“Why can’t I just get over this guy?”

“I can’t stop obsessing about her with another person.”

“I can’t sleep, eat, or work – I just need to find an answer to why he cheated.”

Ending a relationship is hard enough. But it is even harder when the relationship is unfinished. This can occur for any number of reasons:

* Perhaps your love interest had to move out of state for a job.
* Maybe an affair or betrayal was discovered.
* You might have been on the receiving end of ghosting from a person who seemed so interested a mere weeks prior.
* A mid-life crisis could have even popped up – changing your partner to a completely different person.
* Or narcissism raised its’ ugly head and you find yourself being stonewalled (which by the way is a subtle form of abuse).

Believe it – there is scientific evidence for why we obsess over these vacant figures from our life.

When we first “fall in love” with a person – the wiring and chemicals in our brain actually start to change. There is probably an evolutionary reason for this. Because if we noticed flaws and differences in our love interests right from the start, we would be less likely to mate (which underneath it all, is our biological drive). As our brain is flooded with “feel-good” chemicals; we typically find ourselves thinking of our new significant other every chance we get. At the gym, work, meetings with our friends – we find our brain drawn to this person. This must be love right?

But true love often occurs much later in the relationship – when the chemicals simmer down a bit and we start to develop a love of companionship. This is when people make a conscious decision to work through seen differences and attempt to stabilize the relationship for the long haul. For years, scientists thought that when this shift occurred that the chemicals died away. But recent research (through MRIs) proves that in fact, the reward system of dopamine still lights up in this kind of partnership – maybe just a bit less intensely. And guess what? This is the exact same part of the brain where addiction resides. Think about an alcoholic where the initial pizzaz that drinking granted has worn off (maybe there were consequences to the drinking like hang-overs and legal issues) but the alcoholic keeps using. Our relationship brain chemistry is on the same neurological pathway.

So exactly like how an addict needs to “get dry” – a person out of a love relationship needs to detox. That means that triggers should be avoided. It is no wonder that more people are suffering from this obsessive post relationship sickness because the main contributor is social media. How do you get dry – when every moment of the day, you have the ability to cyber stalk your ex.? And as with most situations where we ‘mind read’ – we tend to assume the worst case scenario. He/She is in love with somebody better, look they are on vacation and having fun without me, etc. etc.

So, step one – just like you would not put an alcoholic in a bar – get off of their damn social media! It will not make you feel better to know what and/or whom your obsession is doing. It just makes it worse. Also, try to avoid any other triggers – like places that you ate, friends in common, etc. For your protection, you should have clear boundaries with any triggers for three months, at the minimum. At that time, you might be able to look at a trigger and not emotionally react with the same intensity. Your reward system will not be hijacked and you can calmly grieve without the obsession.

Second, remember the stages of grief. Also, remember that there is no prescribed time line for your experience of each of the stages.

Stage One: Denial
Stage Two: Anger
Stage Three: Bargaining (trying to make a sensible narrative of what happened/prescribe meaning)
Stage Four: Depression
Stage Five: Acceptance and Moving On

We tend to bounce around these stages and there is no set time for “good grieving”. People who find themselves obsessing though are often stuck in the bargaining stage. There is a drastic urge to make sense of the unfinished business. This can lead people to self-doubt, inappropriate behavior towards their ex., and even suicidal ideation because the pain is so real. It’s no wonder that people describe it as “getting kicked in the gut” or “I can’t breath.” This is also the stage where many have to grapple with regrets (Why did I not know that he was cheating?) and guilt. When I see my clients struggle with this, I have them implement some relaxation skills and develop a mantra such as
* It is what it is
* I can’t change the past
* I tried my best and that is good enough
* It is not my job to fix my ex.

Any thoughts that get you unstuck and help you move forward will work.

Finally, just like getting clean from any bad habit, you have to find a way to redirect your energy into more fruitful endeavors. Of course, self care . but what does that mean for you to have an impact? Is it running, getting together with positive-minded friends, reading a self help book, relaxing, taking a bath, petting your dog?
Whatever it is – do MORE of it.

NO MATTER WHAT – THIS TOO SHALL PASS. . . .

Have faith in the process of the healing and know that you will feel whole again.
(And please stop judging yourself for spending more time in a stage than your friends or family members think you should be).

When you are ready. . .

Cat

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