How to Deal When Your Ex Moves On

How to Deal When Your Ex Moves On

How to Deal When Your Ex Moves On

We have all been there… witnessing our Ex move on without us. As both a therapist and breakup recovery coach who has walked with many people through the breakup recovery process, as well as a fellow human, I know that if you’re in the early stages of getting over a breakup or recovering after divorce, it can feel like a flaming knife is stabbing you in the gut when your Ex moves on with someone else. What’s worse, it can feel impossible to think about anything else. 

How are you supposed to focus on your own life and your own recovery when you can’t stop imagining your Ex cuddling up with a new partner? How can you let go and move forward when you’re stuck in a painful obsession? 

I created this episode of the podcast for you to answer these questions and others. You’ll learn why you can’t stop thinking about your Ex’s new relationship, and the powerful cognitive skills that will help you shift your focus.  

I hope you’ll tune in. You can find the episode on this page, Apple podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen, or read the supplemental article below. 

With love, 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

P.S. — For more comforting and actionable content about getting over a breakup, check out our “healing after heartbreak” collection of articles and podcasts. 

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How to Deal when Your Ex Moves On: Episode Highlights

When you learn your Ex is dating someone new, it can unleash a cascade of powerful feelings. Many people feel panic when their Ex starts a new relationship, as if they’re about to lose something that they lost a while ago. You may feel rage, jealousy, sadness, and rejection when you imagine your Ex and their new relationship. 

These feelings usually don’t make much sense. They can happen even if you know the relationship was toxic for you. They can happen if you didn’t feel heartbroken about the breakup, or if you were the one who ended things with your Ex. And if you didn’t want the relationship to end and you’ve been struggling to repair your self esteem in the aftermath of the breakup, thinking about your Ex with someone new can really derail your healing process. 

Still, not thinking about it can feel impossible. Many people feel trapped in their own heads after a breakup, ruminating about what went wrong and what their Ex is doing now. Imagining your Ex kissing, cuddling, or having sex with someone else can feel like pouring several gallons of gasoline on the nightmare fire. These obsessions can be especially bad at night, when you’re not distracted by the activities of daily living. They can keep you from getting a good night’s sleep, creating a downward spiral where you simply don’t have the energy to counter negative thought patterns and the painful mood states they create. 

Rumination is a normal part of the breakup process, but it isn’t helpful. It makes you feel terrible, and, unlike reflecting on your experiences in a moderate and intentional way, it doesn’t help you learn anything new or valuable. Constantly thinking about your Ex keeps you attached to them and emotionally invested in their life, rather than gaining your emotional freedom and moving forward with yours. To get unstuck and fully heal your heart, you have to overcome obsessive thoughts about your Ex and their new relationship. 

How to Stop Obsessing About Your Ex’s New Relationship

Time alone does not fix a deeply ingrained thought pattern like obsessing about your Ex. Many people stay stuck in this place for many months or even years, especially when they don’t have the support or the tools they need to stop. 

“Getting back out there” before you’re healed and ready for a new relationship isn’t a good strategy either. If you’re not in a strong emotional place, dating is likely to create new problems for you rather than helping you get over your Ex

To get your mind off your Ex so you can move forward, you’ll need to practice a few specific cognitive skills: self-awareness, mindfulness, and thought shifting. 

These skills can be very helpful, but it’s also important to know that they are so much easier said than done. Don’t expect to kick your obsession habit in a day (or a week, or even a month). Reprogramming a deeply ingrained thought pattern takes a couple of months at least, and requires practicing these skills over and over and over — especially at first. Support from a good breakup recovery counselor who understands attachment and rumination can help you stick with it when it feels hard. 

  1. Self-Awareness

The first skill you need is self-awareness. Self-awareness is the ability to think about what you’re thinking about. The fancy psychologist term for this is “metacognition,” but it simply means observing what is happening in your own mind and noticing the reaction that it’s creating in your body. 

Self-awareness helps you remember that you are having a reaction to something that’s happening internally (your thoughts), not to something that’s actually happening in your environment. That sounds obvious, but it’s easy to forget. 

We have emotional and physical reactions to the things we think about, not just to the things that are actually happening around us, and your minds can’t automatically tell the difference. For example, if you imagine yourself being chased by a bear, you’ll feel a little surge of anxiety throughout your body. If you imagine your Ex on a date with their new partner, you might feel sick to your stomach and deeply sad, as if you were actually gazing through the window of the restaurant watching them slurp spaghetti. 

To increase your self-awareness, practice noticing what you’re thinking about and bringing yourself outside of that thought pattern as if you were just observing it. You might literally say out loud, “Right now I’m imagining my Ex on vacation with their new partner. I’m thinking about them scuba diving and then watching the sunset together. This is not actually happening right now, it’s only happening in my mind. These thoughts are making me feel sad, and I’m feeling that sadness in my throat and a little bit in my chest. I also feel my eyes filling up, as if I could cry…” and so on.

Notice that you’re not trying to change what you’re thinking about — you’re simply staying in contact with the reality that you are thinking and these thoughts are what is creating the feelings you’re experiencing. Self-awareness becomes more automatic with practice, and you’ll naturally have greater separation between your thoughts and the feelings they create. 

  1. Mindfulness

Mindfulness is about being in the present moment, in contact with your present reality — rather than running through thought patterns you’ve had a thousand times about things that happened a long time ago (or things you wish would have happened instead, or that might happen in the future, etc.)

The easiest way to practice mindfulness is to get very focused on your current physical experience. When you notice yourself thinking about your Ex, you might look around the room and begin to notice the details of every item you can see, and to catalog them. You could look down at your desk and notice the shade of the stain and the patterns in the wood grain. How does it feel to run your fingernail along the surface? What about when you run it across a scratch? Does the wood feel cool to the touch, or is it the same temperature as your fingertips? Maybe there’s a sunny spot that feels warmer. 

Now you’re thinking about your present reality, rather than obsessing about your Ex. Doing this once can feel difficult and possibly not worth the trouble (since you’ll probably have to do it 150 times a day to truly stop every thought about your Ex). But as you practice, your “mindfulness muscle” will get stronger and you’ll be able to redirect obsessive thoughts more easily. 

And redirecting those thoughts is important — not only because they’re unpleasant and painful, but because obsessing about your Ex keeps you attached to them, rather than healing and moving forward. 

  1. Thought Shifting

The third and final cognitive skill you need to master to stop obsessing about your Ex’s new relationship and get over your breakup is thought shifting. 

Thought shifting means intentionally redirecting your attention to something positive that you want to move toward. It’s only possible when you’re in the safe space of your present reality, so once you’ve spent a minute or two building self-awareness about the thoughts you’re having and then becoming mindful about your actual present experience. 

The positive thoughts that you chose to shift towards will be very subjective; the thoughts that are helpful for you won’t be the same as the thoughts that are helpful for anyone else. Some people like to think about things they’re looking forward to, like an upcoming vacation. Others like to focus on a project or a goal. 

You could also find a mantra that brings you comfort, and repeat that mantra to yourself when you want to shift your thoughts. For example, you might say, “I’m having a painful emotional experience right now and I trust that it will pass,” or “I believe that I’m exactly where I should be in my life at this moment.”  

Thought shifting is important because it’s impossible to “just stop thinking” about something, but it is possible to replace a thought with a different thought. If you repeatedly choose thought patterns that are positive and that help you feel better, they’ll become habitual, and your habit of obsessing over your Ex’s new relationship will get weaker and weaker. 

Why You Keep thinking About Your Ex

Understanding why you can’t stop thinking about your Ex’s new relationship can make it easier to cope with the painful feelings these thoughts bring up. 

It’s not because there’s anything wrong with you, or because your breakup was the wrong choice. It’s just how human beings react when they lose an important attachment bond. We are built to form deep, intense physiological and emotional bonds with our romantic partners. This happens whether or not you’re in a sustainable and healthy relationship with someone who would make a good life partner for you. If you’re in a toxic relationship, an abusive relationship, or a dead-end relationship, you’ll form this bond nonetheless. 

When that attachment bond is broken and you have to detach from someone you love, your brain enters a withdrawal process as if you had just stopped taking heroin, and it begins sending emotional and physiological pain signals that make you feel frantic to reconnect with your Ex. 

Anxiously obsessing about your Ex’s new relationship is really an attempt at reconnecting. Your brain experiences your Ex’s new relationship as a threat to your survival, and so it focuses on it and looks at the situation over and over from every possible angle. This is your brain trying to “solve the problem” and keep you safe. 

Of course, your Ex’s new relationship is not in any way a literal threat to your survival — but that doesn’t change how you feel. Human beings evolved in a context where staying connected to other people meant staying alive, and so your brain treats the people you’re attached to as essential to your survival. 

It can be helpful to remember that these fear-based, anxious, obsessive feelings are not a sign that you want to get back with your Ex, or that ending your relationship was the wrong choice, if you were the one who ended it. They just mean that you’re a human being having a normal reaction to losing a relationship with someone you were attached to. 

Healing after a Breakup

Heartbreak is one of the most gutting emotional experiences any of us can have. But believe it or not, you will likely look back some day and be grateful this happened — many people who go through heartbreak eventually do. 

Painful, traumatic experiences are how we grow. They teach you things about yourself that you could never learn by living a spotless life. You will gain valuable new skills (like self-awareness, mindfulness, and thought shifting), and become stronger, healthier, and more connected with who you are and what you want out of life.

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How to Deal When Your Ex Moves On

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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Music in this episode is by Cigarettes after Sex with their song “Pistol.” You can support them and their work by visiting their Bandcamp page here: Under the circumstance of use of music, each portion of used music within this current episode fits under Section 107 of the Copyright Act, i.e., Fair Use. Please refer to if further questions are prompted.

Lisa Marie Bobby: This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby, and you’re listening to the Love, Happiness, and Success podcast.

Getting over a breakup is hard enough, but getting over your ex’s new relationship is, sometimes, quite harder. Today, we’re talking about how to deal when your ex moves on, so that you can restore your confidence, inner peace, and move on yourself. 

One super interesting thing about a relationship that ends, that happens to many people who think they’re doing very well post-breakup, post-divorce, they’re moving on, settling into their new normal, only to be plunged back into some serious heartbreak, sadness, grief, even obsession, when they learn that their ex is seeing someone new. 

I am – I say this somewhat apprehensively – a bit of a breakup recovery expert. I wrote a book, Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to an Ex Love, that was based on years of research and clinical practice. So I have a little bit different of a perspective of how all this works.

But one thing that I’ve seen over and over again is, this phenomenon of being pushed right back into heartbreak, when you find out that your ex is with someone new, is actually a really, really common experience, but it can be so confusing. It can really throw people for a loop. Like, if you think you’re over an ex, and then you scroll past a photo of their new love interest on Instagram or something, and absolutely lose your mind, you feel anxious, you feel like torn all over again. 

That is a common experience, and I also want you to know, this experience can also happen, frequently does, even if you were the one that ended the relationship. Even if, seconds prior to seeing that photo, you would have told anybody that you had zero desire to rekindle the relationship and ended for so many good reasons. But still, now, all of a sudden, you’re feeling this intense jealousy, this hurt, when you think about your ex being with somebody else. 

This is a very confusing life experience. Most people do not even know what to make of this. It can be much more intense if you really would actually like to be back with your ex and are now seeing them with somebody new, that can be so agonizing. But no matter what the context, it can be hard to know how to manage these feelings in a healthy way. 

Today, we’re going to be talking about this very unique experience of how to deal when your ex is moving on, so that you can feel good about yourself and your life and continue moving forward with your own healing process.

If this is your first time listening to this show, I am so glad you found us. I’m Lisa Marie Bobby, Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby. I’m the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. 

I’m licensed as a psychologist. I’m a licensed marriage and family therapist. I’m also a board certified coach. And as I mentioned, I’m also the author of the Exaholics book, and this is just one of my favorite subjects to talk about is heartbreak recovery. Because in my experience, even many very well-trained therapists don’t really know some of the biology and the science that is going on inside of this phenomenon. 

I’m going to out myself as a huge nerd. Before I went to counseling school, I was actually a biology major, and that is where I had to go in order to find the answers for some of these questions. I’d be sitting with clients in the the aftermath of a relationship and then be like, “Why do I feel this way?” And be like, “I don’t know, either.” 

I had to dive into some seriously hardcore research to figure out what was going on with clients, and to be able to help them create a path forward so that they could start feeling good again. So I love doing this in my clinical practice at Growing Self, as well, certainly. It’s helping people repair their relationships and grow themselves. 

I also just wanted to mention, because this is such a passion topic of mine, in addition to the podcast that I’m making for you today, you can also find so much advice, articles, resources on our website, We have organized this into collections. So if you come to Growing Self, you’ll want to, first, navigate to the blog and podcast page,

Then from there, you’ll look for either the Love collection or the Happiness collection. You can click into either of those, and scroll down until you find Heartbreak Recovery. And when you’re in that collection, you will have access to, probably, 50 different articles and podcasts, all on these related subjects. 

We’re talking about breakup recovery, divorce recovery, dating after divorce or breakup, repairing your self-esteem after a breakup, so many good things, how to stop obsessing about your ex. I have also put together a Spotify playlist for you that you can access, once in that collection. So I hope that you will feel supported and cared for by accessing the information that we have there. 

While you’re in there, if you have questions or comments or want to hear me talk about a different facet of this experience, let me know on the Blog and Podcast homepage. You can either record me a voice memo, if you’re feeling brave, and maybe I’ll play that for our other listeners on an upcoming episode of the show, we’ll be able to answer your question. 

Or you can also just send an old-fashioned email with your question and I will take it to consideration and hopefully, I’ll be able to speak to it on an upcoming episode of the show. Because you and I are co-creating this experience. Yes, we are. So I wanted to mention those resources. 

But let’s also just dive into today’s topic, which is really understanding why it is so difficult, all of a sudden, when your ex is moving on, and what you can do in order to start feeling– not just cope with it, but feel at peace with it– and be able to move on yourself.

The experience of your ex dating somebody new can take a couple of different forms. I mean, if you have already been feeling heartbroken about the relationship ending; if you’ve been having a hard time already, feeling sad; maybe the relationship ended against your will, you didn’t want it to end; it’s just awful, just so awful, when you know that your ex is dating someone new. It already feels like you’re in emotional meltdown, and then to have that happen on top of it can make the experience much more intense, and it’s really hard. 

As I mentioned previously, the experience of having an ex move on can trigger all kinds of feelings in people, whether or not you have been heartbroken about it previously. I mean, for many people, they went through a period where they were really struggling, and then they start feeling better, they begin to heal. They feel like they’re handling it well. 

Maybe they’re months, sometimes longer, past the end of the breakup. Maybe even they themselves are in another relationship and in a pretty good place. They’ve gone through this confusion of the feelings, and really resolved inside of themselves. “No, this was the right thing. The relationship is over.” Made the hard decisions. Passed through the angst of it all. 

But then, found out that their ex is dating or sleeping with somebody new and– they formerly felt calm, and all of a sudden, they have these waves of rage, pain, self-doubt, resentment, jealousy crashing over them. And if you’ve been through this, you know what I’m talking about. It can feel just like this big storm of emotion that can be very surprising, and there’s almost a fear component. 

I’ve talked with people about it, and has experienced it myself. And it feels almost like a panicky kind of feeling, in some ways; blood is cold, right? And the worst part of this, for many people, whether or not they were formerly okay, or just threw a bunch of kerosene on the fire, it becomes all you can think about. It’s like this weird, obsessive experience where these constant mental tapes take over your mind. 

“Are they on the motorcycle right now? Is he taking her to the restaurant that I always wanted to go to but he said was too expensive? Are they holding hands? I bet they’re kissing. Maybe they’re having sex right this very second. And they probably decided to skip the motorcycle ride and just spend the day in bed, and we used to do that.” 

But it’s so hard because, for many people, there are these ruminating, kind of obsessive thoughts; can’t stop thinking about it. And there’s often a very visual component to this. Like, in your mind’s eye, you’re playing out scenes from your life together, except that your role is being played by someone who, now, might be sexier, more fun, or more interesting. 

You may visualize in your mind’s eye, your ex. But not the mean horrible one that you broke up with, like the happy, sweet, fun one that you first fell in love with. And they are being their best selves, right? They are sharing the best parts of themselves. Maybe they’re concealing the rest with this new person. But in these kind of mental visualizations, it’s like, a lot of people describe seeing the ex that they always wanted, right?

Like the person that they always knew their ex could be, but wasn’t being with them. But now, they’re imagining their ex being that person with somebody else. And that is one of the really painful aspects of this, because it leads to feelings of– that is part of what, I think, damages self-esteem after a breakup. It can trigger those, “Well, why wasn’t I good enough for them?” 

“What was it about me that they weren’t as excited or devoted to me?” A resentment that, “Oh, okay. Now they’re being their best selves. I tried so hard to get them to grow and change, and now they’re giving all of these wonderful things to another person that I really wished they had given to me.” So much conflict can come up around this. 

I think, many people describe this feeling a lot worse at night, when there aren’t any distractions. In the daytime, as you’re going around and working and doing the things, there’s a protective quality of that from the thoughts in your own head, right? But a lot of times, at night, when you’re laying in bed, it’s very difficult to shift your thoughts and kind of get some reprieve from it. 

Also, I think, for many people, the contrast is that maybe, you are alone in your bed, and imagining them being together. And for many people, it’s just an intensely emotional issue. It really does interfere with sleeping, and there’s a lot of research showing that, when you’re not sleeping well, you will feel more anxious, you will feel more stressed, you will experience more depressive symptoms, it’s more difficult to focus. 

It kind of turns into a downward spiral, in some ways, with the obsessions and the sleeplessness, and then kind of feeling worse and worse, emotionally. And I think, the hardest part of this is that people will often tell me this feeling, very helpless with the experience. Like, they will say, “I want to stop thinking about this, but I can’t.” You kind of feel trapped in your own head. 

This is actually really significant and also points the pathway to healing. I’ve talked about this on other podcasts, but it’s worth repeating because it’s very relevant to this issue, which is that, believe it or not, the part of your brain that sees things in your mind’s eye cannot differentiate between something that you’re thinking about, and something that is actually happening in terms of the impact.

There’s this other part of your brain that knows that you’re thinking about something that is not literally happening and happening in front of you, but part of the mixed bag experience of being a human is that, we are very good at visualizing things, like seeing these little mental movies. And so, what you see in your mind’s eye has the same impact on you, emotionally, as something that’s happening right in front of you, much of the time, and people don’t realize that. 

When you are imagining your ex and their new sex partner making out on the couch, you are seeing it and reacting to it, emotionally and physiologically. Like, you’re standing in the room, your heart starts racing, you feel nauseous, you’re filled with hurt and pain and rage, and there becomes like this feedback loop. 

The more upset and the more threatened we feel emotionally, the more we focus on threat and the painful things. So it becomes harder and harder to kind of shift your mind out of this because of this physiological process that’s happening. And so, having these kinds of intrusive mental images, I think, it feels victimizing in some ways. It feels traumatizing. Even if you’ve been doing such a good job trying to hold boundaries and limit exposure to your ex, and you’re doing the right thing, so no contact. You’re still in contact with them in your head, and that’s the hardest part.

It is something that is vitally important for you to learn how to break out of because, not just does ruminating not bring any value to your healing process at all, it is not growth. It is not moving you forward. It is keeping you stuck. It keeps you from moving forward, actually, because it keeps you in the ring with attachment, with engagement, with the feelings. 

While there certainly is a lot of benefit of working through what happened in the relationship, changing your story about the relationship, finding the growth experiences from the relationship, learning about yourself, learning about your values. We do need to revisit parts of the relationship, but also parts of your inner experience to be able to do that kind of work, 

Which is really valuable and important because it helps grow you and develop you as a person, individually, but also, really helps prepare you to have a positive, healthy, successful relationship in the future. So there’s a lot of value in that kind of thinking, it’s productive. And that is very, very different from the kind of rumination and intrusive thoughts that are just triggering and upsetting. 

That is not helpful. So we need to be able to move away from those in order for your healing process to happen. And what I know, what I’ve learned from walking with countless brokenhearted people who are suffering in this way is that, time alone does not heal this, nor does forcing yourself to get out there and date again, or even, sometimes, getting into therapy. 

If you connect with the wrong therapist during this, it turns into this– “What is wrong with you?” kind of discussion and exploration that is also not productive and not valuable. I mean, most therapists are trained to diagnose and treat mental health conditions, and if you come in with this experience, that is actually, a very normal and expected human experience. 

It is not helpful to you to have that experience be pathologized or have somebody trying to peel the onion of your early childhood experiences to explain this phenomenon because it has no relationship, right? So anyway, I did want to just mention that. So it’s important to stay away from unproductive things. 

But it is very important to take informed and deliberate action to take control over what’s going on in your head and in your heart because if you don’t learn how to do this, you can also stay stuck in this place for a very long time.

I have met a number of people who have– years have passed, and they’re still dealing with these intrusive thoughts and heartbroken feelings and feelings of longing and pain, and it’s not going anywhere. It’s like being stuck in a washing machine. You’re just churning. 

In order to rescue yourself from this impotent kind of stuckness, of this obsession that comes when you find out that your ex is dating somebody new. So you really have to learn and practice a few fairly specific cognitive skills, and you have to be active, you have to be deliberate, and really practice them every day until you are in the clear.

I mean, practice them like it was your job. A hundred times a day. Practice, practice, practice. And these core skills are self-awareness, mindfulness, and shifting. So the way to deal with your ex being with someone else that are actually productive is first, very intentionally practicing the skill of self-awareness. And self-awareness is the ability to think about what you are thinking about. 

The fancy term for this is called metacognition, and it sounds very simple; thinking about what I’m thinking about. But it is actually a very high-order level of cognitive process where you’re sort of observing what is happening in your own mind. And also, being able to observe and notice the reaction that is created in your body. The fact that you are having an internal experience, rather than an actual experience. 

Again, it sounds so simple, but we have all done this. Do it all the time. It is very, very easy to get swept away by our own thoughts without even noticing what’s happening, without even being aware that we are having thoughts at all. And so, it’s very common, and this certainly is very much the experience when your ex is dating someone new, or after a breakup recovery or a heartbreak recovery process. 

But this is, even, very implicit, and things like anxiety, and depression, it is one of the core skills that’s taught through evidence-based cognitive behavioral therapy, which is just first, this basic ability to understand, “I am having a thought right now that is really triggering a lot of feelings inside of me. I’m thinking about something that is not happening right now, and it’s, it’s also really impacting me.” 

The practice of this is to– just cultivate this practice; scanning yourself all the time. And as soon as you become aware of that  you’re thinking about your ex, say, out loud, like literally out loud if necessary, “I am thinking about something that is not happening right now.” 

Now, your anxious mind will say, “But it could be happening. It actually could be happening,” and wants you to go back down that rabbit hole. But the practice is coming back into the here and now and being like, “I am sitting at my desk with a computer monitor in front of me. I am not actually watching two people having sex right now.” You know what I mean? Just really having to monitor and manage yourself and come back into the present. 

Being in physical reality, “What do I see? What do I hear? What do I touch? What do I smell, even?” Those are all really powerful anchors that can help you stay connected to the here and now, and should be repeating to yourself over and over. “I am having two intrusive thoughts about something that is not happening right now.” It takes a while to kind of get into that practice and to notice it. 

But that is one of the really important core skills that is essential for being able to move through this. And again, as many– I would dare say, most of the things that I talk about on this podcast, these ideas are much easier to say. They are difficult to do. Most people require a support and accountability and a partner to help them cultivate skills like this. I mean, particularly, in the early stages of therapy or even coaching. 

I mean, this is what I’m working on with people for a long time, like a month or two, is the ability to learn how to do this consistently. And so, I always want to be sure to say that, when I’m talking about these practices on this podcast, because this is the past, this is what to do. And I don’t want you to feel bad about yourself or your competence if you try to do these things and find them very difficult, if you find that you need more support to cultivate these abilities. 

Of course, you do. That is normal. Everybody does. So please just hear that. That’s always my biggest fear. Some self-help stuff is not actually that easy. But self-awareness, a super important practice to cultivate. And then, combined with this are really doubling down on the mindfulness skills that I began to describe. 

Mindfulness is associated with self-awareness, but it’s different. And mindfulness really relates to the ability of being here in the present, in contact with present reality, and feeling anchored to it so that you have an increased experience of separation between what is happening, in terms of your thought, and what is actually happening. 

Really just easy, basic mindfulness skills, particularly, for people who hate to meditate, such as myself. I’m not talking about, sitting with your eyes closed on a pillow for 30 minutes. I struggle with that personally. If you’re into that, if you can do it, good for you. 

If not, the easiest way that I know to practice a very kind of practical mindfulness is to get very, very focused on your physical experience, and intentionally shift into this mindfulness practice, in order to protect yourself from the intrusive thoughts that are creating big feelings by getting very specific about the reality.  

For example, I am sitting at my desk, and I am looking at a variety of– let’s see, I have some sticky notes taped to my monitor. They are small. They’re probably 1.5 inches by 2 inches. I have, let’s see, 1-2-3-4-5-6 yellow ones. I have two pink ones. I have an assortment of Sharpie markers with different colored caps sitting on my desk. I won’t bore you with all of these details.

But as soon as I start actually seeing what is in front of me, and cataloging it, and noticing, I’m saying to myself, “The corner of that sticky note is curled up in a way that’s different from the other ones.” And I see the shapes of things and the colors of things and the book that I have on my desk. All of a sudden, I am not thinking about anything else. I’m only making contact with physical reality. 

Again, this is a challenging practice to be able to cultivate and do well. And it is an essential skill, because stopping thoughts and stepping out of a rumination process or an obsessive process is almost impossible. I mean, I find it very difficult, personally, maybe it’s easier for you, but unless you have something else to shift into. And so, the most powerful things are visual. 

For some people, it’s auditory. It could be listening to music, but really listening to music, and the tones and the sounds and the instruments and the lyrics. For some people, eating can actually be a very mindful experience because of the physicality of it. If you’re sitting at your table, eating a bowl of cereal. To come into your body and notice that, “I am breathing right now.” 

“This is what it feels like to hold the spoon. I can hear the crunch in my head.” I want to eat cereal, or whatever. “What does my chair feel like under my butt? What are my feet doing right now?” And so, the physicality of these experiences are incredibly helpful. And also, the physical feelings that you’re experiencing can be experienced mindfully, too. And that is a very, very useful tool in managing the emotions that come up because of this. 

I am sitting here at the table eating my cereal. I am hearing the crunching. I am feeling the chair on my floor. And I am also feeling this pit, right in the center of my solar plexus, that makes it actually feel hard to breathe. I feel like I could cry right now. I could feel that in my throat. I can feel it in my face. I’m noticing these transient thoughts that kind of sweep through my head from time to time. 

I can feel the surge in my stomach when that thought happens, and just noticing it. But I think, also, a really powerful experience of this sometimes is, we often forget that emotions are simply a physical feeling. That is why they are called feelings. Emotions can’t hurt you. They are not bad for you. They are not damaging you. They’re just happening. It’s your body giving you information, right? 

You are hot. You are cold. You smell something weird. You are feeling the chair under your butt. Emotions are just another physical sensation that are giving you information about yourself and about your world, and you don’t have to get away from them. You don’t have to change them. 

In fact, had a very wise supervisor once say that pretty much everything bad that people do to themselves or to each other is a result of not being able to mindfully just sit and tolerate their own emotional experience for very long. We try to scramble away from it. We try to distract ourselves. We try to numb our feelings. We do all kinds of weird things to avoid feeling these physical sensations and letting them have their way with us for a few minutes. 

The contrast, the alternative, is to embrace them mindfully and allow them, is that they pass through you. They always pass through you. Some people are quite afraid of experiencing their own emotions. If I feel this, if I allow this, then I will be lost forever, and so there’s a lot of fear around that. 

They don’t allow themselves to experience the fullness of their own feelings. And so, they’re not able to process and move through them. I have another podcast coming up on that topic fairly soon. We’re going to be talking about that in more depth. So stay tuned for that. 

So these two core skills of self awareness, and then, mindfulness, are very important because these abilities lay the foundation for the next core skill, which is thought-shifting. And I just want to say out loud, you can’t. It’s very hard to not think about something. And a lot of people that I work with come into the work, feeling that success looks like not having the thoughts. 

Over time, I think when people fully heal, thinking about their ex is literally not a thought in their head anymore. That takes a while to achieve. And it certainly is a worthy goal. But a shorter term goal is really learning how to shift your thoughts. And if you’re practicing self-awareness and mindfulness, you’re able to break the obsession. You’ve broken that pattern and are now in this safe space of reality. 

Once you’re in that space, then the third step to stop those intrusive thoughts about your ex that creates the feelings of pain, is to shift your attention to something that you want to move towards: something positive, something pleasurable. Even for many people, a healing or empowering kind of mantra can be incredibly helpful. 

Maybe it’s hard, especially if you’ve been feeling anxious or depressed to think about something fun, like going on vacation. That just comes with, “I’m going on vacation with a friend and I really want to be with my partner,” right? The standard advice about the kinds of things that you should or, quote, be thinking about are very, very subjective. 

Things that might be pleasurable, positive thoughts, for some people, will actually be quite triggering for others. And so, this is another piece of the work itself. Like, where do you need to go into your mind instead? 

I know for me personally, I’ve never had a ton of success about trying to think about things that I enjoy or that– I don’t know. But what feels much more helpful for me and I think for many people, and which is also supported by cognitive behavioral therapy techniques, is to find have a better feeling thought and practice that intentionally. And so, it can be just a couple of lines. 

It could be, “I am worthy of love and respect.” It could be– I love some of Louise Hay, who is like the godmother of excellent mantras, but– “I trust in the power of the universe, and I am choosing to believe that everything in my life is exactly as it should be.” 

Even sometimes, if these things don’t feel true in the moment, to find a thought that brings comfort to say, “If this were true, this would be very comforting to me.” And to be able to repeat these thoughts to yourself, in a way that helps you not just step away from the obsessions, but have something different to move towards that feels emotionally safe. A lot of times, for people, they need help in figuring out what those are.

For many people, they’re tied to higher meaning and values. For some people, it can even be a reminder of the experience that they’re having. A very powerful thought shifting technique is even to say, “You know? I’m having a very painful experience right now. And I trust that this will pass. I am experiencing pain because I experienced love and, this is the other side of the coin.”

I understand that I am going through a process. I understand that healing takes time. I understand that I am grieving, and I won’t feel this way forever.” I mean, even just really simple little reminders like that can allow you to shift into a different pattern of thinking that feels much more healing and growth oriented. 

The other thing that I have found that is very, very, very helpful and important for people to know, and I have said this on pretty much every podcast that I’ve ever recorded about the heartbreak recovery process is that, people become attached to each other. 

This is a biological process. The nature of love is actually physiological. You have structures in your brain that exist for the purpose of bonding with other humans, and it is not a bug. It is a feature. It is a healthy, good thing. 

What we also know from evolutionary biology is that these attachment bonds are vital to our kind of evolutionary survival as a species. Humans don’t have a whole lot compared to grizzly bears, lions, sharks, right? Like, we don’t even have very useful fingernails or fangs. Nothing like that. 

When you go back, 40, 60, 100,000 years, the only thing that humans really had, that was an advantage in coping with the realities of the natural world, or their brains, our ability to think, plan ahead, visualize into the future, language, our ability to communicate with each other, and our attachment bonds is that humans really only survive, or at least historically, as a collective. 

The most essential unit of that collective is families and pair bonds. So coming together with another person, having children, and being devoted to those children, which is a lot more than just like a mental exercise of, “Yes, I love you because my pros list is longer than my cons list.” That is not how it works. It is a physiological bonding experience. 

Here’s the important part for you to know, this experience happens whether or not the relationship is necessarily healthy or good. That surprises some people, but it is very easy to become attached to someone who is not actually a good partner for you and never will be. Because love is not an intellectual exercise. 

It happens on an entirely different part of your brain, your physiology, that anything having to do with rational thought. And so, when people are like, “Why am I having these feelings? Why am I having these experiences? It doesn’t make sense.” You’re absolutely right. It does not make sense. 

We are not operating in a rational thought kind of way. You can list 50 reasons why your ex is a sociopath and the worst person in the history of the world. That would be true and valid, and still have very, very powerful feelings of attachment for them. And we know that when attachment is broken, it results in craving for contact, longing for connection, obsessive thoughts, sometimes frantic efforts to reconnect. 

These thoughts and feelings happen irregardless of whether or not you should be in the relationship. And this is so confusing for people because they think, “Well, if I didn’t truly love them, why would I feel that way?” And it’s because love is a biologically addictive experience. Love is very positive. Attachment is very positive, and there is a dark side of it. 

A yucky analogy to think about, but opiates can be very useful for managing pain, right? And we all know about the very dark side of becoming addicted to opiates. And attachment bonds actually work in the same part of your brain as do opiates, the opiate receptors. 

When someone has an attachment to a substance like heroin, when they stop using that, they experience intense physiological symptoms that– they do a lot things to you than heartbreak does, but craving, obsessive thinking, doing compulsive things, frantic efforts to reconnect with their thing. 

The analogy here is that, just because they feel that way, and have a craving, and really, really, really want to reconnect with heroin, does not mean that it is good for them to do that. And they can know that consciously, and still be totally torn up by these obsessions and these cravings,  because again, it’s operating on a different system.

For a lot of people that I work with, just that understanding in and of itself is the thought that is very helpful for them to shift into. I am feeling this way, because I am having a physiological withdrawal process that has no bearing on whether or not I should actually be in this relationship. 

The other thing to know, too, related to this, and this is why the whole like, “Oh my God, why am I obsessing about my ex, all of a sudden? I haven’t– I was moving on. I was doing good.” It goes back to this same evolutionary biology. 

If the way humanity evolved is in a collective, is in a primary pair bond, to be rejected, to be ostracized, to be replaced, is essentially the equivalent of a death sentence for a prehistoric human. To be kicked out of the village, to be kicked out of the tribe, right? “Now, I’m wandering through Siberia by myself, and the cold, and there’s saber-toothed tigers around me,” or whatever.

Human beings are wired, biologically, to– when they experience any kind of rejection or replacement, it is interpreted– it is felt physiologically as an existential threat to their being. This is not logical. I know that we’re all okay. If we get divorced or get rejected by somebody, we’re not actually being banished into a desert on our own, right?

But our limbic brain, the emotions, the drives that are linked to our survival systems, the one that keeps us alive, don’t know that. And so, from an evolutionary and biological standpoint, the survival skill, and the thing that would keep humans alive if they’re experiencing rejection or ostracism or being replaced, are frantic efforts to reconnect. “It is all I can think about. All I want to do is reconnect.” 

“I just can’t stop thinking about this. How could I– what could I have done differently? How could I–” And it impacts your self-esteem, to think about somebody kind of cowering back into a tribe, right? Like, “Please take me back. I’ll do whatever. I’ll say whatever. Yes, I must be the worst person in the world.” Like, that is not consistent with what we think of as modern empowerment and who we want to be. 

But 50,000 years ago, to be able to come back and whatever you say, like, “Give me a potato. Don’t let me starve,” is the survival skill that would have kept you alive. And it’s so weird to think that all of that old, ancient machinery is still operating inside of us, right? But it very much is.  Again, it’s important to be able to understand that when you are having these experiences that don’t make a lick of sense, like, “Why am I obsessing about this person all of a sudden, again.”

That’s why. And you don’t have to change it. I think for a lot of people, just knowing that this is what humans feel and go through in response to these kinds of life experiences. It is biologically based. It is how we are built. It is related to survival drives and attachment systems. 

It’s actually, not necessarily a good source of information about what I should be doing or what I shouldn’t be doing, in terms of this relationship. It is also not indicative of any mental health issues, or this isn’t about my father being critical. This has nothing to do with anything. It’s just a response, right? 

We recoil from spiders. When we smell something bad, we don’t want to eat that food. It’s the way we were built. So anyway, I hope that that discussion of the kinds of thoughts that are very helpful to cultivate in these moments are helpful to you in being able to shift away from the obsessive thinking that this kind of experience pulls for.

To recap, if we pull this all together, if you get kind of hit in the face with this image of, or knowledge of your ex being with a new person, you start having these intrusive, obsessive thoughts and feelings and all kinds of flooding, step one is really to be self-aware. Understanding what’s happening to you. “I am having thoughts that are creating feelings inside of my body.” And then double down on those mindfulness skills. 

“In this present moment, this is where I am. This is what I see. This is what I feel. My heart is pounding in my chest right now, and I’m okay.” That physical experience. And then, very deliberately, shifting into something that feels better. If it makes you feel better, you can shift into plans or fun things or thinking about something else if that is easier for you to do. “I am going skiing this weekend with my friend Tim.” 

“I’m really excited about that, and I hope it snows. Like, whatever.” So you can go in that direction. You can also go into emotionally safe self-supportive mantras, or better feeling thoughts. And also to, and maybe this is just for nerds like me, or perhaps you too, going into the, “Why am I feeling this way?”

“I am feeling this way because I am having this biologically based experience. I know for a fact that I don’t want to be with this person anymore.” And just kind of like verbally meeting– mediating yourself through it. But repeating this many, many, many times as you go through your day as you’re going through the intensity of this experience. 

In the beginning, it’s going to be 150 times a day, you might have to go through this process. And if you are consistently kind of bringing yourself back and coaching yourself through it, and creating mental separation between you and thoughts of your ex, over time, it will ebb. It will go less and less and less because the other thing is that adult attachment is maintained by our thoughts about another person. 

The better you get at redirecting your thoughts about your ex, that is truly how this is healed over time. And it’s difficult to do. So, again, the last piece of advice that I would have for you is to get real help for this. I am talking about these things like they were easy. They are not. Many people need support to go through this process. And you can expect this process, easily, to last– a couple of months is the timeline that we’re talking about here. 

That’s if you were in a fairly good place before you found out that your ex was dating someone new. If you were struggling in the aftermath of a breakup, you can expect this process to take longer. I would say that the normal kind of timeframe for this, just to set your expectations, is anywhere from six months to a year, usually. 

Also to know that managing the intrusive thoughts and that super intense obsession part is only one component of the healing process. I’ve done other podcasts and wrote a book on the healing process that occurs after breakup recovery. 

Just knowing that this can be a very, very valuable, productive, and dare I say, transformative life experience that, I know it sounds possibly invalidating to say in the moment but I’m going to anyway because I have heard so many of my clients literally say these words to me and I myself have experienced this: at the end, on the other side, they say, “This was the best thing that ever happened to me.” 

“I am not happy that I went through all the pain. It was difficult. I don’t need to do that again. And I would not have grown into the person that I am today. I would not have matured the way I have. I would not have learned the things about myself that I did. I would not have developed my awareness of how I operate in relationships. I would not be nearly as clear about my values.”

“I have cultivated emotional intelligence skills. Because of this process, I am much more connected to my own inner experience. I have connected a lot of dots about myself as I’ve worked through this. And I would also not have been able to develop the genuinely healthy, stable, satisfying relationship I am currently in, had I not grown through that difficult experience and out the other side.”

“Not happy that I went through it, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. Because if I hadn’t gone through that experience, I wouldn’t be where I am today.” That I have heard so many times. I myself have experienced that. And I just wanted to share that with you because I genuinely believe that that can be your outcome as well, if you get the right help and have good information to support you through this. So I certainly do hope that this podcast was helpful. 

As I mentioned in the beginning of our discussion today, if you go to the Heartbreak Recovery collection at, there are a lot more articles, a whole Spotify collection of podcasts related to this topic. 

You can also certainly check out the Exaholics book, Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to an Ex Love, which does a deep dive into a lot of the science and the research that kind of supports the things that we’ve been talking about today. So you can find that on Amazon. Let’s see, other resources, if you would like to, I do have a breakup recovery online course that does have a variety of exercises.

The first part is more of discussion and activities to help manage this super intense, ‘can’t stop thinking about my ex’ kind of experience, which is one of the beginning stages of breakup recovery and healing, but then also kind of moves you through. 

I think there are like six units that kind of walk you through other aspects of the growth process to be able to repair your self-esteem, find forgiveness, figure some things out about your patterns and relationships because of the breakup. So you can certainly consider that. 

Also, I mean, if I could design any experience for you, it would be for you to develop a relationship with a true expert in breakup recovery, a therapist or a coach who really has a solid understanding of the principles and the science behind heartbreak recovery, so that they can walk you through this process and really support you step by step as you go through it. 

Really tailoring this experience for you and your life and your situation and providing a place to process the relationship, connect your dots, figure out your lessons, figure out your values. Unfortunately, if we’re a podcast kind of format, or honestly, even a book or an online course, it is fairly general. 

Certainly, good stuff and many of the exercises that we might do anyway, but it’s not really that personalized exploration that pushes you into deeper contact with you, and that’s what you deserve. And again, if you would like to do this with anybody in our group, certainly, come over to Growing Self and request a free consultation with somebody on our team. 

If you want to see a different therapist, do some interviewing. Don’t just take the therapist that uses your insurance. First of all, because if you use your insurance, your therapist is going to have to diagnose you with something, and that’s the whole thing that we’ve been talking about today, is that these experiences are not indicative of a mental health disorder. This is what people go through. This is a process, right? 

I would be cautious about getting connected to a therapist who is there to treat your symptoms because that may or may not be helpful for you. Certainly, if you’re experiencing anxiety, depression, PTSD, substance use disorders, do call your insurance company. Find a therapist who’s in network because this is behavioral health care. It is medically necessary, and you deserve that. 

If you’re feeling like it’s more of a, “No, I just really need to work through the stages of breakup recovery,” be sure to ask some informed questions. So you want to do a free consultation with a therapist that you’re getting to know, and ask them to tell you how they would help you. 

“Based on your experience, what do you understand is typically going on with people who are really, struggling or having obsessive thoughts and the aftermath of a breakup. If we worked together, what do you imagine this would look like? How would you see the arc of our work together, unfolding for the next three months or six months.”

If that therapist, through their answers, can’t tell you kind of a coherent plan, or provide you with evidence that they do understand some of the like mechanics around this, if they’re not even talking about attachment and that sort of thing, it’s probably a good idea to get a second opinion because you can also waste a lot of time and energy of essentially just ruminating in a therapist’s office.

That’s also not not curative. There is such a thing as productive processing, and just sitting there ruminating, dumping out the contents of your head in front of a therapist is not necessarily going to move you forward. 

That can be part of the healing process, but you don’t want to stay stuck there for too long. So anyway, I just mentioned that because I have personally worked, and I know that by– I provide clinical supervision to other therapists, and so my supervisees or the counselors in my practice have often worked with clients who spent a long time working with other therapists and continued feeling stuck.

Not because their therapists were bad or didn’t mean well, but because they really genuinely didn’t know. I mean, the things that I was talking about with you today are not things that I learned in a master’s program in counseling psychology, nor a doctorate in counseling psychology. This was not part of the training. So it’s a specialty, I guess, is what I’m trying to say. 

Okay, sorry I got all big-sister-y on you there for a second, didn’t I? Listen to me and all my unsolicited advice. Thank you for tolerating me and thank you for listening to today’s podcast. I hope this was helpful for you. You know where to get more resources, and I will be back in touch with you next time with another episode. All right. Take care.

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