Have you ever felt heartache?

What about heartbreak?

Do you know the differences?

We all know someone whose experienced heartache. We’ve probably experienced it ourselves at one time or another.

Maybe our college crush wasn’t crushing back. Or, maybe we’ve felt the pain of heartache when our pet passed away or when we moved away from our childhood town.

Heartache and heartbreak are used interchangeably in casual conversation in everything from sad movies to bad dates.

But they’re actually quite different.

Don’t get me wrong. Heartache and heartbreak both involve the heart. They both involve feeling pain and sorrow and longing for the person or situation that either directly caused the pain, or was somehow part of it.

But, that’s about where their similarities end.

Understanding the Differences

Part of the problem in deciphering between what we experience as either heartache or its bigger, badder sibling, heartbreak, is that a lot of the time we’re out of touch with our own feelings. We get caught up in work, or tying another degree on the notch, or in taking care of our families or friends.

At the end of the day, that doesn’t leave much time for us to tend to our own experiences or in digging deeper with what we may be feeling.

Regardless of whether it’s heartache or heartbreak we’re experiencing, avoidance strategies are commonly used to buffer the pain and redirect our attention from our feelings to something else.

Unfortunately, avoidance isn’t a healthy coping mechanism.

We may minimize the effects of heartbreak by self-medicating or jumping into another relationship. While this may numb the pain of heartbreak in the moment, the long-term effects of this type of cycle are self-defeating.

We may minimize the effects of heartache by looking at others to distract us. Or we may distract ourselves from feeling our pain by overly committing ourselves with work or our social life.

Since heartbreak runs much deeper, unhealthy coping strategies and self-defeating behavior usually rule the roost when trying to avoid the pain associated with heartbreak.

With heartache, there’s usually less along the lines of self-sabotage, but more along the lines of distracting ourselves with things.

Understandably, no one wants to feel pain. We’re hardwired to find ways to minimize it. However, in order to move past the pain in a healthy way, we first need to recognize what we’re dealing with, and whether it’s heartache or heartbreak.

Defining Heartache

We’ve all experienced drama in our lives. Drama doesn’t always lead to heartache or heartbreak, but it’s often a red flag that pain is going to be down the road, sometimes sooner than later.

Heartache is shorter-term. It’s that initial pinch of pain we feel in our chest (our heart) when something painful happens to us. It is acute, usually triggered immediately after the stressors and leaves emotional bruises in the form of crying, longing for the person or situation that has caused us discomfort or pain, and where we often replay the situation in our mind for a couple weeks or even a couple months.

With heartache, it doesn’t last too long, doesn’t cause other problems seen in heartbreak, and doesn’t usually require therapy. After we lick our wounds for a few months, we bounce back stronger, wiser