process works, we must first look at how the brain receives associations and creates memories. The way in which our environment interacts with our mind is one of neurological pathways, often referred to as ‘neural maps’. Each time a person engages in an activity or an experience, the neurons need to create a neural map in order to remember it; this happens via repetition and the experience of the action, which enables the neurons to rewire themselves to solidify the memory within the brain.

    As was the case with the building of a neural map with the relationship you had with your beloved, when death, breaking up, or other types of separations occur, the brain must now invest its energy into unwinding or redrawing its neural map. During this process, bereaved individuals are likely to experience a variety of emotions and feelings. They may also struggle to sense their culpability in the outside world, can begin to feel guilty, and may have trouble finishing tasks or remembering simple tasks. It’s important to note too that these barrage of emotions and reactions are not a sign that you are weak, unstable, or broken - they are neurologically based.

    Though adapting to life after the loss of a loved one can seem like an impossible task, the fact that your brain needs to reassemble itself in light of the changed circumstances is actually reassuring, not worrying. Neuroscience suggests that this reshuffling of your brain pathways is evidence that your brain is actively remaking itself to align with the conditions of your present world. Whether this redrawing process takes months, years, or a day— it’s the gentle reminder that you aren’t alone and your brain is striving, courageously, to rebuild itself.

    As you grieve, your brain will try to fill the void created by the absence of your beloved by summoning memories, rewiring neural pathways, and becoming accustomed with the new narratives of life. Do not feel discouraged with yourself if you find it difficult to remember every detail or utter detail because this type of information recall is especially difficult during a grieving period.

    The loss of a beloved isn’t just a broken heart but a remodelling of the brain. With the insights of neuroscience, we can be more compassionate to ourselves, understanding why it may take so long to move on from grief. Remember, grief doesn’t need to be overcome is simply lived with and progressed through. By allowing the brain to do what it needs to do; unbuilding and rebuilding its neural map, we can eventually find a way around our grief.

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