Friday, 15 March 2013


People are fond of saying they're heart-broken, but isn't the word grossly misused? I mean, how often are we really that traumatised, that bereft? If people were truly heartbroken that frequently, they'd be basket cases.

Can we really be heartbroken by a celebrity dying? A cancelled holiday? Not winning the lottery? A shop closing or a tree being cut down? Disappointed maybe, or saddened, or surprised. But brokenhearted? An exaggeration, surely?

We've probably never met the celebrity. All we know about them is what we've seen in the media. We have no actual relationship with them beyond personal appreciation. How can we seriously say we're emotionally shattered because they died?

Shops closing, trees coming down, green fields being built on - disturbing certainly, not what we expected, a blow to our nice little neighbourhood. A tarnish on our perfect vision of life. But hardly something to tear our psyche to bits.

The truest heartbreak is the disruption of close relationships, ones that involve our whole being and our deepest emotions. Relationships so strong that when anything fractures them the repercussions shake us to the core.

That is heartbreak proper. Our most basic hopes and expectations are confounded and we have to pick up the pieces and rebuild. It's not just a passing event that skims the surface of our lives.

There's genuine heartbreak too in the loss of precious possessions, things that express our identity and sense of self. Which is why burglaries can be so distressing, out of all proportion to the physical damage, when something very personal is taken from us.

But using the word too casually trivialises those situations where we're truly heartbroken and in real need of comfort and support. Coming to terms with a chopped-down tree is hardly in that league. Let's not pretend it is.


  1. Hummm... I agree totally with this post
    Chris has a habit of occasionally saying that he's ' depressed'
    This gets me mad as hell... I was a psychiatric nurse...and KNOW depression ......I always say
    You are despondent NOT depressed....
    It's a small thing but an important one

  2. John: Glad you agree. And in your job you must have seen a hell of a lot of real heartbreak. I agree about the misuse of the word "depression" too. Being a bit fed-up for a while is NOT the same as being clinically depressed.

  3. Not just depressed. Psychiatric diagnostic terms in general get overused. I weary of folks telling me they are bipolar when they really mean they are a little irritable or moody, or that they have OCD when they mean they are a little orderly or mildly compulsive about a particular habit.

    And then there is the vast overuse of the word heroic, which we've discussed.

    But while I mostly agree that heartbreak should be reserved for the actual ending of a serious relationship or the loss of someone you love, I do think there are other instances where something else can cause a distress that resembles the near-physical pain of grief. I remember driving into my babysitters neighborhood to see that they'd gone and topped all the trees in the street - cut their branches off leaving them like horrible amputees. This is a move which either kills or shortens the trees' lives considerably - and they can't be replaced - it took many many decades to grow those gorgeous old oaks. So yeah, my heart just ached at the wanton destruction. As it does whenI read abou oil spills and clear-cutting of the rain forest. Maybe we should be heart-broken more often over things like that. I don't want to be the one who decides for others what truly tears at their heart.

  4. Agent: I guess you're right, other things can cause very acute pain. I would definitely be very upset if the trees in my street were topped like that. I also have strong feelings about things like oil spills. But I certainly wouldn't want to prescribe other people's emotions.

  5. I can't say I've heard people use the term all that much, unless referring to the demise of a relationship or other significant loss. In general, I see people as being more angry over issues than being heartbroken.

  6. 'Coming to terms with a chopped-down tree is hardly in that league' - Unless it is the tree you hug every day!!

    I think you make a good point here, Nick. We seem to live in a superlative world these days and I am broken hearted about it.

  7. Bijoux: You surprise me. But it's good that people feel angry, if that anger gets something done about the problem.

    Grannymar: No worries, I'd just hug another tree instead. After I'd said a tearful goodbye to the first one of course.

  8. I don't hear the term heartbroken tossed around casually Nick, I don't know who does.

    But I feel close to that when I see a child or an animal abused.

    More of us should be heartbroken at all the abuses in this planet. Maybe then we would do something about it.


  9. www: I guess Newfies are more careful with their language, then! But I think anger is more likely to change things than heartbreak, which is a very personal emotion.

  10. Katie Melua in an interview says she sometimes gets "heartbroken" when she's listening to music.

  11. Liz: I don't want to belittle other people's feelings, but I do think the word heartbreak is flung around far too casually.