10 Ways to Stop Obsessing Over an Ex After a Breakup
By Jim Hall MS, Relationship Addiction Specialist
What Obsessive Love Means
10 Tips to Help You Stop Being Obsessed
Are you dealing with an obsession over an ex after a breakup?
If so- You’re in the right place.
Because whether you're obsessed with an ex-boyfriend, ex-girlfriend, ex-husband or wife, and/or an avoidant or narcissistic ex-partner--- You're about to learn 10 ways to deal with and stop the obsession.
Can you relate to the following:
“Things were so 'perfect' in our first six months. I'm consumed getting that back, and what went wrong and why she flipped and treats me like the enemy."
“In all my relationships I get consumed with a guy, and he becomes my sole focus and will do anything to keep him, no matter how bad or toxic he is.”
“I dated a guy who ended it after two weeks, I crumbled in pain and rejection… and since, I’m stalking him, repeatedly calling and texting, and I cannot get him out of my mind.”
"Since after the breakup, I can't stop thinking about my ex-boyfriend... what he's thinking, doing, who he is with, it goes on and on!”
"The preoccupation for her is relentless, one unending thought is how she'll be the person I wanted with her new boyfriend, it's killing me.”
These statements above are real-- they come from a few of my online recovery clients who've struggled with obsessive love over an ex. They regained their freedom-- and so can YOU.
What does it mean to be obsessed with an ex-partner after a breakup?
A person with an unhealthy love obsession typically encounters excessive, persistent thoughts or images with someone that often intensifies to the point of compulsions.
Some people can become obsessed with almost anyone-- even someone they do not know or never met.
More commonly though are those who become obsessed with a love interest-- typically an ex-boyfriend, ex-girlfriend, ex-husband or ex-wife, crush, or someone avoidant and/or narcissist.
Obsessive love is often associated with jealousy, controlling, and erratic or self-defeating behaviors.
Emotions of shame, guilt, regret, betrayal, envy, and anger tend to reinforce the preoccupied emotional state.
Some obsessions can feel positive or blissful (in early love)-- “I'm consumed with thinking of my new boyfriend and the perfect relationship we'll have.” But these 'highs,' or what I call fantasy obsessions, are usually short-lived.
Unhealthy or Healthy Obsession?
Science has shown becoming obsessed with a new love interest is entirely expected for most people at the beginning of an early romance.
When most people fall in love at the beginning of a relationship, they will go through a regular period of feeling love-struck for the person of interest.
You feel euphoric when you get his/her call or text. You can think of little else but your new romance and you want to spend as much time with him/her as possible.
But after the early infatuation fades, most people experience a transition to attachment stage-- where emotional intensity subsides, and a secure bond and commitment take place, one based on trust, respect, and companionship.
While this transition is quite normal-- obsessive lovers never get past the early obsessive phase.
Instead, their fixation only intensifies-- and it is where love turns into an unhealthy obsessive form of love.
Obsessive lovers never move past the infatuated love-struck phase of early romance.
Rejection - A Significant Trigger of Obsessive Love
Preoccupation is often triggered or intensified when an obsessive lover feels rejected (real or perceived) by their love object.
Two situations related to rejection that may trigger or intensify love-obsessed thinking:
1. When a lover displays distancing behaviors or fails to reciprocate feelings/affection.
2. When a relationship ends through a breakup or divorce.
Some obsessive lovers get into love relationships with narcissistic individuals. Others get involved with love avoidant individuals (narcissists are also avoidant)—both are unresponsive to the needs of their partner and tend to continuously shun intimacy and closeness.
So when you notice your narcissistic or avoidant partner is evading intimate connection; when you notice love, care, empathy, or support is not being reciprocated- you likely feel rejected or abandoned, thus triggering or intensifying intrusive and undesired thinking.
Obsessed over an ex lover (after a breakup or divorce)
Circumstances that ignite perhaps the most pain-ridden obsessions occur when a relationship ends.
Whether through a break-up, divorce, or a love object leaving-- when a love object is no longer attainable, consumed thoughts over an ex will often skyrocket-- and reaches its pinnacle for the obsessed person (see love withdrawal). And it can feel devastating.
In extreme cases (less common), obsessive love can be dangerous or deadly when a fixated lover is rejected or pushed away by a love interest- see pathological obsessive love.
Signs and Symptoms
If you're obsessed and can't stop thinking of your ex:
- You ruminate, overthink things, and neglect important parts of your life.
- You can't talk about anything else but him/her.
- You feel confused, anxious, and/or despair.
- Your 'crazed' thoughts seem uncontrollable and unending.
- You fantasize of what could be, should be, or will be.
- You feel you have a spiritual or "soul-mate" connection, that you belong together no matter the sacrifice.
- You cast all her negative attributes aside—consumed with traits you find unique or charming (real or perceived).
- You say inappropriate things or act in self-defeating ways.
- You can’t focus, eat, or sleep.
- You neglect friends and family.
Understandably- you want relief from consumed and often distorted thinking.
Up until now, you probably tried your best to stop thinking about him/her, or at best, to deal with it. Still, your ruminations continue and your mind feels out of control, and you are looking for helpful tips and advice on what to do.
So how do you stop the constant thinking of an ex man or woman, guy or a girl?
You're about to get some answers- next.
10 Tips To Stop Obsessing Over Your Ex
It's important to keep in mind- obsession has nothing to do with love, nor is it healthy. If you're feeling stuck obsessing about someone, it is time to take care of yourself and do something about it. Although getting rid of a fixated state of mind can be a challenge, it's crucial that you do.
The following tips and techniques will help you.
Accept you are obsessed with someone and is a problem you need to address. When we are ready to accept responsibility for situations in our lives, healthy change and growth become possible. Acceptance may seem like a trivial matter, but it is not. It is the first step to getting where you want to go- to stop the unhealthy fixation.
So do this:
- Accept you are obsessed with a person, that you are responsible- and it's a problem you need (want) to address.
- Make your admission to yourself and speak to your heart when doing so. You can say to yourself something like: "I am obsessed with this person. It is not my fault, but it is my responsibility to do something to defeat it. And I will do just that."
- Then congratulate yourself on this crucial and necessary step to breaking free and having peace of mind.
2. SMALL BOX VISUALIZATION
Obsessive lovers tend to put their object of affection on a pedestal or view them as omnipotent, 'better-than', or impossible to replace... which might be a good thing if he/she is an avoidant or a narcissist). However, this thinking is a delusion. No one deserves to be on a pedestal above you (or me, or any other) no matter how smart, charming, successful, or good looking.
It's useful to squash such irrational thinking and take your power back.
So do this:
This exercise is what I call the ‘Small Box Visualization Technique.’
1. VISUALIZE: Visualize the person you’re infatuated with. Imagine him/her as very small and yourself towering over and grabbing this little person with your fingers and putting him/her in a box. Now imagine putting all your obsessive thoughts and putting them in the box with him/her. Once you do this- imagine yourself closing it nice and tight.
2. SHRINK: Now visualize this box slowly and gradually shrinking and disintegrating- reducing in size and becoming a tiny bit smaller and smaller.
3. DISINTEGRATE: Now visualize yourself as looming over this little box (with him/her and all your obsessions inside) as it continues to shrink-- imagine it until it disintegrates and nothing else is left, the box is gone, disappeared.
You may want to add to this visualization:
* You can visualize taking your foot and placing it over the box, slowly crushing him/her and all the negative traits and obsessive thoughts with it.
* Alternatively, instead of crushing the box with your foot, you can imagine pinching or squeezing that box into small tiny crumbs between your thumb and forefinger and burning it or dropping it into a trash bin.
* In step three you can verbalize something like "You are meaningless to me," "I deserve better than what you ever can offer or give," "I will thrive without you." Think of a positve/affirming statement that feels right for you.
4. Ask yourself how you feel each time you complete this exercise.
Use this ‘Small Box Technique' approach as many times as you find necessary-- especially as you become aware of other obsessive thoughts you have.
3. CUTTING THE SOURCE - NO CONTACT
Cutting the source (love object) and creating distance with a No Contact Rule is crucial to dealing with relentless thinking about someone. Continued contact fuels the obsession thought cycle; keeping your mind spinning in distress, and even escalating illusive and undesired thinking.
So do this:
- Make a commitment to yourself to follow the No Contact Rule.
The best way to cut the source is to follow the No Contact Rule. This means you want to have a clear understanding of what it means.
In brief-- 'No Contact' means disengaging from the person emotionally and physically-- No calls, texts, messages, emailing; disengage from social media (e.g., FB, Instagram).
No contact means to trash, delete or burn everything that keeps you emotionally connected or reminds you of him/her. Rid all voicemails, images, videos, letters, gifts, songs —all of it. It means to discard the person out of your life-- and out of your mind.
- Remind yourself as to why you are cutting the source with no contact.
Cutting the source (love object) is not easy. You will be temtped numerous times. The obsessing mind will try to sabatoge your commitment to no contact. This is why you must continually remind yourself (repeatedly) why no contact is crucial.
Recognize it is a vital step to overcoming the obsession over a person-- which is why you're reading this, right?
Keep a reminder on your cell phone or write this reminder on a card and carry it so you can turn to it when you are tempted.
Cutting the source out of your life with no excuses will serve to deprive frenzied thinking and rid obsessions. No contact is no longer giving energy to frenzied compulsive thinking. Cutting the source with No contact is about your self-care and healing.
Read more about 'The No Contact Rule' and what it means.
4. "IF ONLY"
Do not give in to the distorted "if only... then things would be different", type obsessions.
If you're feeling rejected by someone you had or are having a relationship with, your mind may be bombarded with "if only" thinking.
"If only" thinking is often experienced by obsessive lovers after a breakup or divorce-- inducing a great deal of pain, misery, and grief.
These mental intrusions may sound like:
- "if only I were perfect, we would still be together."
- "if only I was honest that one time, he would have wanted to work on things."
- "if only I didn't express what I needed, she would never emotionally distanced from me."
- "if only I gave more, did more, tried harder."
- "if only I would have accepted all his drug/alcohol use, we'd have a happy relationship."
Like many obsessive thoughts-- "If only…" thinking is often irrational, and shame-based.
And they are misleading, as they imply that relationship problems or failures were all your fault; or that a lovers fear of getting close (intimacy) was about you; that "if only" you did, said or acted differently at one time or another, or throughout the relationship-- all would've been fine.
So do this:
- Write down a list of your "if only" thoughts you have.
- Write your thoughts and feelings that come up while reflecting on your list of "if only" thoughts?
- Now, journal/write on the following questions:
Is it really true that if you were to go back and fulfill or change your "If only" thoughts, things would actually be different- or that he/she would have been different (better partner, lover, best friend, etc.)? Explain for each thought you have on your list.
Does all the responsibility of the relationship lay on you, really? Why or why not? Explain.
* Be brutally honest with yourself in your answers. And consider getting a trusting friend's perspective on these questions- this can also be quite helpful.
This technique can provide a more realistic and healthy perspective on a relationship that has ended, and thus help to dissipate unfounded distorted thoughts.
Here is the reality- the chances are quite high that none of your "if only's" (if only you would have done this or that differently) would have made any difference-- nothing you could have said, did, or gave would have changed who your ex-partner is and was in the relationship, nor the outcome. You are not in control or responsible for who is or was, ever, period-- and this is true no matter how imperfect you may have been. * My workbook Surviving Withdrawal, goes into more detail on this and into dealing with these obsessions.
5. REALITY CHECK TACTIC
A good dose of reality medicine can be beneficial to counter obsessive thinking over a person.
Obsessive lovers tend to live in a fantasy world-- seeing what they want to see in a person. You focus on all his/her good qualities (real or made-up) - and minimize the bad.
Your obsession may say this person is magical, perfect, "the only one," or "your only chance." You don't realize that it isn't true— blind to his/her deficiencies and reality.
So do this:
Try to recall memories and feelings experienced with your love interest and follow these steps (this is a writing tool).
- Write down the ‘Gains’ (positive aspects of him/her and relationship).
- Then write down the ‘PAINS’ (negative qualities of him/her and relationship).
- After completing steps 1 and 2, compare these negative and positive qualities. Do you recognize something peculiar? You probably will. Write about your thoughts and feelings on this.
- Then answer the following question:
Did this relationship enhance my life and contribute to my wellbeing, or did it sabotage it? Emphasize the negative aspects of this person/relationship (e.g., who your ex-partner is vs. whom you wanted him or her to be).
This exercise will help remove the magical and expose the fantasy-- waking you up to reality, thus weakening the fixation.
6. STOPPING OBSESSIVE SHAMING THOUGHTS
Stop shaming yourself for your imperfections. Sometimes the most intense and painful ruminations are what John Bradshaw calls Obsessive Shaming Thoughts described in his book, Healing the Shame that Binds You.
These shame-based thoughts are the insidious, dominant, negative inner voice- experienced either partially conscious or unconscious, according to Bradshaw.
These are the inner-critical voices that cause toxic emotions-- such as feelings of unworthiness, not being enough.
It's essential to get rid of this type of thinking.
So do this:
The following is a simple thought changing technique to help counter obsessive shaming thoughts you might experience.
1. Identify your obsessive shaming thoughts
- Think of self-critical and shaming thoughts that tend to come up repeatedly in your mind.
- Write them down (or type on a laptop, phone, or a tablet).
A few examples:
"It's all my fault he has been cold and emotionally distant"
"I'm so lonely, this is my life, I'll never have someone who loves me for me"
"I'm so pathetic being single."
- Draw two columns on a piece of paper (with one line down the center). In the left column, write down thoughts you've identified as obsessive and self-shaming (step 1, above). Now move on to the next step.
2. Anti-Shaming Thought Substitutions (speaking the truth)
- Next, on the right-hand column next to the self-shaming obsession, write down a positive affirming statement that counteracts the shaming lie or distortion. * You can use one or more affirming statements for each shaming thought.
Here are some examples:
- I am not responsible for other peoples behaviors, emotions, attitudes
- I deserve love and respect, despite my imperfections
- I love me for who I am. I am enough.
- I deserve to love and honor my needs and wants me first and foremost.
- I will heal. I will grow and learn the lessons I need to learn.
- I deserve a fulfilling relationship with a person who is capable of loving me back.
- I will be ok. I am safe; I am a valuable, amazing, lovable human being.
* You can create your affirming statement by thinking of what a trusting friend might tell you that would counter a shaming thought.
3. Review your completed exercise several times, at least.
4. Apply this tool often or as much as possible. Add to the list when you become aware of additional self-shaming thoughts. Go back later and reread what you wrote down to remind yourself of the truth/reality. The more, the better.
Utilizing this tool will help you dissipate false self-shaming thinking and replace them with reality-based thoughts; thus changing how you feel for the better.
7. DISTRACTION - 'ACTION'
Distraction is valuable way to minimize fixated thoughts over someone. Right now, downtime is not a friend. Neither is isolation.
Keeping busy with distraction activities can help interrupt persistent distorted, illogical, and unwanted thinking.
So do this:
1. List: Make a distraction activity list.
Examples: Get involved with enjoyable interests or past interests. Volunteer to help the poor, elderly, etc. Get involved with a political organization. Join a Meetup group. Read books. Watch a movie or old TV series on the internet or an entire season of episodes on a particular day. Watch a film (e.g., thriller, action, an old western, comedy)
* Avoid romantic entertainment or other activities that remind you of a love object-- as these will undoubtedly trigger obsessive thoughts.
2. Plan: After you complete your distraction list-- plan your chosen distraction activities on your weekly calendar.
Consider your planned distraction activities on days or at times you are likely to obsess such as weekends, days off work, or after work.
Sometimes you may have to push yourself to distractions- 'just do it.' Think "Distraction" and take some action.
8. RUBBERBAND "THOUGHT-STOPPING"
Utilize the Rubberband Thought Stopping Technique-- a simple tool often used to treat obsessive and phobic thoughts by people in recovery. Indicated when specific undesired thoughts or images that are repeatedly experienced as painful or lead to unpleasant emotional states. You can use this technique anywhere.
Here's how to apply the rubberband thought-stopping technique:
1. Keep a rubber band around your wrist.
2. SNAP: With your finger and thumb, grab the rubber band, pull back and snap it against your wrist--- when you become aware of a bothersome feeling/thought. The snap is the first action for interrupting disturbing thoughts.
3. STOP: At the same time of snapping the rubber band, say to yourself (with a firm command) "STOP" aloud or in your head.
4. AFFIRM: Finally affirm yourself: After snapping the rubber band, you will replace the obsessive anxiety-ridden thought with a positive, realistic statement or affirmation that feels better. * As unhealthy thought patterns have influenced how you think or behave, so too will healthy, beneficial thoughts that replace them. Since our minds can only process one idea at a time, you want to actively direct obsessive thinking toward one that is positive and affirming, using this tool.
Possible affirmations you can use:
- "I deserve a healthy, fulfilling relationship."
- "I am a loveable and worthy human being."
- "It’s okay to have all my feelings- good or bad.”
- "I am safe."
- "I am growing one day at a time.
- "I am enough just as I am."
- "I have the right and duty to set healthy boundaries, be selfish in my self-care.”
- "My needs and wants in relationships matter."
- "I reject any toxic people that enter my life."
- "I unconditionally love and accept all of me- imperfections and all."
This tool is one that you should apply whenever you have an unwanted obsessive thought or image. You might think this tool is 'corny' — and that's okay-- if it helps you curb your obsession, does it matter?
9. SURRENDER YOUR THOUGHTS
We often don't have control of our thoughts and feelings. However, we do have control over what we do with them and how we interpret them. What is more, we can work to change our thoughts, which will help improve how we feel. It can be helpful to stop trying to put so much energy in trying to control them and instead surrender to obsessive thoughts.
So do this:
- When you sense your obsessive thoughts arise-- give yourself permission to obsess for a brief period, let the thoughts and feelings be. Surrender and let them flow in and through your mind without taking an interest in them.
- Continue visualizing them, watch them, observe them, then imagine them floating right past and disappearing into thin air. Sometimes if we do not give the thought any power, it will fade away. Practice this, and it will get easier over time.
- Choose this step if you are religious or spiritual (even if you're not). This step is separate from steps 1 and 2.
The following is the Serenity Prayer that some find helpful as a reminder of surrendering and accepting 'what is,' or letting go of control.
Copy and read it to yourself daily as a tool to help you surrender thoughts and feelings.
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
- Reinhold Niebuhr -
10. SEEK SUPPORTIVE OUTLETS
Seek supportive outlets and avoid isolation. At this time, you need clarity and healthy feedback from safe, non-judgmental people-- which will help counter obsessive irrational thinking. Having support to share and talk with others will also help you find perspectives and ideas you've never encountered before.
So do this:
Embrace the act of seeking and getting support. Allow yourself to connect with trusting, safe, non-judgmental people about your story, your thoughts/feelings, and whats going on. Ask for feedback. Listen to their stories. Engage in a supportive atmosphere- even when it feels uncomfortable.
Examples of supportive outlets:
- You may choose to seek support with friends or family members (safe/nonjudgmental). Other supportive outlets to consider are recovery or relationship on-line forums or online support groups; church support groups. Talk to a helping profession such as a therapist, coach, or counselor (preferably who specializes and understands obsessive or addictive relationships).
- Consider attending 12 step groups. These groups are safe places to share your story, thoughts/feelings, form connections, and understand you are not alone. Here are a few support groups I recommend - codependents anonymous or CODA, sex and love addicts anonymous or SLAA, adult children of dysfunctional families or ACDF; and love addicts anonymous or LAA.
- If you are unable to physically attend these groups, check their website to see if they offer online or telephone meetings (many of them do).
- It might feel uncomfortable at first. Even so, find the courage to reach out. Have no shame- you're not crazy. You can do it. And you will be glad you did.
When you create a supportive outlet, you are in the act of self-care, which promotes healing and getting over unwanted thoughts.
Whether you’re obsessed with an ex-boyfriend, ex-girlfriend, husband, wife, or any love interest- these "breaking obsession" techniques can help you find clarity and calm. You may be surprised by how effective they can be to help you.
* Important: If your obsession continues to be a problem after working on these tips and techniques, consider seeking professional help from a counselor, therapist, or talk to your doctor. It takes strength and courage (not weakness) to reach out for help and advice-- Make you and your wellbeing a priority, no matter what.
About the Author- Jim Hall, MS:
Jim is a Love Addiction Specialist, Recovery Coach, and Author of 3 Books on addictive love and how to heal obsessive love patterns. As a former therapist, turned online relationship-recovery coach, Jim offers hope for those struggling with obsessive love-who want to grow, develop inner-security, and move towards a healthier path to achieving safe, happy, loving relationships. Learn more about Jim