How To Stop Obsessing Over An Ex
Updated August 26, 2021
For most people, trying to find that special someone consumes an awful lot of our adult lives. While some people are lucky enough to find their partners early in life, many of us spend years dating before finding the right person to settle down with. This means that most of us have been through at least one breakup that led to serious emotional upheaval at some point in our lives. Even in situations where we know that the relationship wasn’t going to work for one reason or another, breakups can still be painful and emotionally draining. While we often expect these feelings to dissipate over a few weeks or months, that can sometimes not be the case. So what are you supposed to do if you find that you are having a hard time moving on after a breakup?
How a Bad Breakup Can Affect Someone
Whether or not you initiated a breakup, having to deal with the aftermath can make you feel overwhelmed, and there are some very real physical reasons for that. Studies conducted on the effects of a breakup on a person have found that they can cause acne, a loss of appetite, muscle soreness, and even something called Broken Heart Syndrome, which mimics a heart attack's symptoms. Studies have found a link between the way our brains process a breakup and how they process physical pain. Both activate the same areas of our brain, meaning that a breakup can cause actual physical pain in the same way an injury would.
Another study found that having trouble moving on from a relationship had increased activity in the same area of the brain that deals with addiction. This means that, for people who find themselves obsessing over their ex, the symptoms are very similar to those experienced by addicts dealing with withdrawal. This helps to explain why some people have a difficult time moving on after a bad breakup. According to psychologist Guy Winch, “We would never expect an addict in the midst of withdrawal to be able to function in their job or personal life because we understand they are in a temporarily abnormal mental state. We need to think of heartbreak in the same terms and modify our expectations of ourselves and others accordingly.”
Tactics to Help you Move On
- Remember Why You Broke Up
One of the hardest parts of living post-breakup can be remembering why the relationship didn’t work and instead focused on the things you missed. This is one of the key reasons that people get caught up in an obsession with their ex. You need to instead remind yourself of the reasons why you broke up. Try making a list of these reasons without leaving anything out. Was the person unreliable? Did they fail to hold up their end of the relationship? Were they uncomfortable with the level or frequency of physical intimacy that you needed? Reminding yourself of why the relationship didn’t help keep you from forgetting or glossing over the negative aspects that led to the breakup.
- Say Goodbye to Your Old Mementos
As much as you may love that sweater, they left at your place or the coffee cup you picked up on a romantic trip, keeping mementos from your past relationship only helps to feed your obsession by triggering memories of the person. Round up everything you have and divide them into two piles: things that can be donated and things to throw out. This includes photographs, even ones that are on your phone. Do you have a picture with added meaning because it contains a friend or was taken at an event you’d like to remember? Pack these away where they aren’t easily accessible if you’d like to hold onto that memory because it isn’t associated with your ex. Removing these items from your home means that they aren’t in view to serve as a constant reminder of the relationship, making it all the more difficult to move on and focus on the future.
- Delete Your Ex From Your Phone and Social Media
While we are on removing constant reminders of your ex from your home, it is also important to do the same for your digital devices. If you have a hard time moving on, not having access to their contact information means you won’t be tempted to get in touch. Delete their number and email from your phone, and while you’re at it, make sure to unfriend or unfollow them on your social media accounts as well.
When you have moments where you can’t stop thinking about your ex, the chances are that you’ll have a moment of weakness and want to contact them. All this serves to further your disappointment and distress over the breakup and make it even harder to move on, especially if they ignore you or answer you unkindly. If your ex is having trouble moving on as well, is sending you mixed messages, or is trying the “let’s be friends” approach, eliminating those links will help both of you. It is impossible to be friends when you’re unable to let go of your emotional turmoil over the breakup.
- Realize That You Don’t Need to Forget Them
Some relationships are only meant to be a part of our lives for a short period of time. However, just because they’ve ended doesn’t mean that it wasn’t an important part of your life. Being able to move past a failed relationship doesn’t mean that you have to try and erase the person from your life completely; it just means that you have to accept that it wasn’t meant to be. The relationship was still a part of your past and is another facet of what shapes who you are as a person moving forward. Accepting this can help you stop obsessing about your ex.
Think about the things you’ve learned about yourself during the relationship. Do you need someone better at communicating? Someone who expresses their affection with touch? Someone who shares more hobbies with you? Looking inward to find these answers can help you realize how a failed relationship was wrong for you and what you should look for in the future when you are ready to date again. Try keeping a journal on how these things helped you to learn about yourself in a positive light. This tactic has been shown to help people view their breakup differently, cope better with the negative emotions associated with losing their relationship, and move on more quickly.
- Find Positive Ways to Distract Yourself
Figuring out what to do with yourself post-breakup can be difficult. When we are in a romantic relationship, our partner is the thing that typically fills up the majority of our time. Not having that can make you feel lost and alone, which only adds to your ex's obsessing issues. Instead of staying at home, focusing on the relationship, find some positive ways to distract yourself. Take advantage of that gym membership that’s been coming out of your bank account for months. Being physically active helps release endorphins, which relieves stress, reduces depression and anxiety, and improves sleep. And if you’ve gained a few extra pounds from stress eating while sitting at home, losing the extra weight can help give a boost to your self-esteem. Try out some new hobbies, like painting or hiking. Try cooking some fun new recipes, or invite your friends over for a movie or trivia night.
Now is also a great time to start some new self-care routines. Always wanted to get a facial? Been thinking about freshening up your wardrobe with some fun new items? These types of activities help you positively focus on yourself while taking your mind off of things. In fact, being kind to yourself during this emotional time has been shown to help you recover from the emotional upheaval faster. What’s important is finding ways to keep yourself from thinking about your ex all of the time. After a while, it will become second-nature.
- Get Professional Help
Sometimes no matter how hard you try, you find it impossible to stop thinking about your ex. Getting over a relationship is a grieving process, and being able to let go of the hopes and dreams you had with that person can be a very difficult thing to do. Many people need the help of a licensed therapist after a breakup. Admitting that you can’t move forward, even after trying some of the steps we outlined above, can allow you to accept that you need help as well. Breakups can affect many different aspects of your life, including the way that you look at yourself. Sometimes it can make you feel like you’ve failed or aren’t worthy of having a healthy relationship. A therapist can help you address these feelings and work through them in a positive, supportive environment.
If you are struggling not to think about your ex, you are certainly not alone. Many people have a hard time letting go of a failed relationship. These are issues that can be worked through with time and help from a trusted mental health professional. At ReGain, we can help you to find a licensed therapist that can help you dive into why you can’t move past the relationship and help give you the tools to learn how to let go. Our convenient online sessions can be done from your computer, tablet, or phone, whenever it best suits your schedule.
While the grief of a failed relationship can sometimes fade away quickly, sometimes you need additional support to help you move on. If your breakup has left you feeling anxious, depressed, or hopeless, this is a sign that you need the support of a therapist to guide you through this difficult time. By getting help, you’ll be encouraging self-care as well as your self-esteem in your journey to stop obsessing about your ex and be able to move on to a happy, healthy life once again.
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