How To Stop Obsessing Over An Ex

Updated September 21, 2023by Regain Editorial Team

For many people, trying to find that special someone can consume a significant portion of our adult lives. While some people may be lucky enough to find their partners early in life, some of us can spend years dating before finding the right person to settle down with. This means that many people have endured at least one breakup that led to serious emotional upheaval at some point in our lives. Even in situations where we may have known that the relationship wasn’t going to work for one reason or another, breakups can still be painful and emotionally draining. While we may expect these feelings to dissipate over a few weeks or months, they can sometimes persist. You might be wondering what to do if you find that you are having a hard time moving on after a breakup.

How A Bad Breakup Can Affect Someone

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Obsession Can Be Unhealthy

Whether or not you initiated a breakup, having to deal with the aftermath can make you feel overwhelmed, and there may be 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 the symptoms of a  heart attack. Studies have also 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 was associated with increased activity in the same area of the brain that deals with addiction. This means that people who find themselves obsessing over their ex may have symptoms similar to those experienced by addicts dealing with withdrawal. This could help 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

Still, there are ways to move on. Consider these strategies:

  • Remember Why You Broke Up

Perhaps one of the hardest parts of living post-breakup is remembering why the relationship didn’t work. After a breakup, you may find yourself idealizing the past. This could be one of the key reasons that people get caught up in an obsession with their ex. You may need to remind yourself of the reasons why you broke up in the first place. You could try making a list of these reasons. Perhaps your former partner was unreliable, for instance. Maybe they failed to hold up their end of the relationship. They could have been uncomfortable with the level or frequency of physical intimacy that you needed. Reminding yourself why the relationship didn’t last can help keep you from forgetting or glossing over the issues that led to the breakup.

  • Say Goodbye To Your Old Mementos

As much as you may love that sweater your ex left at your place or the coffee cup you picked up on a romantic trip, keeping mementos from your past relationship may only feed your obsession by triggering memories of the person. Consider rounding up any remnants of the relationship and dividing them into two piles: things that can be donated and things to throw out. Removing these items from your home means that they aren’t in view to serve as a constant reminder of the relationship.

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While you are removing reminders of your ex from your home, it may also be important to do the same for your digital devices. When you have moments of obsession over your ex, chances are you may want to contact them. This may only serve to further your disappointment and distress over the breakup, though, especially if they ignore you or answer you unkindly. If your ex is having trouble moving on as well (e.g., sending you mixed messages or trying the “let’s be friends” approach), eliminating those links may help both of you. 

  • Realize That You Don’t Need To Forget Them

It could be that some relationships are only meant to be a part of our lives for a short period of time. Just because they’ve ended doesn’t mean that it wasn’t important. The relationship was still a part of your past and may be another facet of what shapes who you are as a person moving forward. Accepting this can help you stop obsessing about your ex.

You might want to think about the things you’ve learned about yourself during the relationship. Perhaps you need a partner who is better at communicating or someone who expresses their affection through physical touch. 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. 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 may fill up most of our time. Not having them in your life can make you feel lost and alone, which may only add to your obsession. Instead of staying at home focusing on the relationship, consider finding some positive ways to distract yourself. You could take advantage of that gym subscription that’s been coming out of your bank account for months, for example. 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 boost your self-esteem. You may want to try out some new hobbies, like painting or hiking. Consider cooking some fun new recipes or invite your friends over for a movie or trivia night.

Now might also be a good time to start some new self-care routines. Maybe you’ve always wanted to get a facial, or you’ve been thinking about freshening up your wardrobe. These types of activities can help you focus on yourself while taking your mind off things. In fact, being kind to yourself during this emotional time may help you recover from the emotional upheaval faster. Perhaps the most important thing is to find ways to keep yourself from thinking about your ex all the time. After a while, it could become second nature.

  • Get Professional Help

Getty/AnnaStills
Obsession Can Be Unhealthy

No matter how hard you try, you may 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 difficult thing to do. Many people may need the help of a licensed therapist after a breakup. 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.

Still, it could be challenging to take the steps necessary to see a therapist, especially in person. If you’re feeling depressed after a breakup, just getting out of bed could be challenging enough. The thought of driving to a counselor’s office might seem overwhelming. This is where online counseling may be beneficial. With this form of internet-based therapy, you don’t have to leave your house to meet with a qualified mental health professional. It can also save you the time you might normally spend sitting in traffic or in a waiting room. 

This type of remote counseling has also been proven effective in treating a wide variety of mental health challenges. A recent study confirmed its ability to help individuals increase their resilience during challenging times. Participants underwent online cognitive behavioral therapy and were compared to a control group undergoing in-person CBT. No significant differences were found between the two groups post-treatment. 

Takeaway

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 connected from your computer, tablet, or phone, whenever it best suits your schedule.

While the grief of a failed relationship can sometimes fade away quickly, other times you may need additional support. If your breakup has left you feeling anxious, depressed, or hopeless, this may be a sign that you need the support of a therapist to guide you through this difficult time. With help, you can move on to a happy, healthy life once again.

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