Exclusive: Heart Broken Anonymous Founder Naz Perez on Why Community is the Most Important Aspect of Healing
Grief can stem from many places—loss of a love, a friend, a family or a job. To love and experience loss is a universal emotion, that sometimes in our grief, can feel incredibly isolating.
This is something that former The Bachelor franchise producer Naz Perez understands really well. Throughout her career, the Dominican American Latina has witnessed her fair share of heartbreak.
The one thing she has learned from her experiences on the popular franchise and in her life was that community breeds healing. For this reason, Perez created her grief support group Heart Broken Anonymous.
In an exclusive interview with People Chica, Perez details why Heart Broken Anonymous has resonated with so many people and what she's learned about the healing process.
What have you learned is the best way to care for one's heart after a tough relationship?
I think the best way to care for and honor your heart after a tough break-up is to accept, embrace and sit in the uncomfortable feeling that is heartbreak. It can feel easier to run away or distract yourself from those feelings, but I don't think the best way out of heartbreak is around it—it's through it.
The best way for me to process, personally, is to surround myself with people who feel the same way I do so that I can feel seen, heard and validated in my own experience. When we go through a breakup of any kind (with a friend, romantic partner, family member, job, etc.) and nobody around us is feeling that way, we can feel socially disconnected, which leads to us feeling unknown.
And all we want in life, as humans, is to feel known and to feel like we belong. So going to support groups like the one I founded, Heart Broken Anonymous™, can be helpful when experiencing heartbreak. By coming and sharing and listening to other stories of heartbreak, you remind yourself you're not alone. And that can be healing. By saying out loud how you feel in a safe space, you realize where you're at. And realizing where you're at, and accepting it, is the first step in processing heartbreak.
You founded Heart Broken Anonymous with the goal of offering a space to people where they could find community. What have your experiences taught you about the power of community?
Heartbreak can make us feel isolated, but togetherness raises optimism and creativity. And I believe there's more hope in togetherness than in being alone, which is why I started Heart Broken Anonymous. We are wired for connection. We need people. A lot of people think we evolved as a species because we got stronger or started running faster, but the truth is we evolved because we started to work together. [A] "How are we going to trap this animal so that we can eat," mentality. We need community. It's how we got here today.
Something that's really interesting is that we are biologically primed not just to feel better together, but to feel normal together. When people share and listen to other stories of heartbreak at a Heart Broken Anonymous meeting, it increases people's connection, which in turn decreases your body's stress response. So by listening and helping others, it leaves people feeling less anxious and more secure. And guess what? That low stress state of connection is actually your default state as a human being! I learned this by reading an incredible book called Together by Vivek H. Murthy, who has been a huge inspiration of mine to bring heartbroken people together.
Why do you feel that the premise of Heart Broken Anonymous speaks to so many people?
A couple of reasons. The first is that 'heartbreak' is overwhelming distress. I'm so over the fact that when most people hear the word heartbreak, their immediate thought is of a girl getting dumped by a guy. That's not what it is. It is literally anything causing you overwhelming distress. It can be your dog dying, losing a job, trying to get pregnant, unrequited love [or] racial injustice. Anything can cause heartbreak, and that's why people resonate with HBA so much. Another reason is that Heart Broken Anonymous™ is a safe space where you can come and say what it is you're ACTUALLY feeling without feeling judged. And that's rare these days, few places like this exist.
I started it because I met a stranger who was more comfortable telling me about their heartbreak than their own friends and family. They didn't want to get advice or feel judged for simply FEELING the way they did in that moment. When we come together, we shouldn't have to deny or hide parts of ourselves, or feel rejected for the way we feel. And our friends and family—bless them—because they typically just want the best for us, sometimes can offer unsolicited feedback after we open up to them, and that is just not helpful (sometimes). When you share at an HBA meeting, there is no cross-talk allowed. So you're free to share whatever is [in] your heart, and you have the option to connect with other members in the meeting afterwards.
Last, we're in an epidemic of loneliness and on top of that, most of us are still living in relative isolation, which can make things worse if you were already feeling lonely. HBA reminds you [that] you're not alone, and is a community you can be a part of, at a time [when] we're all starved for real, genuine, intimate connection. That's why I think it speaks to so many people.
I have meetings all year round, but for those struggling with heartbreak this Valentine's Day specifically, I'm having an in person meeting in L.A. sponsored by GeoJam that you can sign up for now, and we will also be hosting a virtual meeting on Zoom as well that day. People can go to heartbrokenanonymous.com to signup.
As Latinas, we lean on our mothers, aunts and grandmothers' sage life advice in times of trouble. What has been the best advice you've received from a woman in your family when it comes to love?
"Get Married." I love this question so much, thank you for asking it. I think the best life advice that applies to love and life in general that I got from my Dominican mother was when I was really little. Every time I would fall down or get hurt or complain about something going wrong, my mom would say, "Sana Sana Colita de Rana. Si no se sana hoy, se sana mañana."
It's a Spanish rhyme for kids, and when you [roughly] translate it in English it means, "Heal, heal, little tail of the frog. If you don't heal today, you'll heal tomorrow." My mom was basically telling me and teaching me that it's okay if something doesn't feel right or isn't fixed right now, it will start to feel better tomorrow (or in the future) on its own, so don't worry so much. And I have found that to be so true. It reminds me of the temporariness of our struggles and heartache.
Healing isn't linear. What has your respective journey taught you about life and love?
That heartbreak quite literally breaks your heart open and teaches you how to love yourself more. And that we need to feel heartbreak in order to know what love is. You can't have one without the other. Contrast is your friend. How could you ever know how to love or how you'd like to be loved if you don't first find out how you don't want to be? The lessons are in the "losses" as Kobe Bryant used to say. They're not really losses, so maybe that's a bad example, but I think you get what I mean. I believe the whole reason we are here on Earth is to learn how to come to self-love. And as Peter Crone says, "Life will present you with people and circumstances to show you where you're not free." Love that line. I know this may seem like a funny way of looking at it, but we enter relationships to heal. And that's what I've learned so far.
What did working in The Bachelor franchise teach you about love and happiness? What did it teach you about heartbreak?
I learned way more about heartbreak than I did about love and happiness, because 25 people go home heartbroken and typically one is left at the end having found love and happiness. When it comes to love, while working on Ben Higgins' season of The Bachelor, I learned about how far love can go. That you can love two people. It sounds silly, but I had just never thought about that before.
I also learned that it can be really hard for people to receive love. For some reason, it's way more comfortable giving love than it is to receive it. Giving can be easy, but to receive it you have to be really vulnerable and feel worthy of it. I learned this by watching the [respective] Bachelor or Bachelorette show love to someone and immediately see how comfortable or uncomfortable that made them.
As far as heartbreak goes, I learned that a lot of us put our own sense of self-worth in the hands of another person. And that can lead to heartbreak. But ultimately, the people the audience related to most were the people on the show who were most vulnerable, and most visibly heartbroken, and that taught me just how universal heartbreak really is.
How do you feel the pandemic has altered the way we find love? How do you feel it's altered the way we heal from heartbreak?
[In some ways,] the pandemic made it way harder to find love, because it just is harder to connect in person these days. Social anxiety has increased, along with the fear of catching a virus.
On the other hand, I think it forced the modern dating scene to go back to basics, in a good way. Having a picnic in a park [or] taking a walk on the beach were common things people did to meet in 2020, and I think a lot of that has still held up. I loved how romantic my dates were that year, and yet so simple. I also feel that because so much of our lives are behind screens now, a lot of people are craving intimacy, and are now ready to make a commitment to finding a partner.
It's made going through heartbreak more intense, for sure, because a lot of people no longer have those support systems or distractions we had pre-March 2020. But it's sped up the healing process. People have to face it more now than ever before, and I think that's a good thing. Our well-being is slowly rising closer to the top of our priority list, and it feels like, the way we were all operating before, it was way down at the bottom.
While it's important to have a Chica tribe to go to when times are tough, why do you feel that it's even more important to find another healthy outlet for our individual grief/heartbreak? Why should we be giving our Chicas a break?
I think when you're going through something that's really raw, and you open up to someone who is feeling the same way, as opposed to talking to someone who isn't, you're going to feel more relief. When you talk to someone in your life who isn't going through the same thing, like I mentioned earlier, that may lead to you feeling socially disconnected, which can lead to your feeling unknown. And that can lead to feeling like you're on your own.
Gloria Steinhem once said, "We're communal animals. If we're by ourselves, we can feel wrong and crazy and out of step with society. We really need those talking circles." Heart Broken Anonymous is a way to remind you, you're not alone, and you're not the only one who is feeling this way. Also when you come to Heart Broken Anonymous, not only are you sharing your story (if you want to, it's not mandatory), you're also helping someone else by listening to them. And when we do things for other people, it can make us feel like we matter. Mattering feels good. And if you can feel good for at least one hour out of your day in an HBA meeting while heartbroken, then that to me makes all the difference.