Nothing hurts quite like a broken heart.
I have damaged myself physically many times, often in rather unusual and comical ways. Twelve stiches in my chin and an extracted tooth after tripping over my own feet whilst drunk, broken ribs from slipping on a fence (also drunk) and a broken nose after falling over without putting my arms out – and yes, you guessed it – I was drunk! Apart from the embarrassment, hangovers, ambulance bills and lack of sympathy from friends and family, the pain eases fairly quickly.
Moreover, they were all largely predictable pains. With a stitched chin and cracked tooth, eating a steak is not going to help. Sneezing with a broken nose or ribs is not pleasant, neither is, as I discovered the first time I broke my ribs (playing football – not drunk!) – washing the dishes. Neither is laughing, nor lifting or sleeping on your side.
A broken heart on the other hand is an unpredictable pain, without a lineal healing pattern or standard pain relief. Also, anything can trigger regression, a song, café menu, news story, hearing the person’s name or simply a random thought worming its way into your consciousness. The effects can be devastating, sleepless nights, staring at walls and pictures, loss of appetite, mood swings or running to a room to hide and cry. Those around will tell you that time is the best healer. That much is true, though at 4am, time constantly seems to be travelling at a slothful pace and is nothing but an empty, painfully slow enemy.
How then, can a 19th century German philosopher help ease the pain?
For those unfamiliar with Friedrich Nietzsche I won’t bother with an overview, as there is now this thing called the ‘Interwebs,’ which is like, the largest library on earth – seriously man, you should check it out! Though I do warn you Nietzsche may be one of the most misrepresented and misinterpreted of all philosophers, so ye be warned!
One of Nietzsche’s ideas, of which he had many, is to do with suffering. Nietzsche believed that it is not suffering in itself that is unbearable, rather senseless suffering. That is what truly disturbs man. If anything, Nietzsche thought that suffering could push people towards greatness, and that a life free from suffering is not a life truly lived.
Often, at the onset of a broken heart, the overwhelming waves of senseless suffering is what one feels. It is what causes so much pain, especially if you are the one being set adrift. Why? I don’t understand? What did I do wrong? Why am I not loveable? How could s/he do this to me? To overcome this senselessness, Nietzsche argues, one must find a meaning in the suffering. This in itself is not easy to do, especially at a time of such pain and confusion. It can involve often brutal self examination and self honesty. Or simply time. Often, painful truths. Nevertheless, it is essential in the mending of a heart and one should become a better person for it. How each person finds a meaning in their suffering is personal and circumstantial, yet it is essential to the pain eventually subsiding and the heart mending.
To understand why finding meaning in one’s suffering is needed, we must next turn to Nietzsche’s concept of the ‘Ubermensch,’ or Superman. The Ubermensch appears in 1885’s ‘Thus Spake Zarathustra,’ Nietzsche’s favourite and most popular book.
Nietzsche writes, ‘Man is something that should be overcome. What have you done to overcome him? All creatures hitherto have created something beyond themselves: and do you want to be the ebb of this great tide, and return to the animals rather than overcome man?’ Essentially, the Ubermensch is about becoming the best person that you can be. It is about each individual overcoming themselves, conquering their own demons, improving on their weaknesses, bettering themselves and becoming the best version of themself. And what better time is there to do this than when you are broken hearted? Once you have found a meaning in your suffering, you can use it to become your own Ubermensch.
With a broken heart, it is like life has provided you with a big red shiny reset button. You are at your lowest, questioning yourself, your worth, value and talents. With Nietzsche’s ‘Ubermensch’ you can not only remind yourself that you are worthy, valued, talented and loveable, but you can improve yourself and become an even better version of yourself. And this is not for anyone else except you. It should only be for you. Furthermore, overcoming oneself can occur, and arguably should, over and over again, the quest for the Ubermensch should transpire over a lifetime.
At the end of a relationship, if you have wronged someone, it is a chance for honest self reflection and improvement, or if you have been wronged, it is a chance to remind yourself that the other person is, as Nietzsche describes, ‘…an ape to men. A laughing stock or painful embarrassment.’ Someone who has yet to overcome themselves.